Apple to debut A8 processor in iPhone 6, ‘B8’ processor for Macintosh, too?

“Apple’s iPhone 5s shocked the tech world with the introduction of the first smartphone based on a 64-bit processor, the A7,” J. M. Manness writes for Seeking Alpha. “The new Samsung Galaxy Note phablets announced on Sept. 3, by the way, are currently running the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor which is still only 32-bit. So a year later, competitors have yet to catch up with Apple’s innovation.”

“Apple will announce the new iPhone 6 on Tuesday, September 9, with an A8 processor,” Manness writes. “I should note here that I have no direct knowledge of Apple’s plans and that what follows is speculation. It is, however, speculation based on viewing the current reality and drawing upon that to make some educated guesses. The name B8 is particularly speculative.”

“I believe that Apple is also developing a second version of the A8 designed for the D/L market – here I will call it the B8 (although it might be A8X as the A5X was used for the third generation iPad),” Manness writes. “There has been some speculation that Apple might use the A8 chip in its hugely popular MacBook Air laptops. I think it will go a lot further… I call this new desktop computer the bMac – it is aimed at the business sector. It would be more powerful than many current low-end computers, clearly sufficient for the majority of office tasks… To my mind the bMac, whatever its name may be, is an inevitable product that will reshape the PC industry.”

Much more in the full article here.

46 Comments

  1. Isn’t intel processor major argument for Apple to get into business world? Ability to run windows is a huge argument. Are they at the point they don’t need it? I am not sure. Time will tell.

    1. It may have been at the time before a lot of Apps got written for OSX. At this point, depending on your business model, I could see a company not requiring Windows at all BUT I wonder how many such beasts exist.

    2. I have been using Mac computers for ~ seven years. I had wanted to make the move for years before that. However, I could not since I needed Windows applications as an engineering consultant. The turning point came when Apple moved to the Intel processor and Virtualization software matured sufficiently to allow my Windows applications to run. Apple professes to want to increase their penetration into the business world. If this Windows compatibility is broken, it will end my use of Mac computers, not because I want to but I will have no choice. Everyone who uses their computer for business purposes will be in the same boat. It would be a catastrophe.

      1. More accurately, everyone that uses their Mac to run Windows software will be in the same boat.

        You’ll no longer have the luxury of buying the most well made computer in the world for running Windows applications.

        1. I agree that the Mac is the most well-made computer in the world. However, it is just a well-made doorstop without the applications. Much of this discussion revolves around the assertion that only Windows App users will be negatively affected by a move away from compatibility. Wake up and smell the coffee. That is the vast majority of people.

        1. ““There has been some speculation that Apple might use the A8 chip in its hugely popular MacBook Air laptops. I think it will go a lot further… I call this new desktop computer the bMac – it is aimed at the business sector. It would be more powerful than many current low-end computers, clearly sufficient for the majority of office tasks… To my mind the bMac, whatever its name may be, is an inevitable product that will reshape the PC industry.”

          Really, I wouldn’t even call the MacBook Air a low-end machine, especially when fully configured with an i7, but the idea of bifurcating the Mac line by processor platform makes even less sense. You’d be taking the Macintosh market share and splitting it into two platforms and then asking developers to support both platforms.

          1. First, supporting two chips is nowhere near as difficult as support two platforms. They would both run the same OS X with the same APIs.

            Second, Apple controls the software development stack so can make this very easy for the vast majority of software which is not written to be processor specific. Even low level libraries like BLAS can be supported identically on both chips.

            Frankly, I think it was a foregone conclusion that Apple will start making its own processors (while keeping Intel version around for now) as soon as they emphasized the A8 was “desktop” class. There is no way Apple’s roadmap does not include making their own Mac chips. They are not going to hold Intel’s hand forever.

            1. The potential for Apple to design its own Mac CPUs is certainly there, nevermark, although it is a strong statement to call it a “foregone conclusion.” Apple could have been simply emphasizing the performance advantages of its A7 line of mobile CPUs – power efficiency with no compromises.

              Personally, I tend to agree with your outlook. Apple can design its own CPU lineup, from mobile to desktop. And Apple has access to strong semiconductor foundries to manufacture those CPUs in volume. If necessary, Apple can bankroll new foundries dedicated to Apple CPU production. intel stumbled badly in the 2000s when it comes to mobile CPUs, and it has been slow to recover its CPU momentum. The uncertainty is what makes the future interesting.

            2. Intel did indeed stumble with mobile processors. However, their desktop processors are second to none. Their semiconductor technology is two years ahead of the second best. Intel just announced 8-core i7 processors.
              The chances of Apple making a desktop processor that can compete with Intel are zero.

