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Apple's Chip Ambitions Rise With Arm Hire

(Image credit: Vytautas Kielaitis/Shutterstock)

Apple came one step closer to ditching Intel when it hired Mike Filippo, a lead engineer from Arm, to a chip architect position in May. Filippo could be crucial to Apple's reported plan to use its own Arm-based processors in Mac products instead of continuing to use Intel CPUs.

According to Filippo's LinkedIn page, he joined Apple as an architect in May. The profile says his last position was lead CPU architect at Arm, where he worked for 10 years.

Saying that Filippo knows processor design would be an understatement. In addition to Arm, he also has experience at AMD and Intel. According to Bloomberg, Filippo "was a lead engineer behind chip designs that power the vast majority of the world’s smartphones and tablets and was leading a new push into parts for computers" for Arm. That ambition will probably serve him well in his new position with Apple.

Apple hasn't said that it plans to ditch Intel processors in favor of its own silicon, but the company has put many of the necessary pieces in place for it to make such a dramatic switch. Benchmarks for the iPad Pro's A12X chip rival those of some Intel CPUs, and with the A12 Bionic, the company introduced its first 7nm CPU, along with significant architectural changes that offered greatly improved performance.

Those efforts might have stalled out when Apple's lead chip designer, Gerard Williams III, left the company in February. Williams was responsible for everything from designing custom CPU cores for Apple's processors to laying out the entire system-on-a-chip (SoC). Filippo should help fill the void from Williams III's departure.

Intel said in February that it expects Apple to release Arm-based MacBooks in 2020. That switch would likely be part of a larger push by Apple to supply many of its own components--the company's reportedly also hired Intel engineers and mulled the acquisition of Intel's modem business so it can make its own modem chips for the iPhone and iPad.

Now the company's hired Filippo, who according to Bloomberg already wanted to prove that Arm processors could power non-mobile devices, to work on its own chips. Just don't be surprised if Apple makes similar hires and acquisitions in the coming months.