Apple’s Macs might be poised for a massive change

“Ever since Apple started to make its own processor chips for iPhones and iPads there has been speculation that, eventually, these components would end up powering Macs,” David Shapton writes for RedShark News. “It’s a reasonable thing to speculate about, given that Steve Jobs was, to put it mildly, fond of being in control. For Apple’s tight and skillfully planned production schedules to be at the mercy of Intel must really rankle.”

“Not only that, but Intel’s chips are arguably quite expensive. They probably constitute a significant percentage of Apple’s manufacturing costs. In a world of very tight margins, this matters,” Shapton writes. “Such a radical change of architecture would seem all but impossible if it weren’t for the fact that Apple did exactly the same sort of thing almost ten years ago, when it moved from PowerPC processors to Intel.”

“Rumors of this were abundant in the several years before they did this (I remember writing about it at the time), and the key to the smooth transition was that (again a rumor, never officially confirmed as far as I know) they had a version of OS X up and running on Intel in parallel with the PowerPC version,” Shapton writes. “They were all ready to switch when the time was right.”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “David G.” for the heads up.]

Related articles:
Why Apple won’t dump Intel x86 for its own ARM chips in MacBooks and the Mac Pro – August 5, 2014
Intel-powered Macs: The end is nigh – August 4, 2014
Intel’s Broadwell chips further delayed; not shipping for most Macs until early-mid 2015 – July 9, 2014
Apple will inevitably drop Intel for their own A-series processors in the Mac – June 26, 2014
How long before Apple dumps Intel from MacBook Air? – June 26, 2013


    1. The guy should better understand Apple’s history.

      • Steve Jobs left Apple
      • Steve Jobs started NeXT in 1985
      • The NeXT computer was an Intel based PC
      • When Steve Jobs came back to Apple so did the NeXT OS which later became Apple’s OS X which was alway able to run on an Intel chip.

      1. In fact NeXT only produced Motorola (i.e. 680xx) based computers, they built PowerPC prototypes but those never reached the market.
        By the time NeXT was bought they had left the hardware business and had NeXTStep running on generic PCs

        1. “Yellow Box” was the original name for the APIs that we now call Cocoa.

          Rhapsody was basically the latest version of OpenStep with a new skin to make it look more mac-like.

          NeXTStep became OpenStep became Rhapsody which eventually became OS X.

          “Yellow Box” was a cross-platform API. As well as the version in the full OpenStep OS, there were versions that ran on top of Solaris, and also even Windows NT. These cross-platform versions of “Yellow Box” were a fairly early casualty.

          The primary difference between the Intel and PowerPC versions of Rhapsody was that the PowerPC version also included the “Blue Box”, which provided a Mac OS 8/9 environment.

      1. Huh? Yes, that was the name of the project. BUT, skipping over the erroneous Star Trek reference:

        South Park, 1999: Starvin’ Marvin In Space.

        Marvin and the boys team up, and by accidentally pressing a button, they fly via a wormhole to the home planet of the ship’s former owner: the planet Marklar, whose inhabitants speak a language that is identical to English except for the fact that every noun is replaced with the word “Marklar“.

        Were you perhaps thinking of Data’s evil twin android brother named Lore? Kurn was Worf’s brother. He was neither evil nor a twin. Geek out!

  1. Ugh. And if Apple were to switch to its own A series chips (which I doubt happens any time soon because those chips are not powerful enough for desktop uses), Apple would once again have its developers go through rewrites of their software to remain compatible. I don’t know that such a move is worth the effort at this point.

    1. Not sure if that is true or not. So I thought iOS was a version of OSX, being so, it would seem that OSX is already geared toward using ARM processors. In addition, there are far more applications for iOS than OSX. And all of those are getting more and more sophisticated and more capable. Plus, many productivity apps, including pages, etc. and Office, etc. Are moving to the cloud. So the platform doesnt matter so much any more. I’m sure you are thinking of those really powerful Graphics and design apps, or even games? Well, OSX is not a huge gaming platform like Windows.

