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.

59 Comments

    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.

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