What Windows can teach the Mac about the switch to ARM processors

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We knew ARM-based Mac processors were coming, but Mark Gurman is reporting at Bloomberg that Apple will announce the transition at its online-only WWDC later this month. Back in April, I called on Apple to announce as early as possible and to provide as much detail as possible to both developers and users.

The main thrust of that piece was taking a brief look at the potential pitfalls of the transition. The biggest one is how Apple will handle apps coded for Intel’s x86 processors. The going assumption is that there will be some sort of emulation, but as John Gruber noted yesterday Apple went with a more technically complicated fix for its last processor transition.

As it so often has over the past decade, Windows offers a roadmap of where things could go awry for the Mac. Windows on ARM still has unacceptable compromises for most users when it comes to software compatibility and expectations. I say this as a person who walked into those compromises eyes wide open, buying a Surface Pro X. I essentially use it as a glorified Chromebook and it’s very good at being that thing, but there’s no way Apple would want that for its Mac users.

Speaking of things Apple wouldn’t want: ARM-based Windows computers are slower. Unless you’re able to stay within those Chromebook-esque constraints, things get real chuggy real fast. We’ve all been assuming that Apple’s much-vaunted prowess at making fast ARM chips for iPads will translate well to Macs, but there’s no guarantee that’s true until we get to test them ourselves.

Another thing I’ve learned is that using a Windows computer with an ARM processor actually requires a higher level of technical expertise, because you need to know what won’t work and why going in.

Basically, 32-bit Windows apps can be emulated in ARM, but more modern 64-bit apps cannot. And short of Googling (or, uh, Binging) around for a decent chunk of time, it’s difficult to know if an app you need will work.

That’s surely something Apple will want to avoid, but some kind of technical gotcha may simply be unavoidable — so clear and direct communication will be essential. Apple is less practiced than it used to be at admitting that its products aren’t perfect when it announces them. I’ll be watching closely to see how it handles these issues at WWDC — especially since it’ll be online-only.

Yet another thing we can take away from Windows is the idea that ARM and Intel versions can co-exist. It’s within the realm of possibility that Apple intends to support both x86 and ARM based Mac for the foreseeable future instead of just managing a transition. Gurman’s report, however, says that “the company plans to eventually transition the entire Mac lineup to its ARM-based processors, including the priciest desktop computers.”

Windows is sticking to a plan to support both x86 and ARM (though there may be some secret plan to sunset x86 someday, who knows?). When ARM-based laptops and tablets started getting released, the message was “Here’s a cool new thing you can get if you want, but the reliable old thing isn’t going anywhere.” That’s the Windows way.

If Apple were to take that tack, it would mean a sigh of relief for everybody who needs to buy a Mac for the next year or three.

But it would also mean another potential pitfall. Windows on ARM simply isn’t getting the developer attention and support that standard Windows gets, both within Microsoft and outside it. It was the same with many of Microsoft’s other Windows gambits — simply witness how many times it has rebooted its app framework strategy.

Apple, too, has more than one bet on the table when it comes to developing apps for the Mac. Without getting too deep into the weeds, there are lots of different ways Apple could go. It could limit ARM Mac to iPad-like Catalyst apps. It could try to offer emulation for any app that expects an Intel processor. It could offer a relatively easy transition for developers using existing APIs. It could sunset some APIs while beefing up newer ones like Swift. It could do a lot of different things.

Steven Sinofsky has a long Twitter thread getting into some of the potential issues facing developers depending on what choices Apple makes. He knows of what he speaks when it comes to the difficulties of transitioning a platform to a new processor architecture.

If Apple goes the Windows route and declares that it has no plans to sunset x86 support, then it needs to ensure that both ARM and x86 Macs feel equally supported. If it goes the classic route and declares that the future of the Mac is on ARM, then it needs to assuage concerns that every Mac in existence right now will become obsolete before its time.

Neither path is easy.

Tech Reviews

Sonos Arc review: an immersive soundbar that home theater enthusiasts can love. The lesson I learned from Chris Welch’s review is that there is no such thing as plug-and-play in home audio. The Arc gets as close as it can, though, and the sound …sounds… amazing. Oh, and if you’re a current Sonos user, you should know the new Sonos app and S2 update are available now.

The Sonos Arc is a success from a performance standpoint, but the experience you get will depend heavily on what TV you have. It’s an unfortunate reality of home theater that you’ll have to spend time mucking with your TV’s settings for this $800 soundbar to receive the right audio signal and sound its best. But if you’ve got a TV that supports Atmos over HDMI ARC — and if that TV is in a conventionally shaped room — the Arc delivers immersive sound that will help enhance your favorite movies and TV shows far beyond the lower-priced Beam.

Razer’s Kishi turns your phone into a Nintendo Switch that can play Google Stadia. Cameron Faulkner reviews. I’ve been vaguely looking for almost exactly this thing ever since Stadia came out. For $80, though, I expect excellent buttons and he says these are not.