      Look I just bought a new MacBook, so im not super thrilled by this concept. But that said, its not as far out there as you might think. Plus, part of the decline in PC sales is that most avg. users have not needed processing capacity beyond what the core2duo chips provided. Avg. user does email, web and some, not much, some office productivity applications. And a survey a few months back showed that at work, many of those office applications are largely unused, as in Excel was used like 7% of the time …..

      Most people could easily get away with using google docs or apples cloud based offerings.

        1. Apple provides an emulator for running iOS apps via XCode. This is easily done specifically because iOS is written to run on RISC chips. If you don’t understand why, please read up on RISC vs CISC. I have a couple links provided in a comment below…

  2. Should be interesting. I think if Apple could get to where they produce their own chips across their entire line, they will be in better shape – but also under more pressure to make up those costs in device sales. I don’t think many will buy a Mac because the chips are made by Apple.

  3. I think Apple will always keep Intel around for their fabrication and materials expertise. They like being friends with each other, and the Mac is still growing as is.

  4. I don’t see this happening anytime soon. There are many legacy Intel apps that would have to be rewritten for a proprietary Apple processor, and Apple would have to create an economic incentive to do so.

    That, and the A-series CPUs would have to get much more powerful, leads me to think this won’t be happening anytime soon. Intel’s delays don’t hurt the Mac, since they impact everyone using their chips.

    1. agreed – however As Google offers its chrome sub-note book iBook clone — it is possible Apple might also offer something similar — just done right. 🙂

      1. Apple already makes iPads for users who just want to browse the Web, exchange messages, and play movies. It would be wildly unlikely for them to reverse that decision and make netBook or ChromeBook clones. Touchscreen notebooks (as distinct from tablets with an auxiliary keyboard) have never sold well, and neither have tablet/laptop hybrids like the Surface. The notion that Apple would ever make a cheap low-powered computer that couldn’t run most existing software flies in the face of Microsoft’s losses on Windows RT.

    2. You’re right, because it’s certain that the A-series CPUs will never get more powerful, nor will they ever be able to execute the Intel instruction set. /s

  5. Some writers don’t understand the differences in chip architectures, and seem to equate one cpu to another, only differentiating between Mhz or number of cores. These are the ones who like to say Macs will suddenly all be using the same chips as iPhones. Too bad they are so blinkered to how ignorant the claim is.

    1. Memo to MDN: Would you consider creating two separate forums on your site? One would offer real news and competent analysis regarding Apple and the computing world. The other would be a cesspool where crap like this could be put.

      Montex, you are absolutely right about these bozos. First, they are completely clueless about the technical issues and apparently don’t understand an ARM version of MacOSX would be about as useful as the tragic failure known as WindowsRT (and for exactly the same reasons). Never mind that an ARM version of a machine as wickedly powerful as the new Mac Pro is basically impossible, at least for three to five years.

      Second, they are not observing what is happening right in front of them: The Continuity features disclosed in iOS8 and Yosemite clearly point to how Apple plans to manage these two platforms: Separate and inter-operable. They will play nicely together, and add value to each other, BUT THEY WILL REMAIN SEPARATE. To do otherwise leads directly to the same kind of cluster#@k that is Windows 8 and Surface Pro.

      This should come as no surprise to anyone paying attention to what both Steve Jobs and Tim Cook have been saying for years. Both made it clear that the Mac wasn’t going away and that the two operating systems would not be merged. Cook went further to deride the idea of hybrid hardware with his refrigerator/toaster example.

      Apple has benefitted hugely from the fact that iOS and MacOSX share technologies and some code base. But they are evolving to optimize the value of their respective platforms, NOT to become the same thing.

      1. MDN does provide a “think before you click” feature that helps discern the cesspool crap from normal analysis such as this one.

        A separate forum where real news and competent analysis occurs regarding Apple and the computer world. Heck there’s would be what one article per uh uh year? decade?

        I mean seriously, real news and competent analysis, that kind of an oxymoron.

  6. “Such a radical change of architecture would seem all but impossible if it weren’t for the fact that Apple did exactly the same sort of thing almost ten years ago, when it moved from PowerPC processors to Intel.”

    Actually, they didn’t. They did just the opposite.

    Apple moved from what was, in the personal computer world, an Apple only architecture to an industry standard architecture.

