Apple A9-powered MacBook Air?

“The two areas the MacBook Air could make great gains is adding a high-resolution retina display, and a more powerful processor and graphics,” Mark Reschke writes for TGAAP. “Updating these two areas on the MacBook Air would not only squeeze Apple’s margins, but also put a dent in MacBook Pro w/retina sales, making a nearly identical specification laptop, but thinner and less expensive.”

“The solution would seem obvious that Apple needs to update their MacBook Pro w/retina display accordingly, but how?” Reschke writes. “Apple is so dependent on Intel CPUs with their integrated graphics, there is not really anywhere to go in differentiating the two laptops. However, there is different direction Apple could take the MacBook Air, revolutionizing the product yet again.”

Reschke writes, “Apple is very likely to be on the brink of delivering an A9 processor. This would not be designed for the iPad Air 2 or 3, rather, it would be a desktop class, 64-bit quad-core processor with integrated Imagination Technology graphics, eliminating Intel from the MacBook Air lineup.”

Read more in the full article here.


    1. Who knows on the timing, but does anyone doubt that Apple, which has built up their processor technology into a world mobile leader, doesn’t plan on making their own desktop chips at some point?

      They don’t have to replace Intel in all their MacBooks and PCs.

      The possibility of A-processors in some Macs are:
      – Apple’s incredible success in designing their own mobile processors
      – The computing power of these chips is catching up to desktop class
      – Apple’s development tools are already cross platform
      – Apple could bring low power, secure enclave, and other processor technologies to low end MacBooks with longer life and more features.

      Also, Apple is a huge company that needs huge new hits to continue growing. There are not very many places they can do that without losing their focus. But effectively capturing a large part of the desktop chip market just as they have effectively captured a large part of the mobile market (in both cases by including them in their own products) is an obvious way to do so.

      “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” – Alan Kay, famously quoted by Steve Jobs.

      1. This is certainly a possibility. Many people once thought that Apple would stay with Motorola. When the Apple-IBM-Motorola (AIM) alliance formed around IBMs Power architecture to create the PowerPC CPU series that initially bested the intel processors in performance in the mid-1990s, many people thought that RISC/PPC was Apple’s future. When AIM struggled and the PPC G4 lagged at 500 MHz as the Pentium surged forward, people got worried. Then the G5 was released, providing Macs with equal or greater performance relative to the latest intel processors. But the enthusiasm for the G5 ebbed when a mobile version failed to appear and PowerBooks were stuck with G4 CPUs. That is when Apple shifted to intel Core processors, a move which was initially met with significant criticism by Apple’s fan base.

        The moral of this story is change. Apple’s strength is that it is not afraid of change. Instead, Apple embraces disruptive change to achieve greater results in the long run. Apple prepares for change, fosters change, seeks change…and when those explorations bear fruit, Apple implements sudden shifts in its hardware and software to take advantage of the opportunities that arise.

        Apple’s R&D department explores many options. Apple developed and tested OS X on intel for years before intel-based Macs were shipped, and I would bet big money that Apple is testing the potential of mobile Macs based on the A-series ARM architecture. Whether or not A-series CPU Macs will ever be shipped is beyond my abilities of prognostication. But to utterly reject that possibility is folly. Apple has already achieved great progress in its A-series processors while intel has struggled with Atom. It is entirely feasible for Apple to achieve true desktop power with its A-series processors in the next generation or two.

        Apple has full control over its hardware and software ecosystem – development environments, compilers, libraries, etc. Based on Apple’s history with PPC and OS X and intel, I have confidence that Apple could make this transition fairly seamlessly. The main issue in my mind is that Bootcamp-style native execution of Windows and Windows-based software would disappear with a switch to an A-series processor. This would once again make emulation the only means for running Windows executables.

        1. One more thing to consider — the advantages offered by Metal and Swift on the A-series processors. Ditching the legacy x86 elements offers Apple and Apple users access to greater power and efficiency. Don’t be surprised if Apple decides to test the waters with an A9 or A10-based Mac laptop or Mac mini.

