Will next year’s iPads be faster than Macs?

The future of computing is developing before our eyes

Apple, iOS, iPad, iPad Pro, ARM, Intel, Mac
Credit: Apple

Apple has added support for an ARM chip to macOS Sierra, igniting another wave of speculation that it may ship ARM-powered Macs to complement its ARM-powered iOS devices.


The kernel release notes for macOS 10.12 tells us that the OS now supports a new ARM chip family, code-named ‘Hurricane’. This is likely to be a new Apple-designed processor, given that the A7 was called Cyclone, the A8, Typhoon and the A9-series Apple chip was called Twister.

This support in conjunction with Apple’s decision to cleanse apps running legacy code from the App Store is setting thoughts in motion. Techtastic observes: “Apple can easily make the transition to a different instruction set, for example, switching from x86 to ARM without all apps need to be resubmitted.”

This makes it possible for Apple to introduce an ARM-based Mac capable of running existing Mac apps, or, indeed, launching an ARM-based iPad capable of running Mac apps in some form. Either way it eases any transition plans.

The eye of the storm

The new A10 Fusion chip is remarkably fast. It has quad-cores, two dedicated to high-performance tasks and two energy efficient cores to handle regular activity. Geekbench tests suggest iPhone 7 scores better on both single- and multi-core than most MacBook Airs; almost as well as a 2013 MacBook Pro and even beats the 12-core Mac Pro in single thread performance. (Daring Fireball).

There has long been speculation the company may shift the Mac range across to its own ARM-based chips.

Just four years ago, Bloomberg wrote:“Apple engineers have grown confident that the chip designs used for its mobile devices will one day be powerful enough to run its desktops and laptops, said three people with knowledge of the work, who asked to remain anonymous because the plans are confidential.”

More recently, Jean-Louis Gassée pointed out, “Apple’s drive to own “all layers of the stack” continues unabated years after Steve’s passing.”

Mac attack

The next MacBook Pro is expected to maintain an Intel processor and to host an OLED touch bar with an integrated fingerprint reader.

Mac users have become anxious at the lack of new hardware in recent years.

While some have questioned Apple’s commitment to the platform, Gassee puts the blame on Intel, “the Mac line is suspended, literally, by the late delivery of Intel’s Broadwell x86 processors,” he wrote.

Apple knows how much damage it suffered last time it lay in processor limbo. Part of the reason the company migrated to Intel was because PowerPC couldn’t keep up in terms of performance etc.

This may make it significant Intel has reached a deal to allow it to manufacture ARM chips in its factories. The ARM/Softbank deal may also have bearing on current speculation.

Right now all we have is questions and speculation, but as Apple’s own mobile processors become capable of desktop class performance, why would the company not want to run desktop class apps on them?

However, one thing we can predict is that it will put a much faster version of the current iPhone’s A10 chip inside next year’s iPad Pros – and these processors will be faster than the ones presently used in current Macs.

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The march toward exascale computers
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