No, Apple won’t build A-series ARM-based Macs

“Apple did a marvelous job migrating macOS from Motorola 68000 chips to Power PC and then to Intel x86,” Robin Harris writes for ZDNet. “With the amazing success of Apple’s ARM-based A series chips, speculation arises that they will do it again. But that misunderstands the dynamics driving Apple’s business.”

“There is simply no technology or marketing reason for Apple to migrate macOS from x86,” Harris writes. “I’m certain they could do it, but without a good reason, why would they?”

“Apple’s long game is to grow the iOS business, and let customers decide which platform they prefer. Apple has been gradually making iOS more capable, and now iOS 11 can finally replace notebooks for many users, which for me came with the iOS 11 Files app.,” Harris writes. “Apple has no reason to abandon Intel, so they won’t. And as the upcoming iMac Pros and the new Mac Pro arrive, we’ll see why. Intel’s many-core chips can do the heavy lifting that Pro users require, and that very few consumers need today.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Perhaps Apple is content with the situation but two quotes fro two Apple CEOs are tough to ignore:

I’ve always wanted to own and control the primary technology in everything we do.Steve Jobs, October 12, 2004

• In order to build the best products, you have to own the primary technologies. Steve felt that if Apple could do that — make great products and great tools for people — they in turn would do great things. He felt strongly that this would be his contribution to the world at large. We still very much believe that. That’s still the core of this company.Apple CEO Tim Cook, March 18, 2015


      1. I agree with Derek.

        Being able to run Windows in Boot Camp is a MAJOR plus.

        Going to the trouble of moving to ARM would likely mean both Apple and outside software developers would have to modify code as they move away from Intel and that is NOT a trivial matter for a much lower volume platform than iOS.

        1. Well a lot depends surely upon Microsofts efforts to run Windows ‘seamlessly’ on Arm processors as they claim to be doing, mind you their claims often don’t meet the realities. And thus there is seamless and seamless but if they do achieve it to a high level then that would create both the need and the opportunity for Apple to move in that direction. But in reality we need to see what Windows on Arm really means, it will have to be a damn site more convincing than their last attempt.

          But I agree with others here plan A is that iOS devices will most likely just develop to take the space of Macs increasingly from bottom up. But we may not yet know exactly what form they take, will there be combo devices with added A series chips now that will give us a sign, but we shall see.

    1. I have posted my speculations/rationale on this subject in the past, and I believe that they are at least as credible as the opinions of Robin Harris/ZDNet.

      Robin posits that there is no “good reason” for Apple to integrate its A-series processors for iOS devices into Macs running MacOS. However, I can think of several – lower cost, improved performance per watt, reduced heat rejection, greater control over the end product pipeline.

      Apple transitioned from the old Motorola processors to PPC to Intel, so it certainly has the capability to transition to ARM, which would be more like PPC than Intel, I believe. In any event, Apple is not scared to make this type of leap.

      Apple will start with the low end Macs – Mac mini, base MacBook, base iMac. Apple may even kick this transition off with a new pathfinder Mac product to test the waters. The A11 and upcoming A11X are the first generation of A-series SoCs truly suitable for Macs. Apple may choose to wait for the A12 before pulling the trigger, but my bet is that we will hear something on this subject sooner rather than later. The opportunity is too good to pass up, and the economy of scale on the A-series processor means that Apple can lower prices and maintain gross margins.

      Sorry, Robin, but the transition of Macs to A-series processors is going to happen. And it is going to occur much sooner than most people appear to believe.

  1. OK MDN I’ll iCal that one for you…they’re coming I think they will offer both for awhile but they are coming. Just makes too much sense. As long as Office will make a compatible version to support it – its on in 3 years or less.

    1. It makes no sense. The technological incompatibilities between Intel CISC and ARM RISC are vast. Only people who do not understand this fact believe in ARM Macs.

      Today’s example:
      Do you really want to give up virtualization for the sake of moving from Intel to ARM?