  1. So let me guess… the author is just some analyst schmuck who doesn’t understand the technical nature of things he’s writing about so he doesn’t even realize that releasing a laptop with an A9 processor would mean essentially negating the years and years and years of back catalog apps made for OS X since those were all compiled for intel architecture and ARM can’t virtualize x86…

    1. Intel Macs can run most PowerPC apps or “could run” using the built-in Rosetta “dynamic translator” (in Mac OS X before Rosetta was removed with Lion). That wasn’t even “virtualization”; it was an “on-the-fly” process that is transparent to the user.

      But THAT may not even be an issue here. This situation would not be the same type of “transition,” where one is being phased out. Intel Macs are not going away any time soon. But I think there is a strong case for some lower-end Macs to run on Apple’s own “A-based” processors.

      Apple can make it relatively easy for developers by making the development tools compile for both Intel and A-based processors, using the same code base, like during the PowerPC to Intel transition period. Like with PowerPC/Intel, Apple probably has all of that stuff technically working already, in secret. For users, the interface is identical (no iOS-like touch screen mode), just as the Mac interface was identical between PowerPC and Intel Macs running Tiger and Leopard. To the Mac user, it’s the same user experience.

      One logical restriction would be that all A-based Mac users can ONLY get third-party software from the Mac App Store (like iOS devices users and their App Store). This would eliminate confusion about what apps can and cannot run on A-based Macs, and encourage (and facilitate) developers to provide both builds for their apps. “Legacy” apps that do not have an A-based build are simply not accessible, and that limitation will be quickly remedied by developers who actively participate in the Mac App Store.

      Apple can make that distinction clear to customers, and create unique A-based Macs that are still Macs, but clearly differentiated in design from the more powerful Intel-based Macs. There is no point in doing this extra work if A-based Macs could be done using available Intel processors.

      1. I think you are absolutely right.

        The disadvantages of a non-Intel MacBook won’t be apparent to mainstream consumers switching to Mac for the first time. They will be getting new software anyway.

        The fact that iPads are so popular even with Windows owners makes it clear that Windows compatibility is not an issue for most people.

        1. I think some people think about this subject is a limited way. They imagine existing Mac designs, with an “A-chip” instead of Intel. Apple is anything but “limited.” Think different…

          Apple will ONLY make A-based Macs IF they can do something that is NOT possible using Intel. If it’s just a MacBook Air with an A9, it’s not worth the effort. Just keep making an incrementally better Intel-based MacBook Air.

          An A-based MacBook Air needs to be a quantum leap in “better” and priced starting at $499. The current best iPad is priced starting at $499, with amazing lightness and thinness, Mac-like performance, Retina display, and LONG battery life. The A-chip makes it possible… something that is not possible with using Intel. An A-based Mac needs to be equally distinctive, compared to Macs that are possible using Intel.

          Maybe an A-based Mac mini has the footprint of an Apple TV, perhaps somewhat thicker. It comes with an Apple TV app (which works like a standalone Apple TV) and an Apple Remote, so customers can more easily use a Mac mini as a media center. It’s the “Apple TV with apps” that some people want, because it is actually a Mac mini that also acts like an Apple TV. Standalone Apple TV for $99. Mac mini for $299.

        2. “Windows compatibility is not an issue for most people”

          ARE YOU KIDDING ME? WAke up, dude!!!!!!!!!

          do you not realize how many Parallels and VMWare licenses are sold each year????

          1. Dude, you just proved the opposite point. There are FAR MORE Macs sold every year compared to licenses for Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion, combined. That means that MOST Mac customers to NOT care about Windows compatibility.

            And those who do care about Windows can get an Intel-based Mac. We are NOT speculating that Apple will transition everything to the A-chips, only that the Apple’s ultra-efficient processors may be used for Macs where it makes sense.

  2. While I can’t see Apple releasing a MacBook Air with an ARM CPU (see Windows RT), I can see them releasing a new product line for casual computer users that was based on an ARM SoC – both a laptop and desktop (all-in-one) – that ran an “enhanced” version of iOS. (Support for trackpad input rather than touch-screen based and the ability to run iPad apps full-screen or inside a window.)

  3. There’s a HUGE problem with this: ALL your Mac apps would have to rewritten for ARM (I doubt ARM has the processing power to emulate Intel chips at anything like a reasonable speed). Do you have ANY idea how expensive it would be to repurchase ALL your apps and utilities? Not fun. Really.

