Apple might be ready to ditch Intel's CPUs by the first half of 2021, according to analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who reportedly said today that within 18 months the company will release its first Mac with an Arm-based processor.
9to5Mac (opens in new tab) reported that Kuo sent a note to clients predicting Apple's switch to using its own chips in Mac products rather than continuing to purchase CPUs from Intel. That might allow the company to design its own chips for its entire product stack, from the iPhone and iPad to MacBook laptops and desktop Mac products, in the future.
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Apple's reportedly waiting on 5nm chips--which are also expected to be found in the upcoming iPhone--before switching any Mac products over to its own processors. Reports indicated earlier this year that TSMC plans to invest heavily in 5nm production throughout 2020; increased pressure from Apple could help explain why.
Kuo's claimed for years (opens in new tab) that Apple plans to use Arm chips in certain Macs. Intel officials reportedly corroborated those reports in February 2019, too, when they told Axios that Apple would make the switch by 2020 (opens in new tab). That still hasn't happened. It's possible that Apple wasn't content with the performance 7nm chips offered.
Switching from Intel processors to custom Arm chips would also require changes to macOS. Apple could have been laying the groundwork for those changes with the introduction of Catalyst (opens in new tab), which makes it easier for iPad developers to port their apps to the Mac, as well as upcoming universal purchases between macOS and iOS (opens in new tab).
Apple probably wouldn't switch every Mac to Arm-based chips at once. It would likely start with MacBooks, which could benefit from the reduced power draw of Arm chips, while continuing to use Intel processors in products like the Mac Pro (opens in new tab). (Or at least x86 processors; Apple could start using AMD CPUs (opens in new tab) in the near future.)
By now it seems like the question isn't if Apple plans to switch at least some Macs to its own custom chips, it's when it plans to do so, and Kuo's latest analyst note offers some guidance. Let's check back in by the end of June 2021 to see if he was right.