Apple’s next chip architecture transition will be inconvenient, but not the end of the world

“It’s been over 3 years since Apple has ensured that their operating system won’t work on Power PC machines. Now we are hearing of another architecture change only 7 years after the relationship with Intel was first formed. But this isn’t the first time that Apple has seen an architecture change,” Mike Vardy writes for TNW.

“Back in the mid–1990s, Apple ditched Motorola’s 680×0 family of chips in favour of Power PC,” Vardy writes. “According to an article at CNET, Apple provided ‘translation software’ that could run some of the older software on the newer machines. The story also cements what many Apple users already know: Apple isn’t afraid to make changes and set a tone for the rest of tech world. They ditched the floppy drive in 1998, they have gone on to create DisplayPort and other technological adjustments along the way. In the latest iMac there isn’t a slot-loading drive to be found. Apple tends to set the pace – and quite possibly the standard – for advancing technology.”

Vardy writes, “According to this Bloomberg article, while the likelihood of Apple shifting from Intel isn’t on the near horizon, it may not be too far off: ‘Some engineers say a shift to its own designs is inevitable as the features of mobile devices and PCs become more similar’ …Apple is no stranger to change. They seem to thrive on it in recent years. with less dependency on independent retailers (and perhaps less willingness to cater to them), they are positioned now better than ever to make another architecture change.”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Dan K.” for the heads up.]

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Will Apple really switch the Mac to Apple designed ARM-based processors? – November 6, 2012
Apple exploring switch from Intel processors for Macintosh, say sources – November 5, 2012
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  1. Another round of talks about new architecture only appeared thanks to Timothy Cook’s mention that Robert Mansfield will accumulate under his rule all of Apple’s semiconductor design groups and this is critically important because there are “ambitious” plans in this area.

    There is no anything beyond this to say that Apple wants to get rid of Intel.

    1. Intel recently invested heavily in promoting ‘Ultrabook’ – Windows based MacBook-Pro-wanna-be-wintel machines.
      Why would Apple want to provide funds to a supplier that is promoting machines directly competing against it?
      Smacks of Samsung, and Apples shift away from them as a supplier of parts.

      1. Exactly my thoughts. Apple will use intel until it no longer serves their purpose. They will move on swiftly when they have a sufficient replacement that gives them more control and some kind of competitive advantage as far as performance per watt or more tailored design not strapped to legacy ’86 architecture cruft.

      2. “Intel recently invested heavily in promoting ‘Ultrabook’ – Windows based MacBook-Pro-wanna-be-wintel machines.”

        Ultrabooks compete with the MacBook Air, not Pro.

        “Why would Apple want to provide funds to a supplier that is promoting machines directly competing against it?”

        Perhaps to buy the best components? It’s not like as if Intel started out with Apple being their sole customer. Apple came to Intel when they needed the performance and efficiency of the architecture.

        Intel has always evangelized within the industry and the Ultrabook initiative is no different.

        When it comes to desktop and laptop chips, Intel is far ahead in design and manufacturing. Intel is in this position because it caters to the broader market. Apple would have a very tough time competing on design and a very tough time finding a manufacturer that could come close to competing with Intel… let alone one that would be solely beholden to Apple (i.e. not Samsung).

        Mobile is different because they’re licensing the ARM instruction set and have invested a ton of money over a few years to then design around that and give the manufacturing over to Samsung.

        1. The Ultrabook initiative is a bit different, mredofcourse. Intel provided $400M of support for Windows machine vendors to duplicate the MBA.

          From a design sense, the retina MBPs are converging with the MBA form factor, so the statement that you are flagging is not necessarily a major error.

          Intel is indisputably preeminent in terms of IC fabrication technology. Intel was the first to fabricate 22nm components in volume and will undoubtedly be the first vendor to leap to the next scale (12nm?), too.

          1. “The Ultrabook initiative is a bit different, mredofcourse. Intel provided $400M of support for Windows machine vendors to duplicate the MBA.”

            Nope, no different. Intel has always spent money to evangelize hardware, software and content developers for their architecture. The Ultrabook initiative is just one of many that Intel has done. They’ve done many others before Apple switched to Intel and some since.

            And the idea with the Ultrabook was to leverage newer architecture for a new class of computing device that was a step above a netbook, but not a full size laptop.

            Intel specifically developed this architecture with this in mind, and had they not, Apple wouldn’t have found much success with the MBA as it would’ve been too severely underpowered.

            But, Intel had to justify the research and development of the architecture based on sales to the entire industry. This is why it doesn’t make much sense for Apple to go entirely alone across the board, or for Apple to do something like buy AMD and then only use it for Macs.

  2. I personally don’t expect this to happen anytime soon.

    And I’m REALLY not looking forward to being forced to have a dedicated Wintel box at my desk for the times I am forced to suffer through Windows (which unfortunately, is still a few times a week). I love the ease of being able to use virtualization (or Boot Camp) – emulation on an ARM processor would simply never compare to running on native Intel chips.

    It will be interesting to see where things go, but I don’t think there is a major impetus to move away from Intel on Macs currently (unless Apple has some amazing “non-mobile” ARM based designs in the lab). I can’t think of any good reason for there to be an ARM based iMac sitting on my desk.

    1. Windows 8 will work on ARM.
      How many iPad users are ‘struggling’ to be productive without WinSh#t running on their device?
      Windows will be irrelevant. Cloud based services are slowly nailing the coffin lid shut.

      1. I think you are referring to Windows RT, which is horrible. I made no mention of the iPad here. I am referring to running a full version of Windows, on a Mac, running a full version of OS X.

        Microsoft really made a mistake calling Windows RT “Windows” and making Windows 8 look like it. It is causing so many Windows drones to be confused.

