Apple Killing Intel on Macs? This Is Big

This article originally appeared on Laptop Mag.

Apple is aiming to build its own processors for Mac computers, possibly as early as 2020, Bloomberg reports. That would shift the company away from Intel's CPUs and allow Apple to hold even tighter control of its ecosystem.

This move also represents a potentially huge change to macOS and iOS and how they would coexist going forward.

The project, reportedly code-named "Kalamata," is still in its very early stages, but the aim is to make Macs work better in concert with iPhones and iPads. Bloomberg says it will "result in a multi-step transition," so you won't see every device get Apple's new processors anytime soon.

"Apple has switched the Mac’s silicon platforms before, so if anyone can do it, Apple can," said Avi Greengart, research director for consumer platforms and devices at GlobalData. "2020 would be ambitious, but hardly impossible. I would expect that Apple might actually start with its consumer laptops where the performance/power balance is the most powerful, while Apple’s iMac and Pro machines continue on Intel silicon longer."

Apple's last processor change was from IBM's PowerPC platform to Intel's processors. It was announced in 2005, and the first laptops with Intel shipped in 2006. This, on the other hand, sounds more complicated. 

When reached for comment, an Intel spokesperson declined to comment on "speculation about our customers."

Intel's stock fell nearly 8 percent on the news. According to Bloomberg, Apple is roughly 5 percent of Intel's business, so while it's not great news for the company, it also won't destroy it.

"The public perception of this is worse for Intel than the business impact," Ben Bajarin, principal analyst at Creative Strategies told Laptop Mag. "Most of Intel’s business is on the server side, and when it comes to PC’s Apple share is of PC sales is much smaller than that of HP, Lenovo, and Dell who are Intel’s largest customers."

Of course, this type of platform switch could cause issues for apps written on Intel's x86 platform, likely explaining the staggered rollout. But there have also been rumors of iOS apps coming to the Mac, which might be an uptick in apps for laptop and desktop users.

"It will be interesting to see what new developer tools come out that may blur the line between iOS and Mac app development," Bajarin said. "It is no secret that iOS has significantly larger volume of apps available than macOS, so if Apple can get more of the iOS developers to create apps for macOS without much additional work, it could be huge for the Mac app ecosystem and the Mac platform in general."

Apple's A-series chip has been making rapid increases in power over the last several years. When we benchmarked the A11 Bionic found in the iPhone X and iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, it outperformed laptops with Intel's Core i5 processor on the popular Geekbench 4 test. Many analysts and reporters have suggested that Apple could one day create a chip for its own MacBook the way it does for the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch.

As for new features, we'll have to wait and see. Just because iOS uses an Apple processor doesn't mean a MacBook with one would get, say, cellular connectivity.

"Moving to ARM makes cellular integration only slightly more likely," Greengart said. "Apple could put an LTE modem in its Intel-based Macs today if it wanted to. I wish it would."

Andrew E. Freedman is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on laptops, desktops and gaming. He also keeps up with the latest news. A lover of all things gaming and tech, his previous work has shown up in Tom's Guide, Laptop Mag, Kotaku, PCMag and Complex, among others. Follow him on Threads @FreedmanAE and Mastodon

  • Pnutt79
    For the sake of competition I hope apple does this and it kicks Intel's ass.
  • dabeargrowls
    Apple is slowly destroying itself. They dumped the powerpc and pissed off a lot of people (me included) for Intel and now they are going to do it all over again? haha...dont fix what ain't broken! Intel and AMD are experts and these apple yahoo's can't even build a phone worth a damn. Wireless charging 5 years after its been out... that's a breakthrough! I'm all for it though because I want to see them destroy themselves since Steve left. No vision whatsoever.
  • weilin
    I'll copy over what I wrote on Engadget...

    I have my doubts on this 'rumor'... This would be an expensive transition, and I'm not sure apple stands to gain enough to do this (certainly not financially). Though, if anyone were to try (and succeed), it would be Apple. Of all the ARM companies around, they are the most equipped to estimate the trade offs to pursue this.

    It's not that ARM ISA can't scale to desktop, it's just no one has bothered to do it yet. One of the biggest reasons why is you would need to sell a stupid number of chips a year to make this profitable. The closest I can think of is AMD, a fabless CPU company (lets ignore the GPU part). Even with their volume, they were still fiscally negative for years! This isn't something most companies can blindly invest in. It would require a team of thousands to make a desktop class processor. The time to market is pretty long so they would need to have started in 2017 (honestly, it should be pretty close to completion by now) to have something ready by 2020. Then they have to keep that pipeline fed to have yearly refreshes.