    In general, it’s a GREAT idea for Apple to get away from Intel if it were possible. I just don’t see this happening (unless you they call it an iOS laptop)…

    Also, they need to make iOS multi-user…

    1. Why is it a great idea to get away from Intel?
      Apple already got away from Motorola.
      And Apple got away from IBM/Motorola.
      In both cases, Apple was going to something better.
      The Intel processors are king of the hill. Why would you want to get away from that?

    2. No most Mac apps will not need to be rewritten the will just need to be recompiled for “Mac OS on ARM”. All the Mac libraries would be there.

      Even high end apps that were written in optimized C/C++ will require little tweaking. Only assembly language routines would need to be completely rewritten.

      Apple’s development tools, including Swift, Objective C, and C/C++ are already cross platform.

      iOS is a mobile optimized port of Mac OS. Running Mac OS on ARM will be relatively easy they almost certainly have been doing that in their labs for years.

      iOS technologies like Metal and the ARM instruction set are perfectly capable of migrating up to low/mid-range laptops. Other companies are even building servers with ARM.

    3. New MacBook customers already have to repurchase all their apps.

      Apple would continue selling Intel macs for those who needed them for some time.

      The Mac app store will let users purchase software that will download to whichever machines you have. (Apple would most likely require new Mac App Store apps to have dual or fat binaries.)

  4. I would’t count this out just yet. Apple have a nasty habit of surprising us all (hands up all those who saw Swift coming). It might be a few years down the pike but if Apple saw any value in this, you can bet they will throw their engineering talent into the fray. Let’s also not forget that, at a fundamental level, iOS and OS X are the same. Whose to say what will be possible in ten years time?

    Let’s also not forget Project Marklar…


    1. “(hands up all those who saw Swift coming)”

      Hands up all those who are still waiting for Swift to come…
      Seriously, have you actually *used* Swift for anything important?

      I *sooooo* loved the idea of Swift when it was first announced. Finally, a language (unlike ObjC) whose syntax I really could get behind. So I paid the $99 (so I could get on the MacDev board and ask questions) and started playing around with Swift. NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME! What? No exception handling? What? No usable string library? What? Absolutely horrible performance (despite the name)?

      This is the app developer equivalent of Apple Maps; released a bit too soon and way over-promised. It might actually be good in a year or two, it’s a toy right now.

  5. There’s precedence for Apple creating an ARM-based laptop (anyone remember the eMate?). However, that unit didn’t replace the Mac laptop and I doubt anything created with an ARM today would do so. It would be iOS in a clamshell for those who need something between a tablet and a laptop.

    That said, I’m not sure Apple wants to compete in the Chromebook/netbook/Surface market (which is where an ARM laptop would go). Then again, I wasn’t sure Apple wanted to compete in the Phablet market. Shows what I know.

  6. An A-class processor running alongside an Intel processor would be a technical marvel and would give Macs an edge over traditional computers. Imagine a MacBook Air with a detachable screen… when detached, it’s an iOS device with access to all of your files… when attached, it’s an OS X device with access to all of your files.

    1. Apple wants all your files to be in iCloud, not on your Mac/iOS device. And where are you storing these files? On the iPad detachable part? On the Mac keyboard part? So basically you’re just adding a detachable keyboard with a power-hungry processor to an iPad?

      Don’t see it happening.

    2. You are confusing the ARM/Intel instruction sets with iOS/Mac OS.

      iOS is for tablets. Mac OS is for laptops/desktops. Apple could run either OS on either Intel or ARM chips. They are not going to mix up their OS’s.

  7. Most comments here sound like they haven’t been around the Mac universe for all that long. Less than ten years ago, Apple moved the entire Macintosh universe from RISC-based PowerPC processor architecture to Intel’s common one. There were no consequences for Apple’s market share; no loyal Mac users switched to Windows because of the move, and most people eventually migrated their tools over.

    Apple has done this kind of move (radical architecture change) several times: from 68k to PPC (apps had to be re-written); from System 9 to OS X (apps had to be re-written); from PPC to Intel (Apps had to be re-written), from 32-bit to 64-bit (you know the refrain…). At every one of these changes, they provided a stop-gap solution that would allow support for old apps on the new architecture without a significant performance hit (classic environment in OS X, Rosetta on Intel machines, etc). The solution lasted for a few years, just enough for vast majority of users to catch up with their application update cycles.

