Apple is a semiconductor powerhouse; expect the first ARM-based Macs to appear in 2016

“Often overlooked by Apple bears is the fact that Apple has become one of the largest semiconductor makers in the world,” Mark Hibben writes for Seeking Alpha. “Apple’s custom systems on chip (SOCs) power all its iOS devices and represent a $6 billion business on its own.”

“More importantly, Apple has created a technical discriminator that devices with commodity ARM processors have had difficulty matching,” Hibben writes. “The future of Apple’s semiconductor business is bright, as it forges SOCs to rival Intel’s best.”

“Apple’s ability to build lower-cost ARM SOCs with equal or better performance than Intel makes the economic imperative clear: Apple will be able to build Mac OS devices at lower cost and better performance with its own SOCs inside. These ARM-based Macs will also be lower retail cost higher margins: a win-win for Apple and consumers,” Hibben writes. “Up until now, I’ve been cautious about this issue, saying that I don’t think Apple has made a decision yet. I believed that the key milestone would be successful production of the next Apple SOC series at 14 nm. That production has almost certainly begun, based on Samsung’s impending release of the Galaxy S6, which uses its 14 nm Exynos SOC. With the passing of this critical gate, Apple’s decision to move on from Intel is straightforward, even obvious. I expect the first ARM-based Macs to appear in 2016.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: iOS devices and OS X Macs inevitably are going to grow closer over time, not just in hardware, but in software, too:

Think code convergence (more so than today) with UI modifications per device. A unified underlying codebase for Intel, Apple A-series, and, in Apple’s labs, likely other chips, too (just in case). This would allow for a single App Store for Mac, iPhone, and iPad users that features a mix of apps: Some that are touch-only, some that are Mac-only, and some that are universal (can run on both traditional notebooks and desktops as well as on multi-touch computers like iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and – pretty please, Apple – Apple TV). Don’t be surprised to see Apple A-series-powered Macs, either.MacDailyNews Take, January 9, 2014

Related articles:
Apple’s blowout quarter predicted very accurately by same analyst who predicts ARM-based Macs – January 28, 2015
Five barriers that might keep Apple from moving Macs to custom ARM chips – January 16, 2015
Apple A-series-powered Macs are not only feasible, they may be inevitable – January 15, 2015
Why Apple dumping Intel processors would be disastrous – January 14, 2015
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

37 Comments

  1. Not gonna happen. It would be the Mac equivalent of the Windows RT tablet. A rather pointless product.

    On my Mac I can run OS X, Windows, Linux. Everything smooth.

    On an Arm Mac I can … run an underpowered OS X.

    1. Except Windows RT didn’t run full Windows or Windows apps. Apple has proven several times that they’re pretty darn good at switching chips. No, it won’t run Windows, but it’ll run OS X pretty seamlessly. I bet the new Macbook is already a part of this transition. Get everyone used to the new form factor, and then switch chips without any obvious changes except for battery life and lowering the price. Now: If you need ports, get a pro. Later: if you need to run Windows, get a pro. Most Macbook users won’t be running Windows anyway.

        1. Real problem with “expect the first ARM-based Macs to appear in 2016” statement is that there will be nothing different then comparing to how things are now.

          Apple’s A8 is already as capable as Intel’s Atom, so with allowing bigger TDP and higher clocks, Apple could have easily made ARM Macintosh right now.

          But it makes no sense; there is no clear benefit to platform from that.

            1. Yes, I have no doubt that Apple is working on an A-series mac, but I doubt it will see the light of day anytime soon. Apple will wait for a future time when Windows has less of a strong hold on business. Until then – Macs must run Windows.

            2. I do not know what Mactracker is, but there is official Geekbench database, and A8X has up to 4800 score there, which compares very good with Intel, whose results are from 1300 (Atom/Celeron) and to 15000 (high-end desktop CPU).

            3. Do a search on Mactracker and d/l it. It’s a database of pretty much everything Apple’s ever made along with a lot of information on the products. If you look up a device with a CPU (and it’s recent enough) CPU speeds link to Geekbench scores which compare closely to what I see when I run Geekbench on the device.

              Mactracker is a very good resource for current Mac users or anyone just interested in the history of Apple products.

      1. actually, Brad, most Mac users do run Windows programs. Practically every survey i’ve read recently shows that a significant percentage, usually the majority, of businesses using Macs and Mac gamers rely on dual booting or virtualization.

        Apple has never offered all the tools people need to get their work done, and today is no different. People will always need to run stuff that isn’t offered natively for OS X. Not to mention the elephant in the room — by design, many Mac native programs are dumbed down from their “equivalent” Windows version. (Quicken, Adobe, etc). And you can’t blame them too much — the Mac has too small of a market share for a developer to prioritize getting an OS X version polished to the same degree. Apple needs to give 3rd party developers incentive to make better OS X software, and that hasn’t been happening. Instead, Cook is riding high on iOS market share and relying on BootCamp, Crossover, Parallels, and VMWare to sell Macs.

