Something to look forward to: While the transition from Intel to ARM has been speculated ever since the 2010 A4-series iPhone 4, it looks like Apple is close to launching laptops and desktops that execute on that idea. In doing so, the company will reduce its dependence on Intel’s processors and pave the way for more unique features when compared to Windows PCs.
Apple is slowly ditching the infamous butterfly keyboard found in its MacBooks, first with the 16-inch MacBook Pro, recently with the Retina MacBook Air, and soon with a 14-inch MacBook Pro that will replace the current 13-inch model.
The company’s next step in strengthening its Mac computers is to move from an Intel-based platform to an ARM-based one. Until now, it looked like we would have to wait a few years before Apple could figure out how to make it easy for developers to transition their apps from working on a CISC architecture to running well on a RISC one.
According to renowned analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple may be fast-tracking this transition with an “aggressive processor-replacement strategy.” The first Macs with ARM CPUs will supposedly arrive as soon as Q4 this year, with even more Macs transitioning to ARM in 2021, including desktop computers.
The idea here is that Apple will test the waters with a low-end MacBook, after which it will gradually replace Intel processors from all of its machines. This would put Apple in the position where it can save between 40 to 60 percent on component costs, although Kuo notes the company will also shift to ASMedia’s USB4 controllers in 2022, which will add back to the costs.
Presumably, the move would also make Apple less dependent on Intel’s processor release schedule and allow it to refresh its products more often. But more importantly, if the company will indeed be able to hit a lower price point for the new ARM-based Macs, it could also see a rise in shipments by as much as 50 percent to 30 million per year.
This would also give Apple the ability to differentiate its Mac computers from Windows PCs, but compatibility with Windows could also suffer as a result. That said, Microsoft has an ARM-based Surface Pro X to prove that it’s at least possible to do so.
Apple’s A-series SoCs that power the latest iPad Pro models have proven quite competent against the Intel CPUs found in the MacBook Air, but performance and power efficiency aside, the process of recompiling all the apps to work on ARM CPUs is going to be an arduous and expensive task for most developers.
Of course, Apple will probably lead by example here and port Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro X to the new architecture, and the online-only WWDC this year will most likely expand on Project Catalyst. In any case, it will be interesting to see how Apple will market the new ARM-based Macs to consumers.