    We don’t know and can’t tell if Apple is considering a move from Intel to the A-series RISC architecture for their Macintosh line(s). One thing is certain, we shouldn’t be surprised if they do this, and we shouldn’t be scared either; based on their track record, they know how to go through such a change — they’d done it plenty of times already.

    1. Well, the transitions weren’t smooth for everyone. The Mac market share — a realistic assessment of the relative health of a platform whether one wants to admit it or not — suffered at those times. Just when Apple seemed to turn the corner, the user community had to deal with another curve ball.

      Many Mac users either stopped upgrading for a few years or actually left Macs because of the awkward transition to OSX, and many more who left during the Intel transition. If you rely on your hardware & software to do the job and a company pulls support for it, you are basically screwed. In many instances, the transition to Windows was actually less painful for Mac users.

      Those of you who didn’t encounter serious bugs and data loss in the transition to OS X 10.0, “Cheetah”, consider yourselves lucky. It was not ready for prime time. By 10.2 Apple finally got it spot on. Then after a short time, Apple forced another massive change that, if a user jumped in right away, often bricked formerly perfectly functional accessories and software.

      Intel by that time was clearly the superior chipmaker, but users had to assess the transition cost, and sometimes there simply was no Mac-only solution. We had to buy Wintel boxes to bridge the gap. Just as bad, the data migration effort required in going from the PowerPC to the Intel versions was not as smooth as Apple envisioned. With Windows XP dominating computer sales, the smart software makers just went to where the money was. To this day, many OS X titles are only watered-down versions of their Windows counterparts. Almost all developers who write software for the Mac also code identical or more capable versions of their software for Windows. Apple so publilcly mismanaged its relationship with Adobe that Adobe essentially axed any further development for many Apple-centric programs. Apple itself axed many programs in each transition, not always for the better.

      I’m not saying that Apple is not overall the better platform for many users. But we have to be honest with ourselves — Apple has royally screwed up a lot of users with its dramatic transitions. Whole industries got the cold shoulder from Apple, and small businesses were ignored. My estimate is that the Mac platform finally hit its stride in the mid-2000’s as Microsoft shat out that horrible Vista. But instead of making the Mac better, everything since 2010 has been intended to dumb down the Mac or make it look like iOS, which is by fundamental design a walled garden for mobile media consumption and subscription-based computing first, and a productivity tool only as a last resort. The Mac has become more bloated, buggier, and no more capable. iOS has gotten more bloated, more capable, but fundamentally unable to do but a small fraction of what a proper Mac can do. If Apple ever updated its underlying file system and made the fundamental improvements that power users have been recommending for years, then nobody would be so mislead into thinking that any ARM chip could do what an Intel-chipped Mac can do, the differences would be glaringly obvious. But Apple is scared that the MS Surface might steal some sales, so it’s spent the last few years dumbing down the Mac so that uneducated consumers actually think that a mobile iOS device could replace it. Out of my cold dead hands, Cook…

      As for ARM chips — not in my lifetime will they fully replace a full desktop-class chip. ARM chips are designed for battery-power mobile devices, where battery drain is a constant concern. Desktop machines have no such limitations, and therefore performance can be optimized to get things done. NEVER should those two diametrically opposed goals be merged into a single machine.

      1. You nailed it!

        And by the time Apple gets an ARM device that competes in performance to the Intel processors, Intel will have an x86 processor that matches the power efficiency of the ARM device rendering the whole ARM-on-Mac effort counterproductive.

        1. Why would a MacBook Air have to compete with high end Intel processors?

          Apple would not initially put ARM in MacBook Pro’s or Mac Pro’s. But companies are now creating servers with ARM chips so why do you think Apple can’t create desktop chips?

          All they have to do is add cores and crank up the clock speed.

