Why Apple dumping Intel processors would be disastrous

“KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo published a report speculating that by 2016, people will have the option of buying ARM-based Apple iMacs and MacBooks. Kuo suggested that Apple will drop Intel processors to better manage the launch cycle of Mac OS X desktop computers,” Alcaraz Research writes for Seeking Alpha. “Kuo speculates that the ‘desktop-quality’ of Apple’s upcoming A9X and A10X 64-bit ARM-based processors will achieve performance numbers that are between Intel’s Atom and Core i3 x86 processors. He claims that 16nm A9X chips (that will be produced by TSMC) in 2016 will power future versions of the iPad and low-end Macs.”

“Kuo also claims that the Apple A10X will move to the 10nanometer production line of Samsung in 2016,” Alcaraz Research writes. “Mr. Kuo is only around 50% accurate in his Apple musings so I am treating this latest speculation from him with disbelief. I am both long INTC and AAPL. After the disaster with GT Advanced Technologies, I firmly believe Tim Cook will not again experiment with Apple’s best-selling products.”

“Mac computers are seeing impressive sales with Intel Inside them. IDC reports that Apple is now the 5th biggest PC vendor in the world. Why would Tim Cook endanger this good thing by experimenting?” Alcaraz Research asks. “Apple will be alienating millions of moneyed creative professionals if it starts selling low-end ARM-based Mac OS X computers.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Who said anything about the Mac Pro (or even the “iMac Pro”) going to Apple A-series processors? “Moneyed creative professionals” will still have their Macs and the software they want will still run on them. The so-called “disaster” with GT Advanced is not a good reason. ARM is not a Mickey Mouse operation like GT Advanced was before they totally blew their one big chance. There is no reason why Apple could not offer both A-series-powered Macs and Intel-based Macs. The two are not mutually exclusive and no disaster would occur.

Related articles:
KGI: Apple is designing its own processors for Mac – January 14, 2015
Apple A9-powered MacBook Air? – December 16, 2014
Why Apple will switch to ARM-based Apple A-series-powered Macs – August 27, 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

48 Comments

  1. “Why would Tim Cook endanger this good thing by experimenting?”

    Because all things change with time and a good reason? Because Apple might know something you don’t? Because it won’t be what your simple mind can imagine?

    1. Yes. Apple is the ONE company with the courage and confidence to take BIG carefully-considered risks, and the financial capacity to “self-insure” to mitigate against such risks. iPod was a risk (“Apple has no experience in consumer electronics”). iPhone was a bigger risk (“$500 for a phone…!”). Same with iPad (“It’s a just a big iPod touch”).

      I’m not saying Apple will or will not produce Macs with “A-chips.” But if there’s are compelling reasons for doing so, then Apple will do it. Otherwise, Apple will say “no,” even if Apple could technically do it.

      1. Apple has thrived upon experimentation while the opposition has mostly struggle with out innovation. I can see an overlap at the bottom so that Air or Air type machines may offer the A series or maybe a more powerful ‘B’ series designed specifically for the task for such a crossover machine or a new concept for that space and no doubt Apple TV, Home control/media devices and Mini could utilise it but don’t see it going any further up the scale for at least the foreseeable future.

    1. I can’t tell what you mean.
      If Apple could deliver 5 to 10 times the same processing power for the same price, it would happen.
      All the software that pros use, will be recompiled the next day.
      Download the software updates and away you go.
      No problem.

        1. Well it’s not like our current machines and software will stop working. Even if glacially slow companies like Adobe take a year or so to upgrade, it’s not the end of the world.

          1. Yes, for machines that are more than toys, they will stop working. If you require Windows software, you are dead in the water. I, for one, use a great deal of Windows software. Apple computers have a tiny volume compared to all Windows machines. The glacially slow vendors will not modify their software at all. I would have to abandon Apple computers at upgrade time and I certainly don’t want to do that. Compatibility is the reason Macs are used, as virtual machines, that run fast enough to be useful today.

      1. Thelonious, you know the answer to this: There will need to be two different versions of Mac OS X – one for ARM, one for x86. And maybe that is your point.

        What I don’t get is why MDN and the profoundly stupid analysts don’t understand that having two different processor platforms for the Mac is ABSOLUTELY BATSHIT INSANE. This would be the sequel to the disaster that was Windows RT and for exactly the same reasons. I doubt that there is enough processing power in a chip that falls between Atom and i3 to create an emulation environment that would allow current Intel OS X software to run at a decent speed. And while Rosetta was a startling show of technical cleverness (on-the-run code recompile) that bridged PPC to Intel, it was never a good solution, especially for complex software that made calls directly to hardware.

        Just to be clear, however, I do think Apple has a team that keeps the current version of OS X running on A-series chips, just like they did for Intel a decade ago. But that doesn’t mean you are going to see it on a consumer desktop any time soon.

      2. The reason to make an ARM version of Mac OS is cost: they could offer Macs at a lower price because they wouldn’t be paying Intel the high prices Intel can extort for their chips. The savings would be passed on to the user making Macs more economically competitive.

        The problem with an ARM based Mac OS is that ALL your apps need to be repurchased for that processor. This is an expensive path for those already entrenched in the Intel-based Mac OS. On the other hand, those new to the platform have nothing to lose and potentially a lot of money to save…

        1. If you didn’t buy your app from the App Store, then you deserve whatever pain you get 🙂 However those that buy from the App Store will just connect from their ARM based system with their Apple ID, and re-download for free.