        1. I would like to see a recent link AND it would be interestng to see if that is increasing or dropping precipitously. Considering most “current” Mac users are likely mainly doing the social thing that doesn’t require Windows, it’s hard to envision some significant segment using it in increasing numbers.

          When I’ve helped people recently to buy Macs, not one of them asked anything about Windows. a very small sampling to be sure but this would be compared to 10 years ago when it was 75 percent of the folks on average.

          Anyone who thinks that virtualization is selling Macs I would assume is someone that personally requires virtualization and is figuring that they are an average Mac user. And, according to a 2012 survey, if they’re older than 34, that’s not true. Nowadays an average Mac user just wants to “Facebook” and “Twitter” and watch “YouTubes” surf the web and send email.

          1. “Wrong Again” makes an interesting point — the average Mac user is likely to be non-technical in their computing needs, wanting and needing only the usual non-tech computer capabilities, as noted above.

            There are a fairly decent sized tech or semi-tech group, or sophisticated users whose wants/needs include the ability to multi-boot their computer via a VM solution of one ilk or another — one or more flavors of Linux/Unix, one or several versions of the Windows OS, to possibly include something as ancient as Windows 95, Mac OSX, etc., or perhaps even a direct boot into alternative operating systems.

            Modern OSX running native on recent Mac hardware can handily fit the needs of the average corporate user networked into a mostly Microsoft shop/back-end, in many (most?) non-tech-use user cases.

            Would be interesting to see the latest stats on this point, graphed in comparison to previous time periods stretching back 15 years, to visualize the alleged shift in the corporate user climate.

            Niffy

  2. I want an Ipad pro that runs OSX and IOS ..
    Come on apple get off the stuborn streak…
    We need a dual os hybrid.
    Pad that runs full fleged osx applications !

    1. You have nothing to worry about, it takes Cook years to get anything done.

      How long did it take Apple to FINALLY release a 4.7″ screen iPhone, now its best seller of all time?

      How long did it take for Apple to switch away from the 30-pin iOS connector?

      How long before OS X includes a long overdue ZFS-like file system? A new 17″ MacBook Pro? A new 4K standalone display? An internally expandable Mac tower? New iPods with more storage than the iPod Classic? A 128 GB iPod Nano? Maps that tell you where to turn BEFORE your turn? The list goes on.

      The current slowness of Apple under Cook is readily apparent to those who open their eyes. He’s busy campaigning for special human rights, you know. You will have to wait for Apple’s slower-than-ever product development to release anything completely new.

      1. You should switch platforms now. Just to teach that Cook a lesson. Or even better, you could create you’re own platform, and show him how it’s done.

      2. “…4.7 inch screen iPhone, now its best seller of all time
        Mike, come on, you know that each and every successive iPhone has been the best seller of all time — you’re trying to twist that fact to support your agenda through selective wording.

        Same goes for every point you make about “slowness” as a negative aspect of Tim Cook leading Apple.

        The 30-pin connector shift was never one to take lightly since it was massively disruptive to the installed base.

        The ZFS file system was being working on long long long before Steve Jobs died. There were technical issues and super important licensing issues that needed to be worked out — read the terms of the dominant open source licensing schemes someday paying close attention to the ones that require products incorporating them to also be released open source and free.

        Your scatter-shot list that goes on and on is not in conflict with Tim Cook, it’s in conflict with Steve Jobs: “To focus means to say no.”

  3. Just because you need so much power, don’t think everybody does. Most people only use a word processor, internet access, and email. They might like a simple macbook like this. I think it would actually outsell other macs by a wide margin. It doesn’t mean they will stop making more powerful macs the rest of us might want, so chill out.

  4. I said it way back when…
    Apple moving Macs to A series chips in:
    2015 is impossible;
    2016 is possible but extremely unlikely;
    2017 is possible but unlikely;
    2018 is very possible; and
    2019 is probable; and
    2020 is almost a certainty (unless Intel actually does something to move ahead).

    Apple currently uses I-5, I-7, and Xeon chips in its Macs. Even the Core M in the new MacBook is not a low end version of those processors. Apple’s A series processors will eventually catch up, but now and for the next year or two the A series processors don’t match the I-5 or I-7 and aren’t even in the same general league as the Xeons. This does not even take into account the discrete graphics chips to which no A series chips come even close today or in the near future.

  5. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Apple could move their Intel code-based OSX to an ARM CPU/SoC — they has done this sort of OS migration TWICE before, and QUIETLY — recall the startling 2005 announcement of Apple Macs designed around Intel-based hardware, released with a fully functional/identical OSX operating system — nearly bug-free and absolutely a transparent migration for former PPC/G-series Mac hardware users. Recall that the updated Intel-OSX ALSO included the ability for the new Intel-based Macs to TRANSPARENTLY run nearly all of the existing and older Mac applications written for the PPC/G-series hardware without any modifications or end-user limitations, and at nearly full-speed — worked as advertised — using the Rosetta technology.