        2. The reason Apple moved from PPC to Intel wasn’t because RISC architecture was inherently inferior to CISC (X86), because it wasn’t. During IBM’s and Motorola’s active development of the PPC chipset (G3 / G4 / G5), Apple’s devices were effortlessly outperforming Intel-based computers at any given time, for any given processor clock speed. The move took place because IBM essentially gave up further development of the G5 processor (there was never a G6 chip), as did Motorola. Apple was painted into a corner by these two. Jobs saw this coming years in advance, why he had that undercover project ‘Marklar’. When PPC came to its end, Jobs simply switched architecture.

          I am still sure that the RISC architecture has no inherent disadvantages, and may actually offer some advantages in heavy desktop computing environment over Intel’s x86 platform. The only issue today is chipset design and manufacturing.

          As for the migration, PPC to Intel wasn’t anywhere near as disastrous for Apple and the Mac platform as Mike makes it sound. All major developers ported their flagship applications (Adobe, Avid, DigiDesign, Quark, Microsoft…), so the only ones Apple lost were the ones that were annoyed by the Apple move (second in ten years, after the move from System 9 to OS X) and stubbornly decided to “stick it to Apple” and migrate to — what? Vista??

    2. Exactly. I could see this happening for the lowest end MBA. It would cut costs and extend battery life. These users would mostly run Safari / Mail / iWork / Message / FaceTime which would be native code. For Word and other third party software there would be something like Rosetta. These users are not expected to run Parallels or perform any heavy duty calculations.

      More than with other OSes, Maoc OS X programs spend a lot of time executing calls in the OS. Therefore, the hit for interpreting x86 code is not that great.

      Not saying this is going to happen, just that it doesn’t seem impossible.

      1. Something like Rosetta wouldn’t be needed. Apple just says,”We just released a new version of Xcode that will create code for either ARM or Intel. Please recompile your code with the new flags and update the application on the Mac App Store in order to continue to be listed on the store.” And in a few short months, lots of compatible apps.

      2. Companies are creating ARM chips for servers. Why would Apple not be able to create a desktop ARM processor?

        ARM is just an instruction set, it doesn’t have some strange limitation on the number of cores or increased clock speeds.

    3. I buy Apple hardware specifically because it is the best x86 hardware on the market period.

      I love OS X but I expect to run various Linux, BSD, Windows and sometimes x86 Android on any laptop I’m carrying.

      I can’t be the only person who will straight walk away the day Apple stops making x86 machines.

  8. if you follow Apples guidelines, and use Xcode, Swift, Metal and the rest of Apples development software you will be in a position to switch to Arm from Intel at your leisure.

  9. Apple has GREAT CPU designers – as evidenced by the CPU in their iOS devices. Why don’t they just take out a license for X86 (like AMD does), and design their own X86 CPU? Seems that would be the best way to “get away from Intel”, yet maintain compatibility.

    1. Problem is, why go to the great expense to license the chipset when you have no foundry to make them? Apple doesn’t even make their ARM chips today, they rely primarily on Samsung, which of course we all know has allowed Samsung to reverse engineer its way into Apple’s most capable mobile device competitor.

      Moreover, any licensing agreements that Intel would offer would certainly prevent Apple or anyone else from customizing the chipset in any way to offer “better” performance than Intel already offers.

      Apple’s best strategy on the Mac is to enrich more developers, sell more Macs, and therefore become Intel’s #1 volume buyer. When that happens, Apple would have enough clout to get better pricing, priority new product distribution, and perhaps an opportunity to partner with Intel for unique chip designs.

      Until that day, Apple remains just another Intel customer, with near zero ability to drive Intel to dance to Apple’s tune. …… Except one thing — that cash pile. If Cook got off his slow ass and waved some money in front of Intel’s nose, he could have some exclusive deals and accelerate chip development. The longer Apple fiddles, the more HP and Dell and Asus and others are able to wedge Apple out.

      On another topic — Apple used to do its own motherboards, and they were user friendly. Now Apple solders on overpriced RAM, deletes PCI slots, and ignores user requests for post-sale customization ability. Do you really want THAT company designing your chipset? Today’s Apple is simply not the user-friendly company you grew up with, my friend.

  10. It’s called an iPad Pro – the Apple Surface Competitor.


    – 12 inch retina screen
    – Attachable keyboard with sensory trackpad (no moving parts)
    – Huge battery in keyboard providing over 24 hours of power.
    – Smart pencil (Apple’s been racking up patents in this area)

    Designed with IBM in mind.

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