            3. Intel just introduced an 18 core Xeon processor today. Might be nice for the next Mac Pro. A number of vendors will be selling Windows 8.1 products (tablets, laptops and desktops) from $120 and this includes the Windows license. Intel has to be pricing their chips very competitively and Microsoft has to be discounting WIndows 8.1 pretty sharply to achieve these price points. Imagine the margins on a Mac Mini with material costs of $150.

          2. You are the voice of reason. I don’t believe this will happen. The crew at 1 Infinite Loop are smart enough not to shoot themselves in the foot. The computer is a truck. People who just need a machine to exchange e-mail, play games and surf the web have many tablets to choose from.

      2. Agreed. There are tons of legacy products in industry that rely on Intel and Windows. Apple will not give up Intel processors.

        However, I could see a new low end MacBook Air running an A8. This would be adequate for many people. It would let Apple test this in the market and gain experience without putting too much at risk.

    3. Being natively Windows compatible has its advantages, although most people use Parallels or Fusion to run Windows under OS X, anyway, because they want to be able to cut-and-paste data and easily switch between a mixture of apps. Those options would continue to exist, even if Apple ditched intel.

      It does not have to be an all-or-none situation, either. There are a lot of Mac users that do not care about Windows compatibility and actually actively avoid Windows software (me, for instance). If Apple could provide strong OS X performance with an ARM-based CPU at a lower price, then I would be glad to forego Bootcamp.

      1. Apple might change processors someday, but it would be across the whole product range. They have tried setting up a “bargain brand” before. It didn’t work in the 90s and wouldn’t work now. The cheap line robs higher-margin sales from the mainline product and creates a class of users who are so disappointed with the poor performance that they never move up. Why would developers bother to transition from Intel to ARM when there isn’t any money in that market? All or nothing, I say.

        1. The problem of margin cannibalization only happens when there isn’t clear differentiation between products. But Apple would have no problem selling Macs with their own processors as the mainstream computers and keeping around more expensive Intel chips for those that needed it and would therefore be willing to pay more.

          In other words, prices might come down a bit or not, but Apple would push the price of Intel Macs up reflecting that they would only be in the most powerful Macs.

      2. “Being natively Windows compatible has its advantages, although most people use Parallels or Fusion to run Windows under OS X, anyway, because they want to be able to cut-and-paste data and easily switch between a mixture of apps. Those options would continue to exist, even if Apple ditched intel.”

        It sounds like you don’t understand how virtualization works or the difference between emulation and virtualization. Parallels and Fusion need an Intel (or compatible) processor in order to do virtualization.

        1. I see where my paragraph was misleading, kevicosuave. I did not intend to muddle the distinction between virtualization and emulation. I was just jotting down a simple thought about the fact that it would still be possible to run Windows on an ARM-based Mac. By “those options,” I meant the general ability to run Windows on ARM-based Macs and perform cut-and-paste and easily switch between Windows and OS X apps, not Parallels and Fusion virtualization, specifically.

          Virtualization as currently offered by Fusion or Parallels would no longer be available if the Mac were ARM-based (unless Windows RT is resurrected!), but Windows emulation would always be possible. Of course, emulation will also be slower unless Apple or a third party were to develop a miracle emulation algorithm. Perhaps Swift and Metal could help to improve Windows emulation performance?

          If Apple begins producing ARM-based Macs, then I believe that options will be developed for people who still need to run Windows on a non-intel Mac. Windows emulators such as Virtual PC existed in the PPC days, and they would be quickly developed for ARM-based Macs (if that ever comes to pass) given the much larger number of Macs in the world today. I am not sure that the ability to run Windows on a Mac is nearly as important as it was eight plus years ago, especially given the growth of the mobile market and iOS. But the ability to run one or two Windows programs on a Mac will likely be of some importance to a subset of Mac users for years to come.

          1. Realistically, emulation of Windows on an ARM based Mac is pretty much a no-go. If you remember the Virtual PC days, it was painfully slow, and problematic. The difference between virtualization and emulation is night and day. The transition to Intel based Macs opened the door for a lot of people whether it was due to this difference or because of BootCamp.

            Worse, there’s the issue of ARM based Macs not reaching the performance of Intel based Macs to begin with. While some may feel this is acceptable for low-end portables… that’s the exact opposite of what would be possibly acceptable for emulation.

            And Windows RT doesn’t really get anyone anywhere either.

            Personally, I think this is all academic. I don’t see Apple doing this. There’s a huge difference between going to Intel and being turned down (mistakenly) for mobile chips, and then investing billions in developing your own for the huge chunk of the smart phone market that Apple has versus trying to compete against Intel, which invests billions upon billions developing chips for the entire personal computer industry when Apple’s personal computer chip share would be a fraction of what its small market share is today.

