Ever since Apple unveiled its first proprietary SoC for Macs — the M1, everyone from Apple execs and enthusiasts to Windows purists has been talking about it, and for good reason too. Apple’s M1-powered Macs, the MacBook Pro and the M1 MacBook Air, are whisper-quiet, aesthetically pleasing, offer remarkable power efficiency, and give even the fastest Intel MacBook a run for its money in terms of performance.
However, is Apple’s M1 chip suited to developers? Developer Peter Steinberger bought a 16GB 2020 MacBook Air to find out, and shared his experience after a week of use in a blog post.
Peter found the hardware to be nothing short of revolutionary — the symbiosis between Apple’s hardware and its silicon is nothing short of perfection. However, the latest generation of MacBooks falls short in the software department.
Xcode runs organically and very fast on the M1, but marginally loses to Apple’s fastest Intel-powered MacBook Pro. Docker does not (officially) support M1-powered MacBooks yet, and Mac virtualization solutions aren’t supported either.
Homebrew works pretty well on M1 MacBooks through Rosetta 2.0, and most Android development studios work as well, although some (like Gradle) are relatively slower.
Rosetta 2.0 does an excellent job of translating x86_64 binaries into ARM, but larger programs like Microsoft Word take 20+ seconds to translate and initialize the first time they are launched, with subsequent runs being much faster.
All things considered, Apple’s M1 chip is not capable of sustaining the developer population yet, mainly because of all the work it needs on the software front. Issues with older iOS simulators are specifically of concern.
However, with Apple and most of the industry working tirelessly to resolve the problems currently plaguing compatibility with M1-powered Macs, Apple silicon (especially its next-generation) should soon become a hospitable environment for developers.