Modern Mac computers that are powered by Apple Silicon feature an entirely different chip architecture compared to the Intel chips Apple used to include in desktops and notebooks. Understanding which apps have been optimized for your Apple Silicon Mac will help you maximize performance and efficiency.
How to Identify Your Mac’s Silicon Architecture
- Select the Apple icon located in the top-left corner of your Mac’s menu bar.
- Select “About this Mac” from the drop-down menu.
- Locate the “Chip” field to find information about, followed by its name and the type of chip it is powering your Mac. If your PC features any of the chips listed below, then your Mac is powered by Apple Silicon.
List of Current Apple Silicon Chips
- Apple M1
- Apple M1 Pro
- Apple M1 Max
- Apple M1 Ultra
- Apple M2
An Overview of App Types
Alongside the introduction of Apple Silicon chips for Macs back in 2020, Apple announced a software translation layer called Rosetta 2. Built into macOS Big Sur and later, Rosetta 2 automatically converts code that has been optimized for Intel’s x86-64 chip architecture, allowing Macs with Apple’s ARM-based chips to emulate Intel applications.
- Intel apps: work natively on Intel Macs. Require Rosetta 2 on Apple Silicon Macs, which may negatively impact performance and reduce plug-in compatibility.
- Apple Silicon apps: work natively on Macs with Apple Silicon, enabling maximum performance and efficiency. Not compatible with Intel Macs.
- Universal apps: short for “universal binary.” Run natively on Intel and Apple Silicon Macs and do not require Rosetta 2 translation layer.
Check App Type Using Finder
- To check an app’s type using this method, you must first open a Finder window by clicking on the icon in the far left of your dock, as highlighted below.
- Select “Applications” from the sidebar menu on the left side of the window.
- Select the app you would like to check and right-click it (or two-finger tap on the touchpad) to open the context menu.
- Select “Get Info.”
- On the new pop-up window, identify the list item labeled “Kind,” followed by the app type. In the example below, the app is listed as a Universal Application.
Check App Type Using the System Information App
- To check an app’s type using the “System Information” app, navigate to the left side of the menu bar on your Mac and click on the magnifying glass icon to activate Spotlight.
- Type “System Info” into the search field.
- Press the Return key to launch the “System Information” app.
- From the left sidebar, select the menu item labeled “Software.”
- From the drop-down list of menu items, click on the option labeled “Applications.”
- Click on the column labeled “Kind” to sort the list. This will list each app kind as Intel, Apple Silicon, or Universal. In our case, all of the apps shown in the image below are Universal.
Verify App Type Using the Activity Monitor App
- Click on the “Launchpad” icon to the right of the “Finder” in the dock. (If you have removed this icon, open Launchpad from Spotlight search.)
- Click on the folder titled “Other” to view your utilities.
- Open the app labeled “Activity Monitor.”
- In the search field in the top-right corner of the window, type in the name of the app that you would like to check. The app must be open and running for this method to work properly. In this example, we will be checking the Pages app.
- Under the column labeled “Kind,” we see that Pages is categorized as an “Apple” app. Universal apps and native Apple Silicon apps, which do not require Rosetta 2, can be labeled as “Apple” apps, while Intel-based apps are simply labeled as “Intel.”
Frequently Asked Questions
What does it mean when an app kind is listed as “iOS” in the System Information app?
If an app shows up as “iOS” in the “System Information” app, then it’s an Apple Silicon app. The “iOS” categorization is used to label and identify iPhone and iPad apps that will run natively on Apple Silicon. While compatible with the Mac, these apps are built for touch-first interfaces and may not perform as expected.
Are Intel Apps inherently slower on Apple Silicon Macs?
While tech enthusiasts may cringe when they hear that Intel apps must be “emulated” on Apple Silicon Macs, it’s important to note that the ARM instruction set architecture on Apple’s M-series chips enable ultra-fast performance across a wide range of applications, regardless of optimization. In fact, most Intel apps run faster on Apple Silicon than they do natively on Intel-based machines – despite the emulation requirement.
Can I force a Universal app to open as an Intel App on my Apple Silicon Mac?
Some Apple Silicon Mac users may want to force Universal apps to always open, as their Intel version to remedy unexpected compatibility road blocks and troubleshoot niche workflows. To do this, check the box that says “Open using Rosetta” under the app metadata window discussed above. You can also explore how to Run an M1 Mac App as an Intel App to learn more about Rosetta 2 emulation on Apple Silicon Macs.
All photos and screenshots by Brahm Shank
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