No, Future MacBooks Won’t Have ARM Processors

2 minute read
| Editorial

According to a recent Nikkei report, industry sources say Apple is thinking about taking another step into the semiconductor industry. These sources claim Apple wants to cut its independence on Intel when it comes to notebook chips. Instead, Apple would manufacture the processors itself, based on ARM architecture. Personally, I think it’s a bunch of hogwash that Apple would switch to ARM processors for the MacBook.

arm processors

Is it possible that future MacBooks could use ARM processors instead of Intel CPUs? Doubtful at best.

What ARM Processors Would Mean for the MacBook

If Apple did decide to switch to ARM processors for the MacBook lineup, it would boost Cupertino’s ability to make the notebook computers thinner and lighter. The ARM architecture provides better power efficiency, better mobility, and equivalent processing power. Apple could also integrate touch, fingerprint, and display driver functions.

With all of that said, it would mean the MacBook wouldn’t run current versions of macOS. In order to make this happen, Cupertino would need to do one of three things: turn the MacBook into an oversized iPad, fork new versions of macOS for mobile and desktop use, or ditch the desktop market altogether.

An Oversized iPad

This might not be the least likely alternative, but it’s certainly close. We’ve already seen that the iPad doesn’t really take the place of a laptop computer. Apple knows this.

This would be the easiest path to take, though, if switching to an ARM processor for the MacBook. Since iOS is written for ARM-based processors already, it would be a relatively trivial task to get it running on a MacBook with that processor architecture.

The problem is, such a device probably wouldn’t do well sales-wise, unless massive changes were made to iOS. An ARM-based MacBook would need to be able to run professional-grade software, something not really possible now. It would also need more transparent and efficient access to the file system. In short, I don’t see it happening.

The Fork in the Road

Next, Apple might fork macOS to support two different processor architectures. That would mean a version of macOS for ARM, and one for Intel. I say this because the industry insiders claim the move to ARM would only be for MacBooks, not iMacs, the Mac mini, or the Mac Pro.

I don’t see this happening. Remember, Apple’s been down this road before with the transition from PowerPC to Intel. As soon as it could reasonably do so, Cupertino yanked the rug out from under PowerPC Macs, leaving them stymied in OS X Leopard 10.5.8.

Writing an operating system for a new processor architecture is not a trivial effort. Maintaining it equally between two architectures is even less so. I really can’t foresee Apple wanting or even needing to do this.

Ditch the Desktop

The final option is to ditch the desktop altogether. Apple’s not showing any signs of doing that, though. Cupertino just released a new iMac and iMac Pro, and is supposed to be giving us a new Mac Pro in 2018.

The desktop Mac market might not be Apple’s largest profit-maker, but it’s certainly healthy enough that Cupertino isn’t going to abandon it. The desktop used to be Apple’s bread and butter, but now it’s the jelly. Who wants their toast without jelly?

Final Thoughts

Business Insider and Nikkei are both convinced Cupertino’s going to switch to ARM processors for the MacBook. I’m not convinced. I’d need to see a plan for how Apple would handle having the desktop on Intel while the MacBook ran ARM.

Right now, the move just doesn’t make any sense to me, and I doubt that it really does to Apple.

8
Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
6 Comment threads
2 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
7 Comment authors
francini@mac.comvpndevGraphicMacJeff Butts Recent comment authors

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Member
joeljrichards

As others have pointed out, you’ve glossed over a few points and neglected to mention that Apple has a long history of switching architectures quite successfully (MCXXX to PPC, PPC to Intel). I agree that Apple is unlikely to fork their development—but that is exactly why I think a switch to ARM is very likely. Apple is currently forked! They had to use ARM because Intel wasn’t there when the first iPhone was developed. In the meantime Apple has slowly morphed from a computer company to a phone company. Apple is currently developing for two platforms, I believe at the… Read more »

vpndev
Member
vpndev

An interesting piece and with helpful and insightful comments. Quite refreshing! A few thoughts from my some-years-ago experience, and more recent observations: – macOS and iOS do have a common code base, with obvious variations – the death of Rosetta (i.e. PowerPC support) was contractual, not technical – Apple almost certainly now has the skill and knowhow to build its own Rosetta2 for x86 emulation on Axx CPUs. Even if not, the current owner of that technology is IBM – with which Apple has quite a good relationship – building fat-binaries is trivial, if that’s what you want to do… Read more »

GraphicMac
Member
GraphicMac

The problem, Jeff, is that you make an awful lot of assumptions about this “MacBook,” how it works, who it’s targeted to and how it will be marketed.

You’re also grossly underestimating how far in advance Apple’s vision is for both iOS and macOS.

John Kheit
Member
John Kheit

Here is how tough it was to compile a fat binary under nextstep, and you better believe they can put this feature back in Xcode quite easily…. You just click on the output machine architectures you want, and bam, you get a fat binary that will run on any of those machines with ZERO extra coding on the part of the developers…

http://www.nextop.de/NeXTstep_3.3_Developer_Documentation/DevTools/02_ProjectBuilder/ProjectBuilder.htmld/F4.gif
http://www.nextop.de/NeXTstep_3.3_Developer_Documentation/DevTools/02_ProjectBuilder/ProjectBuilder.htmld/index.html

John Kheit
Member
John Kheit

I totally disagree. First, internally macOS is almost certainly running on ARM/apple processors. Furthermore, iOS is basically the same OS. Third, apple did this before moving from powerPC to intel. Forth, the reason they did this before is that this is basically NeXTSTEP 15.0, and NeXTSTEP since 3.2 was able to compile any app as a fat binary, for multiple architectures at once, or any one in particular. Apple certainly has this ability, and dumping the OS to a new processor isnt too much harder than flipping a checkbox. The real problem with macOS on non-intel chips are all the… Read more »

Member
JBSlough

Great points. This would also mark the end of booting into Windows on Macs. I also feel that the transition for all the software, especially the pro software, would take to long if at all. I can’t see Adobe supporting two different versions of macOS (in that second scenario). I think Apple has already committed to two types of computing experiences, mobile with a touch interface and a traditional desktop that is more robust.