How We Optimized AnyDesk for Apple Silicon – An Interview with Our macOS Developer
Apple’s macOS Big Sur is here! For the first time, the company’s own CPU Apple Silicon will be supported. A new processor means there’s always a chance that software doesn’t work the way it should, and AnyDesk is no exception. But don’t worry, Apple users: AnyDesk will be ready. We sat down with Vadym Zimin, our senior software developer for macOS, and asked him about Apple Silicon, what he thinks about it and what he learned while optimizing AnyDesk for Apple Silicon.
What is Apple Silicon?
Good question. Apple has been producing iOS devices – mobile phones and tablets – for quite some time now. For portable devices, they are building chips and CPUs in-house. The CPUs, especially, are performing quite nicely. They are competitive to other dedicated CPU manufacturers. It is, therefore, not surprising that they are branching out to also build macOS chips in-house.
If the chips are so good, why did it take them so long to also build chips for their MacBooks?
There were rumors for some time. The main issue, however, is that Apple software is compiled for Intel CPUs. It is quite the task to make their entire ecosystem compatible with the new chip architecture. Other companies have tried to migrate to new CPU architectures before, but they always failed on the same problem: their own software wasn’t compatible. It requires a lot of commitment.
And was this commitment worth it?
It looks like it. We see it in the performance of the chips. The barrier of entry is also lowered because they provided Rosetta, a compatibility layer that allows them to run nearly all existing software on Apple Silicon. It performs well and makes the transition much easier.
What differentiates Apple Silicon from other processors? What’s the buzz about?
Silicon originates from mobile CPUs. Chips for iPhones or iPads had years to be optimized for one specific problem: Those platforms must be power efficient. One singular battery charge can run it for days. This focus on power efficiency is something we usually do not see for bigger devices. Performance is also good. For example, the chip has modules built in to accelerate machine learning processes. We see more and more real-world applications for AI and machine learning, and a CPU that is built to be able to do the heavy lifting is quite nice.
How did the development of AnyDesk for Apple Silicon happen?
We ordered the Apple development transition kit the same day it was announced. Compatibility is immensely important for us, and we wanted to make sure not to fall behind even a day. We went to work immediately. The plan was to enable our Intel CPU-optimized AnyDesk Client to support the new architecture. At the same time, the COVID-19 related lockdowns started.
Because of this, we needed to develop AnyDesk from home via AnyDesk – which was a funny experience. The entire team worked remotely all of a sudden, but it went well.
What were the challenges during this process? Was there anything that surprised you?
To make an existing software compatible with a completely new CPU architecture is normally quite time intensive. By coincidence, back in 2005 when Apple was doing its transition from IBM to Intel CPUs, I was in charge of porting a few software products to Intel-macs. At the time it was very challenging, and it usually took many months to bring a piece of software to the new CPU platform. This time I was surprised that it took only a week to make AnyDesk run on Apple Silicon natively. It runs without any issues and it even feels more responsive than on Intel-based MacBooks. Compatibility is one of our strong points, because we focus on cross-platform compatibility and quality code. We have not run any tests yet and have no data on the performance increase, but I personally think we will see an increase. Also, the software tools that we use for development are not currently available for Apple Silicon, but they run surprisingly well through the Rosetta. You can tell that Apple tries to make compatibility as easy as possible.
So, what’s your prognosis for the future of Apple Silicon?
I have a very good feeling about the future of this specific CPU architecture. Intel slowed down when it comes to innovating their existing CPU platforms. This will most likely be a wake-up call for other manufacturers to switch to more green, efficient and innovative solutions as well. But based on our experience, I am confident that AnyDesk will be a part of this shift. Fascinating times for sure.