This week, Apple revealed macOS Monterey, an update to its desktop operating system that will roll out this fall. It comes with a host of new features that the company highlighted in its main presentation at its annual WWDC event. But if you’re stuck on a Mac with an Intel chip, some of these improvements won’t be applied to your computer at all.
Apple computers have been largely powered by Intel chips since 2006. Last November, the company announced that it would be switching to its own ARM-based M1 chips. Now, with macOS Monterey, Apple has started to leave Intel behind.
As MacRumors spotted after Apple’s developer conference this week, the tiny footnotes at the very bottom of the macOS Monterey preview page indicate that some new upgrades will only be available on Macs. with M1 chips. A portrait mode in FaceTime that lets you blur your background during calls will not be available for Intel Macs. Neither do Apple’s new LiveText features, which let you copy text directly from photos. Some of Apple’s redesigned Maps features, including a detailed city mode and the ability to manipulate an interactive globe model, will also be M1 exclusives.
“Apple has a habit of taking very bold steps if it helps to strengthen its ecosystem,” said Linn Huang, vice president of research at IDC technology analyst group. “And it certainly looks like the start of something like that.”
While potentially frustrating for those who own a but the latest Mac, this bold move is likely less of a whim than the introduction of a “neural engine” – a long-standing feature of iPhones and iPads – in Apple’s proprietary desktop processors. It’s how Apple enables artificial intelligence capabilities that excel at image processing and recognizing text and speech.
“Apple wants to harness the machine learning capabilities of its new M1 chips,” said Patrick Moorhead, founder and senior analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, in an email. Moorhead says that while Intel has chips that could theoretically enable these features, Apple is focusing its efforts on its in-house silicon. “Therefore, Apple is probably only motivated to do the job for advanced processors.”
An Apple spokesperson said the portrait mode and live text features were designed specifically for Apple’s neural engine. Apple Maps features that are limited to M1 chips were designed for Apple’s silicon because of the M1’s balance of power and energy efficiency, according to Apple.
“Their points on the neural engine are very relevant,” Huang said. “But that doesn’t mean that none of this could be done on Intel with a little elbow grease.”
It makes sense for Apple to focus on Apple. The search for self-produced silicon chips was a milestone for the company, giving it even more control over its hardware capabilities. But the transition will inevitably be a bit muddled. When Apple announced its split from Intel last summer, it said it could be two years before every computer it makes is equipped with ARM processors. Developers who have been coding for Intel-based Mac systems since 2005 will need to make the switch. Apple has led the way with a software emulator called Rosetta 2 that helps developers translate their applications from Intel’s x86 architecture to Apple’s ARM-based systems. What’s more surprising about the feature exclusivity of macOS Monterey is that it means the first big bump in the road comes from Apple itself.