Asus ZenBook Duo review: two screens, too many compromises. Monica Chin realizes how many personal sacrifices you have to make to join the Keyboard In the Front Club:

Then, there are trade-offs you have to make to achieve this form factor. For one, I never realized how nice wrist rests are until I had to use this laptop, which doesn’t have any. I felt like a T. rex using this on my couch, with my arms crunched against my stomach. There’s also the ErgoLift hinge which props the ScreenPad off the ground at an angle. I don’t usually have a problem holding fold-under hinges on my lap, but this one is quite sharp. It was so uncomfortable that while I worked on the couch, I ended up holding the Duo between my knees. You really want to stick with using this laptop on a table or desk, not your actual lap.

A Wi-Fi 6 mesh router is the easiest way to get the most from gigabit internet. Dan Seifert looks at Wi-Fi 6. Not worth it unless you have gigabit internet, and even then it’s still a bit of a crapshoot. My setup is a wire running into an Eero Pro node for the computer I need to be fast but can’t wire all the way to the original router, and it’s working quite well for me.

Bad neighbors

Big tech companies are responding to George Floyd in a way they never did for Michael Brown. Jay Peters looks over the statements now (of which there are many) and then (of which there are …few).

Facebook tells group admins to consider adding people of color as moderators. Ashley Carman:

Groups, which are essential to Facebook’s business strategy, have struggled to moderate discussions about the Black Lives Matter movement and injustice in the US, with many admins and moderators deleting posts they consider “political.” The deletion decisions prompted members to leave groups they’d been in for years, argue with each other, form splinter groups, and sometimes temporarily shut the groups down entirely.

Inside Nextdoor’s ‘Karen problem’. Nextdoor is fun to mock, but the stories Makena Kelly has here are no laughing matter:

Nextdoor may have launched as an app to “spread the word about a lost dog” or “find a new home for an outgrown bicycle” — and for many, it works pretty well as a hyper-local forum, a more accessible and less spammy alternative to Craigslist — but the company needs to ask itself: how useful is it if black members don’t feel safe on the platform? As the threats of violence and racist posts become increasingly prevalent and dangerous, black users are being forced off the app altogether. What is the value of a community-based social network that excludes people?

If you see the cops, start recording. TC Sottek points out that “justice is not guaranteed by taking video,” but nevertheless, it’s another tool. An important one.

Everyone in the United States — citizen or resident — has a constitutional right to record police who are performing their public duties. The police don’t have the right to stop you as long as you’re not disrupting their business, and they aren’t allowed to confiscate your phone or camera just because you were recording them. This is the consistent opinion of federal courts and the Supreme Court, which affirmed in 2014 (in a 9-0 decision) that cops need a warrant if they want to seize and search your cellphone.

How to secure your phone before attending a protest.

How to hide faces and scrub metadata when you photograph a protest.


Google says foreign hackers targeted emails of Trump and Biden campaign staffers. Say phew about this, sure. But also know that it’s highly likely there will be successful hacks before voting begins. Let’s all do a better job responding to the information that comes out from those hacks. Let’s not get played again.

Shane Huntley, the head of Google’s Threat Analysis Group, tweeted that the hackers had made phishing attempts on campaign staffers’ emails, but there had been “no sign of compromise.”

Senators ask FCC to redefine Section 230 after Trump’s executive order. Adi Robertson has been on the “government officials do things related to the internet that seem like they’re legal but they’re not” for a little while now.

In reality, Section 230 applies to any “interactive computer service” regardless of whether it has a political slant or produces editorial content of its own. Courts have taken an expansive view of Section 230, but they’ve also interpreted it fairly consistently over the past couple of decades. The FCC can’t simply redefine the accepted scope of a short and straightforward law — serious changes would need to come through Congress, where lawmakers have proposed several changes to Section 230, including one “anti-bias” bill from Hawley.

Instagram says sites need photographers’ permission to embed posts. It hasn’t hit the level of arguing about fair use yet, but up to now it seemed as if embedding was a way to not get jammed for copyright. That may not be the case anymore.

Instacart tweaks tipping system after tip-baiting outcry. This is late and, in my opinion, not enough:

Instacart now says it will shorten the window a customer can alter their tip from three days down to 24 hours. It’s also now requiring customers leave feedback for removing tips and pledging to deactivate any customer who “consistently and egregiously engages in this type of behavior.”

More from The Verge

How do you make Fortnite fair?. Even if you don’t play Fortnite, this is an absolutely fascinating look at how subtle interface changes, cross platform play, and culture collide. Bijan Stephen on aim assist:

The real problem here is balance. It’s very hard to balance a cross-platform game because each platform has its own advantages and limitations — playing Fortnite on mobile is not the same as playing the game on mouse and keyboard, even if it is superficially the same experience

5G: everything you need to know. This explainer and video from Chaim Gartenberg is an excellent introduction to 5G. Bookmark it for whenever anybody asks you what the heck it actually means.

The pandemic has made it harder to buy a new laptop. Monica Chin looks at the state of the supply chain:

Retail analytics firm Stackline found that in recent weeks, traffic to laptop product pages has grown 100 to 130 percent (year over year). Conversion rates (that is, the proportion of visitors to laptop product pages who actually purchase), conversely, have plummeted; they’re normally around 3 percent, but in mid-May they hit an all-time low of 1.5 percent. In other words: people are looking for laptops more, but they’re having trouble finding products in stock to actually purchase. That’s because the COVID-19 pandemic has put two unique pressures on laptop manufacturers: higher demand and lower supply.

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