In 3 years Apple will switch from intel to ARM

Not because ARM will have reached intel performance but because CPU performance simply does not matter that much anymore. For most users today it is the speed of their hard drive, amount of memory and graphics card which is most likely going to affect a user’s perception of performance.

An iPad can already do what mosts users care about fast enough:

  • checking email
  • chatting
  • browsing the internet
  • play simple games
  • organize photos
  • listen to and organize music
  • run a spread sheet application or word processor.

Even with an old Mac Mini I could do HD video editing without problems.

That means an ARM processor can already service most users performance wise. If the iPad Pro is any indication, it shows that an ARM device can run pretty sophisticated software with fluid UI response.

And so it is not without reason that intel is increasingly focusing on energy consumption and heat in their processors. As what most people seem to care about these days is longer battery life and thinner devices. Better screens and resolution has mattered too, but we have started to reach the limits of how much we can increase the pixel density before people don’t see any difference anyway.

We will see convergence between ARM and intel. Intel chips will require less power and ARM will become more powerful. The problem for intel is that even if ARM and intel end up being equally good, intel will lose. Most of the devices Apple sell are on ARM. This is were they make most of their profit.

Crucially they are in control the ARM architecture. Apple can make their own designs. And we know Apple is a company that likes to be in control. Thus it makes no sense to replace ARM in iPad’s and iPhone’s unless intel can provide something significantly better. The only realistic place for change is the desktop and laptop computer.

It makes sense for Apple to consolidate. Replacing intel with ARM on Macs will mean Apple does not need to spend resources optimizing their code for two platforms and they can likely reuse more hardware designs, saving money.

By using bitcode on the Mac Appstore they can easily switch hardware platform without causing much trouble for endusers. Apple would be able to recompile the submitted apps to ARM architecture, because they have platform independent bitcode stored for each app.

Switching to ARM will give Apple the opportunity to get an edge on their competitors just like they have had with designing their own ARM processors. Today competitors have access to the same intel chips as Apple and so they can’t get a lead on the competition by using better chips.

I think we will see a further differentiation between PC and Mac laptops. The PCs will focus on raw power while Mac laptops will hold the edge in battery life and form factor.

What I find hardest to predict is what they will do with the Mac Pro. That is of course a system which benefits from intel’s max performance. My hunch is that Apple will sacrifice raw power even here for the simplicity going exclusively ARM will bring. Instead they will compensate by using a lot more ARM cores on the Mac Pro, if it is possible to do so in a way that can leverage their other ARM based design. Making completely unique designs for Mac Pro will not make sense, as it is sold in such small volumes.

Written by

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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