        Who is the moron here? And why do I know more about Windows than you do, when I don’t even like it?

        1. And just so you know, very little would make me happier than being freed from using Windows forever. Unfortunately, there are some niche applications that I am forced to use a few times a week that only run on Windows.

          I don’t use Windows for anything else, and once I no longer need to use these applications, I will hopefully never use it again.

  3. Not gonna happen. The economics of chip design for PCs means this won’t happen in the foreseeable future. That doesn’t mean Apple won’t have prototypes in the lab, but it’s not really financially feasible at the moment.

    Apple makes tons of Ax chips for iOS, far more than they could possibly make for Macs. The R&D cost can be amortized over those tons of Ax chips for iOS. Apple just doesn’t sell enough Macs to make this practical, as the R&D cost will be far higher, but the payoff far lower. Not gonna happen.

    1. What makes you think Mac’s will not run the same chip.
      As each Ax chip is more and more powerful, there comes a crossover period when the power of the tablet is powerful enough to run the desktop.
      Phones and Tablets often share the same chip. Who would have though that would happen if asked just a few years ago.

  4. ““It’s been over 3 years since Apple has ensured that their operating system won’t work on Power PC machines.”

    What a loaded statement. It makes it sound as though Apple took proactive action to see that Lion wouldn’t run PPC code. The truth is that it would have required work and resources to support old code. Also, Apple wants to move the OS forward. I have no doubt that they know where they’re going and long-term support for old code hinders advancement (see Windows XP). As they say, the journey is the reward. Mountain Lion is a great OS.

    1. According to an article at CNET, Apple provided ‘translation software’ that could run some of the older software on the newer machines.

      Who is this wet behind the ears n00b? I’m sure many here remember those days.

      Or are there more n00bs here than I imagined?

  5. apple seems to be out of touch because they think that they have been so successful so far. but it doesn’t mean that they will continue to be. their attitude is arrogant. if they will switch, apple will die. Tim Cook is not really a guy who leads the company seriously. he is not interested in technology. look at him what he has done lately. apple is downhill.

    1. At least Apple has the ability to plan ahead and be ready for the future. Apple is a leader. Samsung is a follower. Tim Cook isn’t a convicted felon. Samsung’s CEO is. Sometimes confidence is mistaken for arrogance. If apple does change who knows what they will change to. You automatically assume it will fail. That is very short sighted of you. Apple has a long term plan. Samsung does not. except maybe copy Apple, copy google, copy windows, or copy anyone and everyone who is successful or popular.

    2. Edward, you have left your cesspool too many times in recent days. The turds are beginning to miss you. Take your stench and go back home. We are tired of you making too many piles in our forum.

  6. I think an opposite approach will be taken. I think “iOS” will become the base OS for all Apple computing devices, after a few more generations (years) of Mac OS X and iOS. With the consolidated base OS, Apple just adds the system components and GUI needed for each type of device.

    So, for Macs, it will have a familiar Mac OS GUI that is optimized for keyboard and mouse (or equivalent) on a larger screen. For iPads, the GUI will be optimized for a hand-held multitouch-based device, on a mid-sized screen. For iPhone, the GUI will be optimized for a smaller touch screen, using voice-based interaction more prominently. For Apple TV, the GUI will be simplified to use a basic remote control device as the minimal input method.

    There can be separate builds of this future base iOS that run on different processors, just as Mac OS X (Tiger and Leopard) could run on PowerPC and Intel Macs. Apple’s development tools can make it mostly transparent to the developers. So, if some Macs can run on Intel and some run on the A7 (or whatever), developers would not need to do that much extra work except to recompile the app. This is similar to the PowerPC to Intel transition being fairly straightforward for developers who were using Apple’s dev tools, but much more difficult for those using “legacy” tools.

    This time (for Mac), I think Apple will continue to use Intel for some Macs while switching to an “A-chip” for other Macs, such as some MacBooks. MacBooks run off battery power and need to be light and mobile, so using a future version of the same ultra-efficient processor used in iPads and iPhones makes sense. Desktop Macs are connected to an essentially unlimited power source and can be more focused on pure processing power and large screens (not ultra-efficiency), so continuing to use the latest Intel chips makes sense. There is no real problem with the Mac’s OS supporting BOTH types of Macs indefinitely, as long as there is a good reason to do it.

    1. That would mean mulitiplying production of various models instead of streamiling and sliming down product pipeline…just the opposite of Jobs’ first move when he took over, which was to reduce reduce the number of different models and consolidate production of…

      1. NO it wouldn’t. For example. All MacBook Air models can use the quad-core “A7” (or whatever number is it by then) first. All MacBook Pro models can continue to use Intel. Later, as Apple’s chip continues to advance in power, all MacBook Pro models can use the “A8.”

        Maybe there will be a transition period when there are both A8 and Intel MacBook Pro models, just as there is currently TWO MacBook Pro lines, one with the Retina Display and the older lineup, BOTH in production at the same time. Doesn’t that already violate your “reduce the number of different models” mandate?

        (Or MacBook Pro can keep using Intel and that can be the key distinction between “Air” and “Pro”).

        Meanwhile, all desktop Macs, that do not have power source or physical size/weight constraints can continue to motor along with Intel’s latest chips, maximizing pure processing power over efficiency. They can keep using Intel indefinitely. Maybe the Mac mini will switch at some point.

        No “mulitiplying production of various models.” My point is that there does not need to be a full “transition.” Having iOS as the based system will allow both types of Macs to exists, indefinitely. Use Apple’s CPU where maximum efficiency is needed. Use Intel’s CPU where maximum processing power is needed.

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