      1. @Derek
        Oh they will, because they already have it.

        It makes sense when you change a persprective. Think like a tomorrow customers (todays teenager) not a seasoned old dog like you and me. Future Mac user need small, light, verstile, long-lasting device with excellent networking. Their needs should shape the industry, not ours.

        So who uses virtualisation now? Pros only like: IT guys, developers, some video editors, architecture guys. We are just 3 to 4 % of all Mac users. So you get it? Virtualisation IS NOT a core feature for most Mac users.

        The future Apple customers need mobile, light, ultra energy efficient personal device like iPad Pro on steroids with keyboard, with ultra speed ports, running on future Apple OS and powered by self-made chips.

        It is highest time to move forward and cut old ties and friendships. Why? Because they are nay-sayers, better-knowers, progress breakers. Simply they they take our freedom to choose and create. Who is so stupid, brave and ready to take risks if not Apple?

      2. DC, have you forgotten the transition from the old Motorola CPUs to PPC and from PPC to Rosetta? Have you forgotten the success of fat binaries, X-Code, and Rosetta?

        MacOS can be (and almost certainly already is) compiled for A-series processors. Lest you forget, Apple was able to pull the trigger on Intel Macs because it has explored OS X on Intel for years. Yet, somehow, you think that MacOS on ARM is too difficult because of “incompatibilities”?

        I do not believe that the impact to software developers will be very large. The MacOS coding environment will take care of most or all of the issues – developers will be able to compile for either Intel or ARM processors, or for both using the fat binary concept.

        Why are you so negative, DC? I don’t get it.

        1. I’m with Derek on this one. Apple sells Macs, not macOS. Macs sell in part because they are also run Windows, through virtualisation or Boot Camp. That fact alone explains the Mac’s infiltration of and persistence in the business world, a feat accomplished despite a vacuum of advertising (and done independently of the iOS halo effect.) ‘Intel Inside’ remains a selling point that outweighs any improved technical specs.

      3. P.S.

        A-series Macs will appear over the next couple of years.

        Being able to natively run Windows on a Mac was an important selling/comfort point a decade ago. I do not believe that it is that important now. Most people do not care about being able to natively run Windows on Mac hardware. For those people, I can only suggest that Intel-based Macs will still be around at the high-end for a while until they are overtaken by the A13 or A14 or A15…

        Furthermore, products like Parallels and Fusion will undoubtedly remain available to bridge the gap.

        1. As I’ve, excuse me…
          … pointed out, it’s certainly possible to take iOS and turn it into something like macOS. But it won’t be macOS because macOS runs specifically on Intel CISC CPUs.

          It will (hoping) indeed be great when the ARM derived A-Series RISC CPUs are faster than contemporary Intel CPUs. It could happen! But there is vast code both in the OS and in all of it’s applications that specifically require Intel APIs built into their CPUs that any ‘Mac’ on A-Series chips would be considerable different, to say the least.

          Am I finally getting the clue that MDN is NOT a technologically educated comment forum? This stuff is so basic. I’m getting dizzy from shaking my head at the uninformed comments. I try to inform. But I’m not hear to teach Computing 101.

  2. Personally, I think Macs will continue to be intel based running MacOS. However, I see a convergence at some point as iPads running iOS incrementally become much more than touch capable tablets and become more Mac-like when required by the user; as has already started with the multitasking in iOS 11. Apple is evolving iOS so that its already powerful array of Arm computers (iPhones and iPads) will within a few years be able to do 99% of what an intel Mac can do today. The iPad is becoming a kind of Mac by stealth, so there’s no need to put an Arm chip in a Mac. I see a time in the not too distant future where your iPhone and iPad will connect wirelessly to an Apple smart monitor and you’ll use these as your Primary devices. Less and less people will see any need to buy intel Macs and they will be retired organically. Apple’s A11 bionic is already close to intel’s desktop chip in terms of speed just a few more years before intel is overtaken. This is a far more logical path to me than rewriting MacOS to accomodate Arm chips, evolution of iOS is the obvious way forward.

