Senior Apple Executive Details How the Company Carried out Its Apple Silicon Transition During COVID-19

BY Chandraveer Mathur

Published 18 Apr 2022

Johny Srouji

Apple recently unveiled the M1 Ultra chip, marking two years since it began a transition from Intel products to its proprietary silicon. A recent report explains how it was possible under Johny Srouji’s leadership. The company is now said to be working on its next-generation M2 chips that would continue the lineage and power at least nine different Macs.

A new report from The Wall Street Journal chronicles how the iPhone maker weathered the silicon shortage storm by transitioning to the M1 chip designed by its semiconductor division under the leadership of Hardware Technologies SVP Johny Srouji. The executive brought years of experience accrued at reputed firms such as Intel Corp. and IBM.

The report explains that Apple’s teams of engineers working on Apple silicon for the iPhone and iPad were limited by the constraints of a battery-powered device. The company’s designs enabled integration with hardware so the designers could accomplish the goals they set out to achieve.

In 2017, Apple reportedly offered an uncharacteristic apology for the dismal performance of its Macs. This was a turning point for the company because of continued complaints stemming from the use of Intel chips. So, the Cupertino company decided to transition to its own silicon.

Srouji told the publication that the change sparked debate within Apple since computer hardware makers usually don’t design critical components like processors in-house. He added that the transition was challenging because the company’s semiconductor division was tasked with creating a chip that would suit all Macs ranging from the cheapest to the costliest option.

According to Srouji, at the time, “Apple is not a chip company.” The bigger question to answer was if the company would be able to “deliver better products” after the transition. Moreover, it was not a project that would start and finish in a short period. It was a years-long undertaking for Apple, and the company’s chip design would need to evolve and improve over time. Srouji reportedly took his life’s learnings and explained that Apple had to be flexible enough to sail through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What I learned in life: You think through all of the things you can control and then you have to be flexible and adaptive and strong enough to navigate when things don’t go to plan. Covid was one for example.”

WSJ reports that Srouji’s team had to develop a new testing methodology on the fly due to the onset of the pandemic. The pandemic “threatened to derail years of prep” ahead of the M1 chip’s debut. Apple’s reworked testing process took remote testing to the next level.

“The team set up cameras throughout the labs so engineers could inspect the chips remotely, people familiar with the work said. It was the kind of change that would have once been hard to imagine from Apple, where secrecy and control are paramount.

In part, the operation was able to pivot so seamlessly because Mr. Srouji’s team is spread out around the globe, already accustomed to conducting business through video calls and working across time zones as they coordinated work in far-flung locations such as San Diego and Munich, Germany.”

Subsequently, Apple unveiled the first batch of Macs — the M1 MacBook Air, Mac Mini, and MacBook Pro — powered by the M1 chip. All the models received praise and accolades due to the tight vertical integration Apple was able to achieve in these models.

Apple then followed up with more powerful iterations of the M1 chip, answering Srouji’s earlier question with the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips for the MacBook Pro. The chips continued to enjoy the success of the original M1. Its latest Mac Studio is powered by the most potent M1 chip yet — the M1 Ultra.

What do you think of the Mac maker’s remarkable journey transitioning from Intel chips to Apple silicon without missteps and failures? Do you think the success will continue with the upcoming M2 chips?

[Via The Wall Street Journal]