    Emulation can be done (see Windows on ARM with x86 emulation), However, initial reviews shows it comes with an insane performance impact. At this point, you're better off with an iPad Pro running native code than emulation.

    Binary backwards compatibility would initially be an issue, so I looked up the top apps on OSX (and the top professional apps on OSX), and most (all?) companies look like they're doing well so at least there's someone around to port the most popular ones to the new ISA. Most of the companies are small (few products) and a few are corporate giants. For the former, they must adapt or die, for the latter, they'll just do it because they have to. Given how (relatively) new the codebase is for x86 OSX, I'm willing to bet most of the source code is still around and (given good software practices... ahem...) easily portable.

    Not to mention, if apple does this, all first party apps/suites/etc. would be ported from the get go. If your app is important enough, it wouldn't surprise me if you got an emulator/dev unit to port your applications before the official release date. If you're a big company like Adobe, I'm almost certain you will something before everyone else.

    My bet is, if this actually happens, average user probably won't even notice that the ISA changed. I think this ISA transition will go smoother than the PowerPC to x86 one.

    Hackintoshs/BootCamp/Etc. would all be in doubt...
  • mrmez
    20851502 said:
    Apple is slowly destroying itself. They dumped the powerpc and pissed off a lot of people...

    Totally agree. Just look how badly Apple has struggled since it dropped PPC in 2006.

    I'm still devastated we don't have 5.25" floppy disks anymore :`(
    I mean... why do we need to change anything? Ever???
  • shrapnel_indie
    Apple started with CISC (Apple I & II series 6502. GS customized 8/16 bit 6502 type, Liza/Mac - Motorola 68k series) to RISC (IBM PowerPC) back to CISC (Intel x86/x64) and now talking back to RISC? All this flip-flopping around....

    Yeah, their finances (and stockholders) required changes to take place AND those changes hurt some further than the hurt they were already in... but seriously.
  • therealduckofdeath
    This would probably spell the end for their PC platform. Then again, it does seem like they don't really care about it particularly much. With the lack of support for all contemporary graphics API's and such. ARM is nice, but it's not competitive with x86 on performance. Not the same ball park, not even the same sport. Just look at how terrible PUBG performs on mobile, despite being low detail, upscaled graphics. On mobile it works for Apple with a slightly differentiated ARM design, as the power draw drastically limits design and innovation. Not on a platform where power draw and heat generation is irrelevant.
  • Dosflores
    This isn't going to be an expensive transition. If they do the transition, it's because they expect to save money in the long term. It's as simple as that. No one would stop using a powerful processor and start using a weaker one for any other reason than to save money.

    It's not going to be difficult for Apple to perform, since they have already made it once. They have already developed all the tools needed for a CPU architecture switch.

    They don't care about backwards compatibility. They can easily tell every Mac App Store developer to update their apps to work on ARM. If they don't comply, they'll be thrown out of the Mac App Store. It's not going to hurt Apple.

    And what about the apps you get outside of the Mac App Store? Apple cares even less about them. They don't make any profit out of them, anyway. Sure, they're appreciated by professional users, but how many MacBook buyers are really professional users? They can put the Pro branding on anything they like, but I don't think any professional that needs top performance would look at a MacBook Pro and think "that's a great professional laptop".

    So, Apple is going to keep making lots of money, as usual. The opinion of people who bother to write on technology forums is totally useless for them. They're not their target customers.
  • manleysteele
    Where do these analysts get this meme that Intel's business is on the server side? Client computing had more sales than all other sectors combined again last year as they have for many years. That includes server SKU's which was the second largest sector, but trailed client computing by a significant amount. Don't these "analysts" know that we have access to the same numbers they use? If their was a huge difference in profitability of the two sectors that would explain it, but the difference in margins is small.
  • redgarl
    Why would they do that? They still need GPUs for their platforms. It is going to be quite risky for nothing.
  • hannibal
    Maybe air models go to arm.... cheap 1000$ devices...
    And pro models could use Intel at least at this moment From 2000$ and above... it could be usefull to product segmentation purposes. But only if They use same cpu in iPads, phones and air laptops.
    As someone did say, it is not cheap to make new cpu so I am very sure that mobile devices and new laptops share the same cpu. And mobile cpu is fast enough to normal Office tools and websurfing. More demanding can be done with pro series devices.