      1. Totally agree, it will be different and at this stage it’s difficult to totally imagine what it will evolve into. There’s a strong possibility that it can become something more powerful than MacOS. I’m sure the boffins at Apple HQ have a fairly clear roadmap for iOS, Arm and much more capable computers.

  3. Yet……
    Eventually the speed and capability of the a-series chips will exceed that of intel chips. Apple may also be developing x286 chipsets as well or have the capability to emulate them without any perceived issues.

  4. “I’m certain they could do it, but without a good reason, why would they?”
    Note how very few, even people who don’t think Apple would do it, are saying it can’t be done anymore.

    I’m now under the impression that Apple won’t do it. I think in a few years, they’ll have, say, Pixelmator on an iMac and Pixelmator on an iPad, side by side and will be able to show the real performance benefits of the Axx chip. Those who for whatever reason, feel it’s an awesome idea to buy a Mac to run non macOS’s, will pay through the nose for the super high end systems that clearly outpace iOS. There slowly won’t be “home” or “consumer” macs, only systems like the professional iMac slated for later this year.

    They’ll likely point out how Intel has been missing many of their mobile goals while they’ve released a new iteration of their A series chips and support chips yearly, with custom built “x” versions in between major refreshes. That’s simply not a rate that Intel’s able to match.

  5. We are in a space where the industry is mature, just not innovating very much. Would an A series mac be great? Maybe, though the power advantages that currently benefit an iOS device may not be as comprehensive for a more conventionally configured desktop or laptop

    It would lower apple’s cost per unit significantly allowing for increases in profitability or reductions in selling price or both.

    We’re more likely to see it if the intel processors beyond kaby lake disappoint. Hope this makes you happy Derek C

    1. Here’s a counter-reason: that $250 savings is only in manufacturing the device. The software costs (OS, Apple applications, third-party applications, lost Windows compatibility, etc.) would dwarf those savings. And this is without even accounting for the loss in performance.

        1. The supposed reasons for Apple to put its Mac developers through another major chipset change are way overstated.

          If Apple actually cared about the Mac and decided to show it with actual performance gains and battery life, it would keep Ive out of the process and get orders in for the latest Intel chips EVERY YEAR.

          Don’t even get me started on Apple’s desktop bullshit. A “pro” model with 2013 chips and no internal upgrades possible. A mini from the last decade at twice the price of superior Wintel hardware. It is all on Apple for refusing to keep Mac chipsets current, and then thermally constraining them and removing user friendly features when Apple finally does get around to refreshing its hardware. It is beyond pathetic. Maybe that’s why worldwide Mac market share remains at a pathetic 7.7%.

          You want to drive Mac share to 3% or less, then go ahead and force a RISC software rewrite onto developers before they’ve even had a chance to digest a half baked HS macos.

          1. RISC/CISC doesn’t matter, code is code. Right now I can write the same exact code in Xcode that will compile and run on ARM and on Intel with no changes.

            Mac share is headed to zero, so, yeah, 3% is along the way, sure 🙂

            “and get orders in for the latest Intel chips EVERY YEAR”
            They can “get orders in” until they’re blue in the face. If Intel isn’t shipping the chips they need, there’s nothing they can do. For example a mobile processor that can use 32 gigs of low power RAM has not shipped and they recently announced they’re not going to release it and instead will release it with the NEXT refresh which is now delayed until next year!

  6. It seem pretty obvious to me that Apple want to exit the PC computer world and make iPads the new computer and that’s been their rhetoric for a while and their actions also
    Apple has made no secret that their efforts are in the iPad becoming the new ‘computer’ and they will make their own chips for the device as soon as they possibly can.

    The original Mac fan base gave them a side swipe with many power users demanding to go beyond Apples consumer lead vision. So I see both being available for the foreseeable and it will be the intel users running Mac OS on item chips who will soon also have a virtual iOS running along side their virtual windows OS.