    And, reaching back further in Apple’s history, circa ~1992 — recall that they pulled off a similar Mac OS migration when they migrated Mac OS 6?5? from Motorola 68xxx CPU-based to PPC CPU-based. Anyone remember “fat-binary” applications? Also worked nearly flawlessly, from a migrating end-user’s standpoint.

    Apple has a enviable/admirable track record of success on a mass-scale when pursuing this sort of OS/code migrating adventure — no other software/OS entity on the planet comes close. (yes, Microsoft successfully ported Windows NT 3.51/4 to Silicon Graphics MIPS, IBM/Motorola PPC and DEC Alpha CPU architectures back in the mid-1990s, but never sold enough of this flavor of Windows OS to really matter, and they never ironed out the problem of how to transparently load and run Intel-coded Windows apps on non-Intel CPUs — no Rosetta solution that was reliable and transparent across the different CPU hardwares — MIPS, PPC and Alpha.)

    Moving OSX onto a sufficiently powerful ARM-based CPU/SoC is absolutely NOT out of the question — recall that iOS is actually a subset of OSX . . . how much of OSX MAY already BE mostly/fully migrated to the ARM CPU/SoC architecture . . . much like the Intel version of OSX before it, which had been rumored to have been running in Apple’s R&D labs several years before its surprise 2005 release?

    Niffy

    1. OS X is largely based on NeXTSTEP which had been running on x86 since the early 90s so it wasn’t much of a stretch to keep it current on x86. Unless the A (or whatever Apple decides to call it) is fast enough to emulate x86 at speeds equaling what Intel is offering at the time (and not just the slow mobile CPUs), it won’t happen.

      Apple needs to support Windows to attract switchers. Heck, I’ve never even owned a Wintel box but have to run Windows software to program radios I own.

      1. OS X is largely based on NeXTSTEP which had been running on x86 since the early 90s so it wasn’t much of a stretch to keep it current on x86.

        Your point is correct, per se — NeXTSTEP was migrated from Motorola 68xxx hardware to Intel hardware circa ~1992-3, or so. Certainly, by the time that Jobs and the NeXTSTEP folks joined Apple in 1997, NeXTSTEP had matured and was stable on Intel hardware.

        But, OSX is not simply NeXTSTEP renamed/rebadged. OSX incorporated a deeply-enmeshed “Finder” that was similar to the older Mac OS 7/8/9.x Finder in look, feel which was transparently merged with all of the NeXTSTEP multi-tasking and multi-user goodness — throw into this collision of different OS user-experience technologies a mix of open-source capability added underneath the hood, the complications of which were transparent to the end-users — print architectures, network device discovery tech, multi-media display and audio modules via QT, Windows and Linux compatible file serving, print serving, email compatibility, volume-mounting-to-desktop technology for several non-Mac/NeXTSTEP native device volume types, etc.

        To your point, it might be more accurate for me to say that Apple had successfully migrated NeXTSTEP to PPC/G-series hardware in 2000, and successfully merging the older Mac OS visual user experience and expected funtionality (Finder) with the modern NeXTSTEP underpinnings AND several advanced open source technologies — THAT, perhaps, was their first achievement of note — and that migrating BACK to the Intel hardware in 2005 was less of a problem for them because they had actually never LEFT the Intel hardware, at least as far as Apple’s R&D lab folks were concerned — the end-users and the tech press understood OSX from a PPC/G-series hardware perspective, and had no reason to consider OSX from an Intel hardware perspective, until Apple introduced their user-base to such in 2005.

        Again, a KEY part of Apple’s successful end-user migration from PPC/G-series hardware to Intel hardware was the Rosetta binary translator technology — without which, such would have been much bumpier and full of “gotchas,” along with a potentially large group of dissatisfied Mac end-users.

        Niffy

  6. “Apple’s ability to build lower-cost ARM SOCs with equal or better performance than Intel makes the economic imperative clear: Apple will be able to build Mac OS devices at lower cost and better performance with its own SOCs inside.”

    Yeah, right.
    And does anything think Intel will be standing still while Apple is busy speeding up their A-series chips?

    As an aside, I had to fire up a Pentium-4 system for developmental purposes the other day. It was painful (10x) slower than my brand-new Mac mini (i7) running the same (Linux) software. Yes, as time passes the Intel chips do indeed get faster.

    There may be something to be gained for Macbook Air-class machines that need battery life more than anything else, but I’ll take an Intel chip over ARM for raw speed anyway of the week.

    I was so happy when Apple moved to Intel. No more buying a second (Windows) laptop to do everything I needed to do. Running ARM? Wouldn’t be able to escape that and it would be a *long* time before I was willing to replace an Intel MBP.

    I *certainly* see the case for an ARM-based laptop running a variant of iOS (not unlike the ARM-based eMate from Apple over 15 years ago). It probably wouldn’t be considered a “Mac”, however.

  7. I predicted this year’s ago and people laughed. It is coming. One way to get it done is to get windows apps ported to ipad. Swift is evolving to do this. Swift is more powerful than we know

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