    Apple moving from Intel chips to A series chips for the Macs would be a move in the exact opposite direction.

    Apple tests lots of things. Some come to fruition, some don’t. Some of you may recall the two architectures that Apple developed along about 1989: QuickRing and FireWire.

    QuickRing was to be the successor to NUBUS. Apple kept it as an option for a few years before abandoning it and going from NUBUS to the industry standard PCI bus. (If I remember correctly there was only one co-procesor card vendor that sold cards with QuickRing, and it was *in addition to* the cards’ NUBUS interface.)

    FireWire was to be the replacement for SCSI plus additional capabilities. (Back in ’89//90 FireWire was a 50 Mbps serial bus. Apple never picked it up as it’s sole drive interface and *eventually* went with the industry standards EIDE and SATA instead.

    Over the past 20+ years the Macs have become more and more industry standard hardware (though the form factors have often been non standard). I don’t expect this trend with Macs to change in the near future.

    1. EXACTLY! Thank you Shadowself!!!

      ♪ It’s beginning to look a lot like August!
      In every article I read. ♫

      ♬ The writers all make it clear,
      That they are not really here,
      They’re on the beach slugging beer,
      While wishing us August cheer! ♪♪

      ♩It’s beginning to look a lot like August! . . . ♫

  7. This is a tired news story based on Jen Louis Gassée’s Monday note.

    It’s blue sky.

    It’s not likely to happen any time soon.

    Even if Apple were to design an A series CPU for Intel replacement? Who would fab it? Samsung?

  8. It’s a bit of a stretch to consider Apple replacing Intel with ARM across the range, but it might make sense to offer an ARM powered desktop alongside Intel desktops. Think of it as a mains powered IOS device with a conventional keyboard.

    Such a device would be able to run IOS apps ( including Office for iPad, together with Pages, Numbers and loads more ). IOS devices work well with limited memory and with a comparatively slow CPU, so you wouldn’t need cutting edge components. Instead, the device could be built from relatively inexpensive parts and sold at an aggressively low price.

    Those who need the Intel bells and whistles will still be able to choose a conventional Intel Mac, while those who are looking for a general purpose computer for office use will be able to opt for a cheaper alternative. There could also be opportunities for using them as POS terminals, school computers , terminals in call centres and many other roles which need a reliable, but not overly powerful computer.

    Apple’s link up with IBM will promote the use of iPads in enterprise settings. It would be a natural fit to offer a comparable device for desktop purposes, which could run the same apps.

  9. The ARM family is a RISC type chip as was/is the Power PC family. The primary reason Apple moved away from PPC was that IBM and Motorola were not going to spend the coin to keep the PPC family in the race with Chipzilla on x86- not because there was an inherent flaw or problem with CISC type designs or PPC.

    Apple has spent a lot of money and acquired a ton of talent that knows how to design chips with particular expertise in low power consumption. There is no reason Apple could not- if it wanted to- design a custom chipset of reverse engineered x86 type (AMD style) with a more efficient architecture or a custom ARM chip optimized for laptop and desktop use.

    The real question is not could Apple do this, but for what good reason. There may be any number of good reasons for Apple to do something along this line, but I would not hold my breath waiting for Tim Cook to detail them.

    1. “design a custom chipset of reverse engineered x86 type ”
      I don’t think they need to reverse engineer x86 though. Just use Xcode to compile to ARM and done. As someone else mentioned, they could even have iTunes recognize what processor you have and only download the code for the processor you have. Still have an old Mac? When you download on there, you get the old Intel version (for as long as the developer supports it… which will be as long as Apple makes it easy via Xcode 🙂

  10. Apple would be real dumb to move from Intel at this point. One of the best things about a Mac is that it runs Windows so well. Business users can use a Mac to run Windows programs when required and get the productivity of a Mac.

    Intel deserves some credit- their lastest i7 processors with graphics are pretty darn good. If Apple wants to make the best computers in the world- they’ll stick to Intel.