        2. If you are creating content (rather than consuming it) you need a truck. The new users (all four of them) would really be in the catbird seat. That step would be the immediate precursor to stopping production completely. No one is going to build serious software that will only run on the new Macs. You couldn’t give them away. The problem is much worse now that Apple seems to care so little about computers any more.

      3. If they do this, I can see OS X running on the ARM CPU and having optional configurations that include an Intel CPU. Much like the MacBook Pros have the option of integrated graphics or a separate graphics chips today. That allows for efficient virtualization as well as compatibility with older SW.

    1. You must know nothing about computer hardware. There is no reason the ARM instruction set is somehow “dumber” than the x86 instruction set.

      And Linux has nothing to do with it.

    1. This comes up time and again. Won’t happen, because key cross-patent licenses between Intel and AMD automatically terminate if one company is acquired by another and would have to be renegotiated.

  2. I don’t know if an Arm based Mac is a good idea or not. I do know that dropping Intel based pros, iMacs, or laptops would be a terrible idea. The fact that macs run all systems makes it possible for the rest of the world to transition to Apple, and dropping Intel is not advisable until windows is dead and gone.

    1. I’m not against the experimentation of ARM-based Macs at all. I know tons of people who will never use it as a secondary Windows computer, and won’t care what the CPU is.

      That said, dropping Intel chips would be a bad move. Intel still has a massive performance lead. Someone, yesterday, suggested that the A8X was on par with the i7, but I couldn’t find any evidence or benchmarks to support it, so more Internet shit-talking it was. And I am massively impressed with the Apple A# chips so far. I just don’t see them in any computer outside the still-fabled MBA 12.

      1. Certainly not i7, but Intel sells the i5 and i3 processor lines as well and the A8x comes close to the low end i3. Is that performance fairly weak? Most certainly! However, it’s still a chip Intel has designed that, either now or in the near future, will see use driving a modern operating system, Windows, Ubuntu, etc.

        Since Intel has to keep the i3 artificially underpowered to make room for the performance delta between the i3 and i7, there could come a time where the leading A(n) processor is handily outperforming the entire low end i3’s and reaching into i5 territory.

  3. “Kuo speculates that the ‘desktop-quality’ of Apple’s upcoming A9X and A10X 64-bit ARM-based processors will achieve performance numbers that are between Intel’s Atom and Core i3 x86 processors. He claims that 16nm A9X chips (that will be produced by TSMC) in 2016 will power future versions of the iPad and low-end Macs.”

    So… Projections are that the A9x will be slower than the i3 processors at that time for desktop and laptop applications. (Desktop applications are NOT the same as tablet or phone applications. They’re just NOT. Get over it.)

    Hmmm… When was the last time Apple shipped a Mac with one of the slow i3 processors? Oh yea. Never. They’re either i5 or i7 or Xeon.

    So the pro “Ax processor in a Mac” folks are expecting Apple to move to a slower processor and then require people to run current software under emulation (which will be even slower) while the software catches up to the new architecture.

    Sure, that will sell REALLY WELL! (That’s full on sarcasm, in case you didn’t get it.)

    Apple MIGHT switch some of its Mac line to Ax processors if they ever get on an equivalent footing with the mid to high range i5 processors shipping at the same time.

    This would inherently cause a dual Mac OS base with all the nightmares that will entail. Think Apple’s software has gone downhill in the last couple of years maintaining two distinct OSes? Wait until there are three — and two of them Mac OS based. The screaming should get really, really loud then.

    1. No, I just think the Pros would either stay with current hardware or go elsewhere. (I know Pros still using G5’s because they’re still able to make money wih them, so why upgrade?) These days, how much of the Mac purchasing market is “I just need Internet, Facebook and email” and how much is “I need the latest, greatest, fastest!” It’s telling that the Pro machines are being made in a factory not known for churning out millions upon millions of machines per quarter. I wonder how shutting that production line down would hurt the bottom line when there’s iMacs, iPhones, and soon Watches to sell?

      If we find out what percentage of the total number those MacPro users are (remember, some Pros are happily using high end iMacs) that will say how important a “Pro performance” solution would be.

      1. Problem is there are three major categories of users, not two:
        1. Consumers
        2. Pros
        3. Enterprise (business)

        I don’t think Apple is willing to give up this third category. And Windows is often a requirement there – not just for Office. For example in my workplace, we do our collaborative documentation in FrameMaker, Remote EDA tools run under GraphOn Go-Global, even simple things like corporate training seems to only run under Internet Explorer. There are servers that only authenticate through a Windows session.

        These sorts of tools will likely not get replaced or ported in the near future. The enterprise market is is large enough that Apple will not be likely to give that one up.

          1. Apple, with the IBM partnership, is definitely working to cover the tablet space within enterprise, but saying they will only do iOS for enterprise is like saying they will do only iOS for everybody. If you think enterprise customers can get by with iOS, then everybody can. Too big a market, and there will be almost zero sales of laptops and desktops (there will be a subset that can exist in a iOS or OS X only solution) into the enterprise space without compatibility with all the infrastructure in place.

            May happen some day. But not until windows is completely dead.

  4. Bad idea!! Having gone through the the transitions from 680×0, to PPC, and then to INTEL, each transition has had some pain for both users and developers. Furthermore, the confusion it would cause users would compounded if they kept INTEL for high end macs and ARM for low end. While previous transitions had been forced by significant limitations of the processor platforms, the INTEL platform has a breadth of processors across the power consumption and performance spectrum. The only reasons to move to ARM is to lower cost and improve battery life. While these are compelling reasons, I don’t think the incremental improvements to either of those are worth the pain of making a change.

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