Apple’s annual WWDC event is happening (virtually) later this month, and the company is expected to announce a major shift in its product roadmap. After years of rumors, Apple will reportedly confirm its plans to switch to custom ARM-based chips in future Mac computers, a move that could hurt Intel’s standing in the PC industry and send developers scrambling to prepare for the new architecture.
Apple has never made its own laptop processors, but it has produced chips for specific functions like security. It also makes custom ARM chips for the iPhone and iPad. In fact, the custom CPU cores in Apple’s A-series ARM chips are more powerful than the ones designed by ARM itself or other ARM licensees like Qualcomm. Observers have been expecting Apple to scale its designs for use in computers for years, and it sounds like now is the time.
Previously, Apple has changed processor architectures only twice. In the early 90s, it moved to Motorola’s PowerPC chips, and in 2005 it began using Intel x86 CPUs. Apple has stuck with Intel over the last 15 years, but the company has reportedly become unhappy with the slow pace of improvement. Intel famously struggled to roll out improved technology such as 10nm manufacturing processes. At the same time, AMD has caught up to Intel for the first time in years, offering more “bang for the buck” with its latest Ryzen chips. Apple engineers reportedly believe the company needs to decouple itself from Intel to maintain its product roadmap.
The move to ARM-based processing in Apple laptops will require developers to rework applications for the new architecture. These machines will run similar hardware to the iPhone and iPad, but they will still have the full macOS platform instead of iOS. The first ARM-based Macs could ship as soon as early 2021, but the goal is to transition all Apple computers to ARM in the future. While the first ARM MacBooks are still months away, it would be a tight timeline for developers to adjust their apps.
Apple only holds about 10 percent of the PC market, so Intel will be hurt but not crippled by losing Apple. However, this could also prompt other PC manufacturers to look for alternatives. There have been very few Windows-based laptops with ARM processors, but the market might start trending in that direction.
Apple’s WWDC event will happen the week of June 22nd. In addition to the ARM chip plan, Apple is expected to discuss new versions of iOS and watchOS.
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