            The articles about the so called Intel “tax” neglects to mention this.

            Intel invests all of these billions of dollars on R&D and then spreads the cost amongst chips that the entire industry uses. Apple would need to beat the level of R&D, and then spread the cost amongst a very small fraction of produced chips.

            All of this with no guarantee that the chips are going to be much better, although pretty near absolute certainty that they wouldn’t be able to compete on the mid-high end. This is a scary thought when Intel has acknowledged its mistakes in the low-end and has shifted focus to be more competitive there, even amongst mobile.

            Even if Apple does manage to get chips that are lower priced, and higher performing/efficient, there’s still the issue of bifurcating the platform resulting in developers having to support the chip and customers having to buy new software with many upset that they can’t run Windows.

            When we look at Apple’s transitions in the past, they’ve been 100% across the board, rare, and when they were absolutely required, not “we could transition part of our line and maybe save a few bucks and maybe get better performance”.

            1. “there’s the issue of ARM based Macs not reaching the performance of Intel based Macs to begin with”
              ARM based Macs don’t exist (at least publicly), so we can’t really make this statement. 64 bit ARM chips made for mobile devices did not exist and STILL don’t exist outside the iPhone.

              “Windows RT doesn’t really get anyone anywhere either”

              Neither did myriad Windows tables or Zunes or Kin… if it’s one thing Apple has shown is that, whether before or behind, they execute better than Microsoft. So, saying “Microsoft was unable to do a thing” still leaves a huge door open for Apple.

              “Apple would need to beat the level of R&D”
              Intel has spent billions of dollars doing R&D for mobile processors… Apple outperforms anything they have handily PLUS the chip is designed to run only ONE OS well, that’s iOS. You have to agree that, tools dedicated to a task are more efficient at that task than general purpose tools every time. And, in accepting that, you also have to agree that any processor DESIGNED to run OSX would run OSX better than any general purpose processor.

              “to be more competitive”
              to be… as in not yet… as in by the time they get better Apple will have gotten better and NOTHING x86 Intel can produce is likely to run iOS better than an A series chip (see general purpose above).

              “customers having to buy new software”
              Customers don’t have to buy new software, they just go to the Apple store and download the version for their device.

              I do agree that if Apple does this, it will be an across the board move that will see all systems upgraded over the course of a year or so with the possible exception of the high end where they may throw a bone to the virtualization crowd.

            2. “ARM based Macs don’t exist (at least publicly), so we can’t really make this statement.

              No, but ARM architecture exists, so we can. Sure Apple could theoretically create a Mac with a couple of dozen ARM chips cranked up to tens of GHz, but that kind of negates the whole incentive to switch from Intel.

              In regards to “Windows RT doesn’t really get anyone anywhere either”, you wrote: “Neither did myriad Windows tables or Zunes or Kin… if it’s one thing Apple has shown is that, whether before or behind, they execute better than Microsoft. So, saying “Microsoft was unable to do a thing” still leaves a huge door open for Apple.”

              Well, Apple isn’t going to re-write Windows RT are they? The point is that for people who need to run Windows software, running Windows RT doesn’t get them there (with very few exceptions).

              ““Apple would need to beat the level of R&D”
              Intel has spent billions of dollars doing R&D for mobile processors… Apple outperforms anything they have handily”

              No, Intel completely ignored the mobile market. They’ve been playing catch up for a couple of years now. The CEO admitted this in his resignation, including how big of a mistake it was in turning Apple away when they went to them for mobile processors. And guess what? Intel is catching up… from the top down.

              “Customers don’t have to buy new software, they just go to the Apple store and download the version for their device.”

              You say that as if it’s already policy. The fact of the matter is that every app for the Mac would need to be re-compiled at the very least, if not deep level ported. Historically, this has always resulted in purchase upgrades for most if not all apps.

              Clearly today we’ve seen that Apple has its hands full. They’ve got engineers working on the A series, the M series and now the S series. I just don’t see Apple taking this on when the volume, even if it were all Macs, would be too low to fund R&D in a way that was in any way competitive with Intel.

  2. One thing is correct, without the Intel Tax, any system of reasonable performance automatically gets a couple hundred dollars cheaper to produce. For Apple, that would mean they’d more than likely just use higher quality components elsewhere in the system.

    As has been mentioned here, some in the business community use the virtualization features for certain non-OSX applications. This is in order to have all the core critical OS functions handled by OSX, with a few industry specific apps being run under virtualization. While these companies would be hit by this the most, I’m more interested in how many companies are OSX only that would LOVE something like this that allows them to take the Windows equation out of the picture entirely?

