WWDC 2021: It’s all about the chips


No matter which way you slice it, WWDC 2021 will be all about the chips — the power, the potential, and the opportunity. Everything else the company talks about at its developer event depends on these processors.

Developers, developers, developers

Apple will be speaking chiefly to developers at the event. It will want to reassure them that it is listening to the criticisms muttered by some during the recent Epic trial. It will want to find ways to keep them motivated, and I would not be surprised to see tweaks to the company’s payments structure as it seeks compromises that may both please developers and stave off regulatory scrutiny.

The company will want to discuss its software, too.

After all, most of its devices now run on some variant of the same OS X root, and on Apple Silicon chips, so it has never had a better opportunity to unify its platforms while celebrating their unique abilities. We anticipate news for iPadOS, for example.

But even incredible stories fade to grey when compared to the significance of Apple’s adventures in silicon. Apple’s industry leading mobile processors have replicated their success on Macs, and it looks likely the company intends taking these designs up another notch at WWDC as it sets the scene for new pro-level products and drives inexorably to 3nm chips.

Making it with Macs

If it’s true Apple intends to roll out a new chip inside a new MacBook Pro at WWDC, its high-fashion catwalk video shot is likely even now taking place in a secret room in Cupertino.

Apple has brought a new MacBook Pro to WWDC before, for example, in 2009 with the 13-in. model and in 2012 with Intel’s Ivy Bridge chip. The press release and product pages will be in the process of being signed off and video and marketing assets finalized for the big reveal — and the usual suspects are already telling us the product specs thanks to the predictable and always well-timed “leaks.”

And yet, even if Apple doesn’t introduce a new Mac at its developer show, WWDC will still be all about the chips.

One year since the transition was announced, Apple will want to discuss them because the reception they have enjoyed has been outstanding, sales have spiked, and customers have swooned. WWDC is where the company will want to talk about how it plans to pull its teams together.

Mac, iPad, iPhone, even iPod touch — all these devices have more that binds them together than draws them apart, and while talk of morphing these very different products into one amorphous whole makes no sense, enabling better continuity of process and a more unified user interface makes a lot of sense.

Because Apple doesn’t mind whether you use a Mac, iPhone, or iPad to get things done — it wants you to use the best tool for the unique task you are engaged in. It’s the same for developers — Apple wants it to be possible to build once and serve all its platforms.

That is, after all, what it has been building. And soon I think you’ll build those experiences on an iPad Pro.

A chip you can use anywhere

But even that goal doesn’t seem as ambitious as perhaps it could be. It’s worth pondering what you can do when you own the hardware, software, services, and the essential technology (Apple Silicon) that drives the entire ecosystem.

That kind of control means you can optimize software and hardware before you get round to building either. It means you can put together 10-year product road maps.

It also means you can deliver developer APIs that just aren’t possible on platforms that don’t own all those things. Apple’s going to want to talk about that, too — how its control of the processor/software stack  enables it to build an ecosystem within which developers can build unique experiences.

[Also read: 14 items of office equipment replaced by iPhone]

So, now at WWDC ’21 we have a migration story, a processor development story, a developer story, and some changes to Apple’s relationship with developers.

We also have a company that will want to begin to share some of its ambitions for its increasingly unified ecosystem.

Where’s that puck?

Right now, Apple owns pretty much all the technologies used in its products, extending from design and OS all the way to the unique aluminium alloys, packaging from renewable forests and components designed/financed with close partners.

Apple even designs the production lines.

From 2023 or thereabouts, this control will extend to the cellular radio. Apple owns the stack and at the heart of that stack sits its processor designs — low-powered but powerful designs deployed inside smartphones, desktops, laptops, tablets, and capable of scaling into anything else that carries a chip, from wearables to vehicles, medical to industrial machinery.

WWDC 2021 is all about the chips. And the potential.

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.





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