How Apple might approach an ARM-based Mac

“Recent reports suggest that Apple may be working on a hybrid Mac, one that has a touchscreen and also runs iOS apps,” John Martellaro writes for The Mac Observer. “An ARM-based Mac. Just how, exactly, would this work?”

“My theory on this is that we’re looking at a special purpose, light-duty MacBook for travel and possibly education,” Martellaro writes. “What isn’t likely, in the near term, is a wholesale migration of the Mac lineup from Intel to ARM.

“macOS would be recompiled for ARM and run natively. Mac apps would, for starters, run in emulation mode,” Martellaro writes. “iOS apps would run in a subsystem, natively on ARM, with touchscreen support. This is how I think Apple would do it. If it seems like a stretch, just remember that, undoubtably, Apple has been running macOS on ARM for years now, just as it (secretly) ran Mac OS X on Intel for years before the demise of PowerPC Macs.”

Much more in the full article – recommended – here.

MacDailyNews Take: As we wrote back in January 2015:

There is no reason why Apple could not offer both A-series-powered Macs and Intel-based Macs. The two are not mutually exclusive…

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

As we’ve asked many times over the past few years: “Who’s in the market for a 12.9-inch device that’s an OS X-powered MacBook when docked with its keyboard base and an iOS-powered iPad Pro when undocked?”

As we wrote back in January 2017:

Here’s an idea: Apple could sell iPad Pros as they do now, and for those wanting a “Mac,” Apple could sell them the macOS-powered display-less keyboard/trackpad/cpu/RAM/SSD/battery base unit. Attach your iPad for the display and off you go, you Mac-headed truck driver! Plus, you get to use the iPad’s battery, too, extending battery life to provide a truly all-day battery for portable Mac users. Detach the display and you get your iOS-powered iPad back, same as always.

Too outside the box? We’d love to be able to take our 12-inch iPad Pro, mate it with this theoretical Mac base unit, and turn it into a portable Mac. Right now, we carry 12-inch iPad Pros and MacBooks in our backpacks. Guess what’s redundant? Right, the displays. We don’t need to carry two screens on the road. The iPad Pro’s screen would do just fine, thanks.

Buy the Mac base on its own (for those who already have 12.9-inch iPad Pros) or buy it as part of a package (get a new 12.9-inch iPad Pro at a nice discount when you buy it with the Mac base). Imagine if Apple had unveiled this headless MacBook that you use with your iPad at their iPad event last fall. How many more 12-inch iPad Pro sales would such a product have generated? Enough to return iPad to unit sales growth, we bet. And, how many more Macs would have been sold, too?

Illustration from Apple's hybrid Mac-iPad patent application
Illustration from Apple’s hybrid Mac-iPad patent application

SEE ALSO:
Pegatron said to assemble Apple’s upcoming ‘ARM-based MacBook’ codenamed ‘Star’ – May 29, 2018
Intel 10nm Cannon Lake delays push MacBook Pro with potential 32GB RAM into 2019 – April 27, 2018
Why the next Mac processor transition won’t be like the last two – April 4, 2018
Apple’s ‘Kalamata’ project will move Macs from Intel to Apple A-series processors – April 2, 2018
Apple plans on dumping Intel for its own chips in Macs as early as 2020 – April 2, 2018
Apple is working to unite iOS and macOS; will they standardize their chip platform next? – December 21, 2017
Why Apple would want to unify iOS and Mac apps in 2018 – December 20, 2017
Apple to provide tool for developers build cross-platform apps that run on iOS and macOS in 2018 – December 20, 2017
The once and future OS for Apple – December 8, 2017
Apple ships more microprocessors than Intel – October 2, 2017
Apple embarrasses Intel – June 14, 2017
Apple developing new chip for Macintosh in test of Intel independence – February 1, 2017
Apple’s A10 Fusion chip ‘blows away the competition,’ could easily power MacBook Air – Linley Group – October 21, 2016

12 Comments

  1. I’m certainly not interested in a laptop with a touchscreen although it seems nearly all Apple critics think it’s some desired feature which Apple doesn’t offer. I guess it’s up to the user to decide to use the touchscreen or not. It will be interesting to see how things turn out with a hybrid ARM-powered Mac if Apple actually decides to build one.

  2. We know its coming.. Apple will pull the trigger when their processors are powerfull enough(very close).. to run any “legacy required” software.. but most likely offer multiple os/processor hardware products to ultimately ween us off intel/ms required compatibility

    1. See, my thinking is that Apple cares little for “legacy” apps. If anyone needs to run legacy apps, they currently own a computer that can do so. If there is some critical piece of software that runs only on Intel and you don’t have the source code or Xcode project files… sorry! The ARM systems will be focused on those folks that need the most performance from a macOS only solution. They will do something like, show Logic or Final Cut Pro X running side by side on A(x) and Intel and will show the A(x) chip running circles around the Intel one.

      If your main goal is the worlds fastest Final Cut Pro X machine, or a super quiet Logic machine, then you’re set. If your goal is compatibility (these chips are going to be 64 bit ONLY) or virtualization, as they transition a model, they will offer one more incremental Intel BTO upgrade across the board (They won’t be available in the stores, you’ll have to special order and they will take a couple weeks to get to you… and they will be pricey to make up for low volume). But that’s it, end of the line.

  3. More important question: What vital feature will Apple REMOVE?

    Maybe computers don’t need sound anymore because of Apple Homepod? Online storage only? Not even external drives allowed? Maybe no keyboard at all, just a touch bar. They’ll probably kill the Finder since phones don’t need it. And solar panels as the only power source. You wanted wireless charging, right?

  4. Producing an ARM Mac would be very easy. Emulation would probably not even be needed for Mac apps (it is the same librairies for ARM or Intel), just a recompile and Apple has already all the source code of all the apps in the App Store.

    I am not sure making Macs run iOS apps make sense. That would required a touch screen and I don’t believe Apple will go there. What is more likely, is Apple increasing the ease to transform an iOS app into a MacOS one. Still the user interface will need to be redone à la Mac. I think this will happen even if there is no ARM Macs.

    The big question is “why” do an ARM Mac. I think as long as Apple sees Macs as the past and iPads as the future, it will be difficult for them to justify the investment. However, if their view change the benefits are there especially when the Axx chips will outperform Intel’s i7: less expensive, faster, thinner and lighter Macs with more powerful CPUs every year, wich is far from what Intel can deliver these days. The only drawback is loosing Windows compatibility.

  5. Why do an ARM Mac? The only reason would be to stop all the stupid rumors.

    The sad thing is, if Apple was to release a major failure into the market, the Apple iSurfacePad RT Pro, it would take them over 5 years to discover their mistake.

    Nobody wants a touchscreen Mac, and no software developer wants to go through another painful processor change in order to remove the additional CISC commands that RISC chips cannot perform. The software recompiling would not be trivial.

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