Apple’s come a long way in the last decade. Ten years ago, the company had just released the third version of the iPhone and users of the smartphone had only recently gotten the ability to cut, copy, and paste things. The iPad was waiting in the wings and the Mac Pro was still on its first cheese-grater design.
Fast forward to today and so much has changed. Smartphones are part of everyone’s daily lives, the iPad has been through an entire cycle of sales challenges, and the Mac Pro is, well, a cheese-grater once again.
As we look ahead to the coming 12 months, concrete details are, as always, few and far between. But there’s plenty of speculation about what’s coming down the pike, and some of it has been building for some time now. Here’s what to look for in Apple’s 2020.
You and what ARMy
Apple announced its transition from PowerPC to Intel processors in June 2005, just over ten years after it had made the jump to PowerPC from the Motorola 68000 architecture that had powered every Mac in the decade before. Fourteen years since that last transition, it’s starting to seem like we’re overdue for the next jump.
The arguments in favor of such a transition have been steadily mounting. Recent chips powering the iPad and iPhone have proved to be screamers, in some cases outperforming Macs in benchmark tests. These chips also tend to consume less power than the current processors in Macs, helping provide better battery life. Not to mention every non-Mac device that Apple builds—from the Apple Watch to the HomePod to the Apple TV to those iOS devices—uses processors that Apple itself designs. That leaves the Mac as the odd man out in the company’s lineup.
Apple has long had control issues, stemming in large part from its brush with death in the ‘90s. The company has slowly been building and acquiring the means to design and build more and more of the components of its devices in house, from power management systems to graphics chips to cellular modems. That it would leave something as significant as the processor architecture that powers one of its major product lines under the effective control of a third-party beggars belief at this stage in the game.
This seems more like a “when” question than an “if” question. And the smart money suggests that 2020 might be the year that Apple finally makes this rumor a reality. Keep your eyes peeled on June’s Worldwide Developers Conference, because if it’s going to happen somewhere, that’s the likely place.
All the G’s
The parade towards 5G has begun, and expect to hear a lot more buzz about it in the next year. Cellular providers have begun rolling out the latest generation of cellular wireless networking, which promises to provide even faster speeds and better connectivity.
Not all at once, though: It’ll take years for the rollout to progress to the promised land of 10 gigabit speeds. But that’s not going to stop plenty of pundits from issuing black marks to any device that doesn’t support 5G. There are already those who argue that Apple is behind because it didn’t release a 5G phone this year—never mind that there’s simply no there there yet.
Will next fall’s iPhones have 5G support? Almost certainly. The company’s six-year deal with Qualcomm practically guarantees it. Of course, Apple also acquired Intel’s modem business this year, so it’s no doubt working hard to gets its own wireless connectivity chips ready—just don’t expect them until 2021 at the very earliest (and probably later than that).
Still, 5G is the foreseeable future, and there’s going to be a lot of talk about it this year. Get your buzzword bingo cards ready for September.
Far be it from me to be the one to throw cold water on an idea, but after years of feeling like Apple’s augmented reality device was “just around the corner,” I’ve come around to the conclusion that it’s still a ways off.
In no small part, that’s thanks to a November report that suggested the company’s first headset wouldn’t appear until 2022—a report that felt rather like the kind of directed leak that helps set expectations for consumers and analysts alike.
And you know what? I’m okay with that. This is the kind of device that’s going to make selling people on wrist-mounted computers look easy. Google Glass, Oculus, and the HoloLens have all met with varying degrees of resistance over the past several years as the industry struggles to figure out what the market for augmented reality actually is. That’s not to say it’s an insurmountable problem, but it’s definitely one that you don’t want to rush out the door.
Don’t worry, there’s plenty more to come in 2020. An upgrade to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, bringing the same keyboard as its 16-inch sibling, seems a lock. Apple’s roadmap for developers being able to deploy apps on both Mac and iOS will likely get further refinement. New Apple TV+ series will debut and be announced. And, of course, begun next year’s iPhone rumors have.
Stay tuned for that and a whole lot more as we continue keeping an eye on Apple’s future plans. See you in 2020.
CPUs and Processors
Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident, coming in July 2022.