ARM-based Mac rumors have been floating around for years, but they’ve been heating up significantly in recent times. Bloomberg reports that Apple will release devices with the next iPhone’s A14 bionic processor as early as next year.
It follows a prediction by analyst Ming-Chi Kuo in February, who stated that he expects such a device in the next 12 to 17 months. The company has also been on an ARM-based hiring spree, most notably acquiring leading processor designer Mike Filippo.
For its part, Bloomberg says it has talked to ‘people familiar with the matter’. Those sources tell the publication at least one device will launch with an ARM chip in 2021, but that the plan is to slowly transition away from its reliance on Intel.
The new chips will reportedly be built by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), the current maker of iPhone and iPad CPUs. They’ll be 5nm devices and are likely to be slower than the highest-end Macbook chips to start, but ramp up over time, much like Qualcomm’s efforts.
What Does This Mean for Consumers?
For Apple, though, it means a strong level of control over its ecosystem and possibly bonuses to software unification across platforms. The other big boon to an ARM processor, however, is battery life.
Though Intel and AMD processors are getting more and more efficient, they still don’t match up to mobile chipsets. With Apple’s significant innovations in its iPad processing power and the 5nm process, consumers could be looking at true all-day battery life with a performance that rivals a mid-range Macbook Pro.
However, the switch to a mobile processor doesn’t mean Apple’s laptops and desktops with start running iOS or iPad OS. Bloomberg’s sources say they’ll still be on macOS, keeping the familiar mouse/touchpad oriented interface.
That does, however, raise the question of app compatibility. Microsoft has been transitioning some Windows devices to ARM for years now, but Intel apps didn’t work out of the gate. Instead, it used a combination of easy porting tools and emulation. The approach led to tepid reviews on the Surface Pro X, with users faced with somewhat sluggish performance on apps that weren’t natively supported.
The hints from Bloomberg’s sources suggest Apple will follow a similar technique. The company will reportedly ensure old apps are compatible on ARM, while letting developers build iPad apps that can also work on Mac via a technology called Catalyst. It’ll be some time until we know if its bet pays off, but either way, it’s another blow to Intel.