    This is the new path and split between Mac power users and Mac consumers and it will be fine for the power users who can get the grunt from intel chips while still being able to run virtual ‘Mac IOS’ as they currently do Virtual ‘Windows OS’ all the while leaving Apple to continue to dominate their iPad ‘computer’ with their own designed chips for peak iOS performance and 100% control over both hardware and software.

    1. You mean Apple wants to be big brother and force you into a thin client device with wimpy local processing power or storage so that we can be entirely dependent on ISPs and cloud server rental to do anything?

      I would sooner choose to retire and abandon Apple altogether.

  7. Yes. Just like Steve got tired of waiting for IBM to make newer PowerPC chips, the new Apple is tired of Intel’s ever slowing “tick-tock” production schedules. They are at the mercy of a company that puts its own needs first. That is totally fine and justifiable for Intel, but their customers (Apple among them) may have to meet their own needs using alternative methods. Apple is Intel’s only customer with the money, capability, and yes even the need to do this. Its coming — sooner than later.

  8. Technical reasons apart If I have to choose from a cheaper and more powerful Arm-Mac option that is not 100% compatible with what I need I will still pick an Intel-Mac until everything is right. As most high-end users can’t trust first generations. Stability and reliability first. Then we need all important options and the scalability. It is not only if Apple can produce a powerful Arm-CPU for the Mac but if they can scale to the performance and options from a 16 or more Intel core chip, as those are current Intel options.

    If not, the Mac will be fragmented for years, it will create confusion and Apple will still have to support the Intel-Mac. And many new users may need to migrate to an Intel-Mac when he/she needs more demanding computing or options not available on an Arm-Mac.

    Its been done in the past, but precisely it is the past and it requires a very transparent transition today, almost perfect as this market is very mature now.

    For the price reason with this generation Intel started to add more cores to all i3, i5, and i7 CPUs at the same price point while AMD is creating more pressure to lower the price and offer more performance.

  9. They already have a duel CPU setup in the MacBook pros. One arm cpu, one intel cpu. It wouldn’t be a big leap to put a more powerful arm chip in there and start offloading background processes to it (checking email etc); would meaningfully improve battery life.

    i think this is the route they will take, the mac will evolve away from intel, process by process.

    1. I don’t think the Mac will evolve, Apple will simply continue to make Awhatever faster and faster. As Intel continues to slip in the mobile sector, Apple’s chips will outperform using similar apps on iOS across the board.

      You either stick with slow (but compatible with virtualization and your old apps) Intel, or you go with iOS. Those Pro’s that stick with Mac will be left with lesser powered machines than iOS 🙂

  10. Good reason?
    1. intel is dead
    2. If you’re already producing chips that may outperform Intel why bother with them and “their roadmap” and expensive price tag?
    3. Intel chips like most of the Arm chips are designed for the widest possible computer design, Apple needs one focused solely on the Mac.

    There are many more reasons but it’s been obvious Apple would ditch Intel eventually.

  11. Back in the days of macs running the g4 and g5 chips Apple faced the legacy software code issue and as much as performance per watt drove apple to IBM native code vs ports from another architecture is the real deal here

    When apple had someone code properly for the RISC based G chips we mac users got some real power out of our machines but when the code was just a port of an Intel app, man did we mac users suffer bad

    It was a huge stumbling block in pro apps with years of legacy code and for gaming alike

    Apple with the advances in IOS and what not have managed to get a lot of native development going in xcode and so on but running mac Os on anything RISC means we mac users suffer again with poor non native app code performance.

    Probably be ok for general usage. Like first iMac intels that had powerpc apps run under that “emulator” they bought at the time but for pro usage, no.

    1. Right. And as time marches on, desktop machines become even more like trucks than cars, and trucks continue to be powered by diesel. There won’t be any electric trucks anytime soon.

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