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Intel will not be inside the Mac, and Apple says its planned extraction of that firm’s processors in favor of its own chips should be a painless procedure for Mac users. 

But the “smooth and seamless” transition that Apple senior Vice President Craig Federighi promised in the keynote Monday that opened the Cupertino, California, firm’s online Worldwide Developers Conference banks on assumptions that may not apply to some Mac apps.

“The transition to a new architecture, is, for any company, a mammoth undertaking,” said analyst Mark Vena of Moor Insights & Strategy. He recalled how much work it took for his long-ago employer Compaq to ship computers with AMD processors that remained Intel-compatible. 

Apple is making a much bigger switch in ditching the Intel architecture it’s used since 2006 for more-efficient chips based on Arm Limited’s designs that it will build in-house. That should lower its costs and extend laptop battery life when “Apple silicon” Macs ship by the end of this year. But the move that CEO Tim Cook called “a huge leap forward” requires app developers to jump, too.

Young developers: Delicious Monster. “At my companies, we always write in high-level code that’s way above the chip level.”

Shipley added that moving to Apple silicon would be simpler than the earlier transition from Motorola PowerPC processors to Intel because Apple’s current and future architectures store numbers in the same basic order. 

But third-party code in an app can complicate things. 

“The main problem for me is the availability of all the licensed external frameworks,” emailed Thorsten Lemke, whose eponymous firm ships the popular GraphicConverter image editor. He, too, expects this to be less work than going from PowerPC to Intel. 

Will Apple's silicon play well with games? 

Game developer Brianna Wu warned that updating titles that rely on third-party game engines will range from “extremely difficult to completely infeasible” unless Apple gets those companies to rewrite their development tools. 

Apple’s answer for hard-to-port releases is Rosetta 2, software that will run Intel-based apps in emulation on new Macs, in essence letting them think there’s still Intel inside. 

Shipley gave Apple credit for making this emulation work “shockingly well” during the PowerPC-to-Intel transition: “I have high hopes for it.”

Vena, however, advised being prepared for disappointments in Apple’s emulation solution. 

“There’s going to be a performance hit,” he said, adding that older or quirkier software can break in this situation. Running Windows in a “virtual machine” app like Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based out of Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com. Follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.

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