I believe we are on the cusp of the fourth major transition at Apple. With the rise of in house mobile chipsets being developed at apple I am firmly under the assumption that within the next 5 years we will see apple begin replacing their mac processors with apple manufactured chips. Apple has successfully pulled off three major transitions of this magnitude in the past.
Motorola 68 to PowerPC – 1994-1996
The macintosh platform ran on motorola chips from 1994-1996. Previous to the return of Steve Jobs, the design team at apple successfully transitioned from the old chipset to the PowerPC. The new chipset promised substantially better power and management verses not only the older set, but also the competition Intel.
Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X – 2001-2003
This transition was key for apple reinventing itself with a bold new software strategy. They cut out all the waste, narrowed down the OS to the core elements, and built back from the ground up with new API’s and services. Keeping in mind all machines were already running OS 9, they gradually moved people into the new OS. By allowing apps to run in both 9 and X halfway through their 3 year plan, they announced at the WWDC 2002 event the official death of OS 9.
PowerPC to Intel – 2006-2007
Midway through the decade, the superconductor industry hit a wall at 90 nm. It became increasingly difficult to manufacture chips at that size or smaller. Performance increases staggered from the cheetahs pace they were enjoying. Apple in 2006 announced they were officially switching to Intel. Met with little skepticism, it was unnecessary to oversell this idea. Developers had been noticing a serious issue with having to code for intel on the Windows side and for PowerPC on the Mac side. Many hard choices were made by developers to not code for Mac. Apple hit a tipping point when they realized Intels roadmap was far outpacing PowerPC’s. With the growing concern by developers over the incompatibility of their applications, Apple made the decision to switch. Apple had realized this was a possibility, and in foresight had been building OS X to run on Intel and PowerPC from the start. With this fantastic amount of foresight they managed to avoid having to transition hardware AND software at the same time making the process much easier. Slowly over the preceding 1.5 years, Apple phased out selling PowerPC chips in their Macs. In 2006 they went full Intel with the Mac Pro and Xserve. PowerPC apps were supported as late as 2009 when they officially ended support with Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard.
Intel to A Series – 2015-?
This brings us to 2015 where Apple is holding in their midst a seriously powerful mobile platform chipset. One that out powers the competitors on the market due to their optimization of hardware and software. So the question has to be asked: When will Apple switch from a third party chipset for their mac lineup for an in-house designed chipset? This a no brainer for Apple for the argument of optimization. They already do a wonderful job of squeezing out as much power from the intel chips. With an in-house designed chip, who knows the performance they could achieve.
This now raises the complication that they would have to transition Mac OS X over to the new chipset along with the hardware. However they avoided this issue previously with the dual life X was living, which was the first 6 years before they announced the Intel switch. I have no doubt that the naming nomenclature shift from big cats to historical places was not just superficial. I believe that since the release of 10.10 they have been writing X to work with the possible shift to in house chipsets. It went unnoticed for the first 6 years of OS X and I think it is going unnoticed now, because after all,
“People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware” – Alan Kay