Apple's transition to its own custom Arm-based system-on-chips enabled the company to increase its systems' sales and made it a dominant supplier of PC-grade Arm SoCs. As for Arm, its instruction set architecture now commands nearly 9% of the global PC market.
"Apple established itself as a distant market leader in Arm-based notebook PC processors with almost 90% revenue share [in 2021]*," wrote Sravan Kundojjala, Director of Handset Component Technologies service at Strategy Analytics.
Companies like Acer, Dell, and HP have been shipping Chromebooks and Windows-on-Snapdragon always-connected PCs (ACPC) based on various Arm-powered SoCs for years. However, these PCs have never been truly popular due to mediocre performance and/or uncompetitive pricing. With its M1-based iMacs, MacBooks, and Mac Minis introduced in 2020 and throughout 2021, Apple not only managed to offer competitive performance and appealing design, but it also priced those systems very competitively (e.g., below previous-generation systems featuring Intel's CPUs). So, it attracted sales both from its loyal customers and from new clients.
Apple outmaneuvered Arm-based Chromebooks and ACPCs in terms of sales and in revenue since its systems are still premium machines priced well above average Chromebooks.
Since Qualcomm's Nuvia-based SoCs will not launch until late 2023, Apple will continue to offer the fastest Arm-powered SoCs for PCs and will likely lead the market in Arm desktops and laptops for quite a while.
"Apple's M-series family of processors set the benchmark and gave Apple a 2–3-year lead over the rest of the Arm-based PC processor vendors. Qualcomm captured just 3% revenue share in the Arm-based notebook PC processor market in 2021 and lags Apple in CPU performance," wrote Kundojjala. "Despite its low share, Qualcomm continues to invest in notebook PC processors with its Nuvia CPU cores. We believe that Arm-based notebook PC processor offers an attractive opportunity to Qualcomm, given the company's growing collection of high-performance processor assets including CPU, GPU, AI, audio, imaging, connectivity, gaming and security."
The industry shipped around 348.8 million PCs in 2021 and 80.5 million systems in Q1 2022, according to IDC. Sales of Chromebooks totaled 37 million units in 2021 as well as 5.1 million systems in Q1 2022. In the first quarter, Apple shipped 7.2 million Macs and had a market share of 8.9%.
Since the vast majority of Apple's PCs solid in Q1 this year were powered by its own Arm-enabled SoC, it is clear that Arm commands a sizeable share of the PC market due to Apple's M-series SoCs alone. Meanwhile, there are also several popular Chromebooks based on Qualcomm's Snapdragon as well as MediaTek SoCs. While those systems are not as popular as Apple's MacBook Air or MacBook Pro laptops, it is safe to say that Arm's share in PCs is at least 10%, a significant achievement for the British CPU designer.
It should be noted that for now, Arm-based SoCs power mainstream and even entry-level workstation machines, but they still cannot compete against high-end x86-powered desktop PCs, especially in the field of gaming. Therefore, Arm, Apple, and Qualcomm still have a lot of work to do in a bid to successfully compete against AMD and Intel across all fields.
*Note: Since Strategy Analytics does not disclose how it estimates revenue that Apple gets for its notebook processors, our story is focused on volume sales of Apple Macintosh systems in 2021 (27.775 million) and in Q1 2022 (7.2 million) compared to shipments of Chromebooks in 2021 (37 million) and in Q1 2022 (5.1 million). We also note that the vast majority of Chrome OS-powered machines use x86 processors from AMD or Intel.