    1. I think that it is likely that some of the “intel tax” savings from an ARM-based Mac would end up being passed on to consumers. But Apple could also increase base memory, SSD storage, etc. and maintain the same price points. Regardless, people who want only OS X would get more for their money. I am paying the intel tax, but I do not run Windows at all.

      1. I think they may pass along a little of it, but I feel it’s more like “Apple” to use the cost advantage to add in a little more “Luxury” at no extra cost to them.

  3. Apple could come out with MacBook running iOS that is even lighter that the Air and be priced like an iPad. It would be more attractive to schools than the chromebook, which I am starting to see more and more of in k-12 classrooms. It could primarily be used as a web-based iWork client and head off the slow but persistent adoption of google docs in schools.

    1. The Chromebook will own the classroom. Google continues to develop platforms that are cheaper and cheaper and average consumers don’t seem to care as long as it’s cheap. Nearly every school contract will be won by reason of the Chromebook’s low entry price because the bean counters can’t see beyond that. The quality of a platform simply no longer matters. Right now there is an active anti-iPad campaign going on and I doubt Apple can win any market share against Google’s Android. Apple was able to break the cheap Windows netbook stranglehold with the introduction of the iPad. Apple is going to have to either come out with some new computing device or reinvent the iPad to stand any chance at all against the $150 Chromebooks. I’m getting the distinct feeling that school boards don’t want keyboard-less iPads anymore. I’m guessing this is one of the reasons of much of the talk about the death of the iPad.

      In order for Google to hold onto Android dominance it will help to create cheaper and cheaper entry devices. Not much good for consumers or manufacturers but simply good for Google as an advertising platform. I don’t believe there’s anything Apple can do about it except sit back and watch their global market share disappear.

      1. Some good points, although I don’t believe that Chromebook and Google dominance in the future is a certainty. I would like to think that Apple *can* do something about it.

        Perhaps September 9th will make a small difference?

  4. Well, this is not the usual non-Intel Mac rumor. What he is saying is that the Mac line continues but something new comes along beside it.

    We’l see. Patience, grasshoppers …

  5. I can imagine Apple changing processors, as it has twice before. What I cannot imagine is them not switching across the entire product line. That means waiting until ARM chips are not just more efficient, but also faster, than Intel.

    It would be just too confusing for consumers to have the same program run great on one machine and slower than molasses on another (brand new) machine. Running software under emulation on a comparatively slower processor is a formula for frustration. (Why bother to compile native code that will only run on a machine bought by people who don’t have the money for a real Mac?) People who got burned by unacceptable performance on a CheapMac would be lost customers for the real Macs with higher margins.

    The netbook and Windows RT represented the approach suggested here, with two tiers in distinct product lines. Those ideas actually made more sense than this, but they didn’t work either. Apple does not need to chase market share at the bottom of the market to make money.

    1. “but also faster, than Intel”

      Specifically, you mean faster than Intel at executing OSX specific code, right? Because Apple’s already shown that they’re adept at creating low clock rate chips designed to execute their code that performs better than higher rate/more core chips (sometimes by double speed and 4 times the cores) running Android. So, if Apple were to release a processor running at 1.8 GHz that runs OSX just as well as a 2.8 GHz processor, then “faster” isn’t really a problem.

      “Why bother to compile native code that will only run on a machine bought by people who don’t have the money for a real Mac?”
      Because Apple says,”Hey, you like being in the Mac App Store? GREAT! By October 10, you have to resubmit your app with executables for ARM and Intel. If you don’t want to, that’s fine, just leave the app store and we’ll call it even. k’bye!”

      Does anyone know if Visual Studio allow you to compile the same code to Surface Pro and RT? If so, then that’s what I would consider the same. If you had to do a rewrite, then that’s not what we’ve seen Apple do before.

  6. Who knows? Maybe they’ll have something ready as they did with Rosetta to run the Win apps on it. Or, as someone else said, partner with IBM for the backend and have the inexpensive Mac on the front end.

  7. I see no reason why Apple can’t make their own processor for the Mac as well as the iPhone and iPad. They currently have more CPU design expertise in house than Sun or DEC ever had, and making a CPU that can run x86 code in addition to the ARM instruction set is just not that hard to do these days.

    Whether they do it or now will come down to a question of cost and power consumption. I for one would buy a MacBook Air with a 20-hour battery life in a heartbeat, even if it did mean I couldn’t run Parallels anymore.

    -jcr

    1. Are Apple an x86 licensee? Even if they’re not now, I’m sure Intel would not be against the idea of licensing them. Better to have your competitor at least building in compatibility with your chipset than completely going their own way and leaving you behind.

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