Apple plans its own Mac processors, report claims

Will your Mac run on a souped-up iPhone processor one day? Apple is still reportedly considering replacing the processors inside Macs with chips made by its own internal silicon development teams.

Apple, Mac, iOS, Intel, A-series, ARM, iPhone, iPad

The idea that Apple intends to migrate Macs to its own presumably ARM-based processors isn’t new, but the speculation has been boosted by the latest report – from Bloomberg – to make this claim.

Apple’s 2020 vision comes into view

The report offers other tantalizing claims around the company's vision for 2020:

  • Apple has “targeted” 2020 launch of its AR headset.
  • The company is expected to launch a 5G iPhone.
  • Sleep tracking for Apple Watch will arrive.

The piece culminates in a reprisal of previous claims from the same source that Apple may announce Macs that run on its own proprietary processors. That speculation has erupted intermittently for years, with Bloomberg seemingly particularly enthusiastic about the notion – it has been making similar claims since 2012.

There’s a logic to this. Apple CEO Tim Cook has gone on record to state that his company needs to “own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make.”

History is everything

A move to migrate the Mac platform to ARM makes sense, particularly if you think about the history of Apple’s dependency on third parties for its processors.

Most recently, Apple’s huge public fight with Samsung helped force the company to find other suppliers for its own iPhone/iPad chips; while in the dim distant dawn of Apple time, the failure of the AIM (Apple, IBM, Motorola) to match pace with Intel processor development almost killed the entire Mac platform.

(Steve Jobs and NeXT subsequently returned to the company, OS X was born and Apple soon migrated the Mac to Intel chips to save the platform, the company and create a foundation from which grew the iPad, iPhone and everything else that makes up Apple’s business today.)

Apple’s top brass is well aware that dependency for key components on third-party suppliers is a big risk. This is why it likes to have at least two suppliers for most of its components across its chain.

It is also why the company invests deeply in proprietary technologies.

Post-design, hardware becomes a competitive advantage

Apple historians see the Samsung/Apple patent dispute as a huge sea change in how Apple handled itself in the market. Until then, the company seemed to believe that ownership of proprietary designs and UI patents would be enough to protect its business.

You could argue that this approach was broken apart by Samsung and the Apple-versus-Android battle, and it is possible this is when the company chose to begin investing much more deeply in proprietary hardware technologies. When tested, design patents turned out not to provide protection enough in an imitative market.

Of course, when it comes to the new breed of consumer electronic devices, the key components are the silicon chips that make the magic happen. Apple has always owned the software and designed the hardware, but today’s Apple also owns the processors used inside its products.

This gives the company huge advantage in the mobile space, which is dominated to a monopolistic degree by one OS provider (Android/Google).

Apple is the only company to offer a unique and competitive alternative that matches or exceeds the capabilities of the market dominant provider.

Apple wants to own the primary technology

Ever since Apple invested $278 million in PA Semi the company’s processor development teams have been working hard to build all the different forms of silicon the company might need. The list of proprietary designs grows every year and extends to wireless connectivity, Bluetooth and (eventually) 5G modems.

When it comes to the processors Apple uses inside its smartphones and iPads, there is little doubt the company’s development teams are cooking at the right temperature:

Apple’s A-series mobile chips have absolutely led the industry on power and performance for years, and this year’s A13 chips are no different, crushing the speed tests. AnandTech claims the A13 delivers twice the performance of the closest non-Apple chip.

Combined with Apple’s software and hardware development/designs, ownership of the technologies used inside the processors provides Apple with proprietary advantages and unique sales propositions.

Et tu, iPad?

iOS 13, iPad OS and macOS Catalina are more integrated than ever before.

Sidecar and Catalyst mean Macs and iPads complement each other, even to the extent of iPad apps more easily running on Macs than ever before.

When news that Macs would be able to run iOS software first broke, many industry watchers (including myself) couldn’t help but reflect that as app development tools went in one direction, the project would inevitably yield tools to make it easier to port apps in the other direction.

The Mac will always be the Mac, of course, but the software that runs on it may be liberated to run (albeit in different contexts) on multiple devices. The overall direction of travel lends credence to the suggestion Apple will one day consolidate its platforms around the same processor.

This doesn’t have to mean an identical chip.

Just as the the current iPad Pro runs an A12X Bionic, rather than the A12 Bionic chips of iPhones, a Mac might run an A12 SuperTrouper LightsRgFiMe chip (or whatever acronym Apple's crack marketing team selects), clocked for even faster performance at low temperatures with particular tweaks for the Mac.

Perhaps Apple has even begun testing these things?

All the same, given that Bloomberg has claimed Macs will transition from Intel to Apple chips for several years, history may one day show the latest repetition of this claim demands an unspecified quantity of sodium chloride.

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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