    1. “One of the best things about a Mac is that it runs Windows so well”
      Well, THE best thing is that it runs OSX so well. 🙂

      I believe most people that purchase Macs, for right or wrong, are doing so because they’ve heard bad things about Windows and viruses and want NONE of that. Even if not wholly true, while there’s a lot of people that run multiple operating systems with virtualization and the whole 9 yards, the vast majority of web surfing, iTunes buying, App store downloading, and email checking users of OSX have not used Windows compatibility and will likely never use it.

  11. The ability to run windows probably helps convince people to switch to the mac. While it isn’t much interest to long time Mac users, I’d still count that as a positive for now.

    But there is a more important issue in Intel’s favor. When the PPC started failing to keep up, it was damaging to Apple. But if Intel slows down, Windows and Macs are hurt equally. Intel can’t hurt Apple with chip design. (Although they can with things like Thunderbolt.)

    Plus, Intel is probably slowing down due to lack of competition. If the A8 chips provide competition, you can expect Intel to get serious about speed again.

  12. My only concern with the switch is how users of Parallels and Boot Camp will fare, assuming the Apple chips aren’t x86 compatible. It doesn’t affect me, but it could push away a number of switchers who are stuck with Windows-only apps.

  13. I don’t think this makes any sense. Arm chips aren’t strong enough for desktop use, especially Video editing, Photoshop etc. Plus Apple loses compatibility with Windows emulation apps that run native on Intel, which isn’t as big a deal as it was 9 years ago, but still a good selling point. I don’t see it happening for a long time, if ever.

    1. There is no way of getting around the fact that RISC chips like ARM or PowerPC trying to run CISC (e.g. Intel) programs in emulation are slower than the reverse. That doesn’t just affect people using Windows in Bootcamp or Parallels. It also affects anybody trying to run an OSX program that hasn’t been rewritten and recompiled for the new processor family. The transitions from 68000 to PowerPC and thence to Intel worked because the new processors were a LOT faster than the old ones, so the performance hit was tolerable.

      It will be years (not decades, certainly, but years) before any ARM-derived chip can even execute most algorithms as fast as current Intel CPUs. During those years, the Intel chips will be getting faster as well. It will take even longer for the ARM chips to run enough faster than contemporary Intel chips to offset the performance hit from emulation.

      Yes, the Apple compilers will allow setting flags to allow generating native machine language for any (or all) of the supported processor families, but transitioning from code that has been optimized for one family to code that runs fast and error-free on another is not that simple. For years to come, the generated code will have to run on existing computers as well as new ones, so it will have to be debugged on both platforms to ensure that it behaves consistently on both.

      A lot of developers either won’t take the trouble, or will only get around to it after years of delay. Remember how long we waited for native versions of Photoshop and Quicken? In fact, the PowerMac version of Mac OS itself contained a lot of 68000 code run in emulation long after Apple stopped making 68000 computers.

      So, yes, Apple may one day make ARM-based Macs, but only when those processors provide significant benefits over Intel. That isn’t happening anytime soon.

      1. There are some big differences that no longer apply however.

        1) While machine compiled code is sometimes not as efficient as hand coded, on today’s machines it’s still acceptably fast. No need to emulate, just recompile using the latest Xcode. If you still want to tweak because you can personally do a better job than Xcode, you still can, BUT you will from day one have an app that can still be sold on the App store.

        2) Apple is exerting far more control over what gets fed to any processor running on any of their systems. Xcode has been a way to wrangle what gets fed to the processor and, with their Swift programming language they’re teaching programmers how to write code that Xcode will be able to compile most efficiently.

        3) With the advent of Xcode and the Mac App store, Apple’s in a prime position to ask every developer to recompile their applications every year. They know what apps were written last year, they know what changes they want to make in the code that gets generated out of Xcode and they can see a lot of the hand coded solutions that might break. Ensure there are clear notes indicating how to get around most common problems and you get a very high recompilation rate. If an app does drop from the store, it’s likely due to them finding a novel way to use an API that was never sanctioned by Apple and is getting shut down. Or for other non-technical reasons.

        For developers NOT on the App store, they’re on their own.

        In the end, we agree that if they can create a processor that will perform quickly enough, then they’ll be able to forge their own way. We just disagree about whether code currently written in Xcode (are there large devs not using Xcode?) could be compiled to run suitably quickly on two similarly spec’d Intel and ARM processors.

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