Why Apple Is Switching To ARM

Why is Apple ditching Intel processors and moving to their own custom chipsets? Well, there are quite a few reasons that I’ll cover, but probably the most important is that Apple hates being at the mercy of other companies. They like the freedom of being as independent as possible. It’s why Apple created their own operating system alongside the original Macintosh, instead of licensing Windows and relying on Microsoft to optimize and modernize the operating system. When creating the iPhone, they didn’t want to be beholden to mobile phone carriers, which is why they only worked with Motorola, who promised to give Apple full control over the iPhone’s hardware and software. Something that was unprecedented at the time. Even then, that wasn’t good enough. Because initially the iPhone ran on Samsung’s ARM chipset, which wasn’t fully optimized with the iPhone’s hardware or operating system, and therefore held back the device’s potential when it came to performance and battery life.

In order to create a smartphone that could live up to its fullest potential, Apple established their own in-house silicon design team, in charge of creating a custom chipset specifically tailored for the iPhone. The company’s effort paid off in 2010 when they introduced the iPhone 4, featuring Apple’s first custom-made A4 chipset. And the benefits of the iPhone’s transition to custom-made silicon will also be enjoyed by the Mac. Have you ever wondered why iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches are updated on a regular basis, while MacBooks don’t have a predictable release schedule? That’s because Apple has to wait on Intel to release their new generation of processors. And for the last five years, Intel has missed virtually every release deadline that it’s set. Which not only disappoints customers, but also frustrates computer manufacturers like Apple who have to delay their own product roadmaps.

So breaking their dependency on Intel is a great reason for Apple to switch to ARM. But that’s only the beginning. Just like with the iPhone, Macs can finally enjoy the benefits of being powered by a truly optimized chipset. That means no more thermal issues, no more processor throttling, and some of the best performance of any computer in the industry. Because remember, the iPad Pro featuring Apple’s A12Z chip, is faster than ninety-two percent of PC notebooks on the market today. And although Apple has yet to announce a new custom-made chip for the Mac, we can only assume that it’s performance will be even better than the iPad Pro.

It’s also important to understand that by using their own chipset, Apple can achieve better processing and graphics performance, while actually lowering power consumption. It’s why iPads easily reach their advertised 10-hour battery life, while MacBooks rarely do. In fact, if you read the fine print, Apple says you’ll only achieve 10 hours of battery life on your MacBook Pro if all you’re doing is browsing the web with the screen brightness set at seventy-five percent. The issue is, most MacBook Pro users are doing more intense tasks like photo or video editing, which burns through the battery much quicker. But even if you’re doing similar tasks on an iPad Pro, you’ll notice that battery life isn’t effected nearly as much. That’s because of Apple’s custom chipset designed to optimize performance without sacrificing battery life.

It’s also worth considering how Apple’s own chipset could influence the design of their Macs. If there isn’t any thermal issues, Apple could possibly release a MacBook with smaller fans, or even no fans at all. Which would be a big deal considering how much valuable internal space they occupy. But the biggest space hog inside of any MacBook is its battery. If Apple could optimize power consumption like they have on iPads and iPhones, we could potential see a reduction in the MacBooks battery size, while still providing 10 hours of use. In the best case scenario, a new ARM MacBook could feature a fan-less design with a smaller battery. Which would enable Apple to create dramatically thinner, lighter, and quieter notebooks, something they’ve been trying to achieve for years.

Another really important benefit of switching to ARM is app compatibility. When the iPad was released in 2010, it shared the iPhone’s A4 chipset. Which meant that every app created for the iPhone, could also run on the newly released iPad. That was a huge advantage the device had over competing tablets, who suffered from a sparse app ecosystem. Now, Apple wants the Mac to enjoy that same advantage. We already received a hint of Apple’s interest in creating universal apps last year with the release of macOS Catalina. It included a feature called Mac Catalyst which made it much easier for developers to bring their iPad apps over to the Mac. But once Apple transitions all of their computers to ARM chipsets, developers won’t have to do a thing, iPad and iPhone apps will be able to run seamlessly on the Mac.

This transition won’t happen overnight, Apple said it’ll take two years to get all of their Macs running on their own custom chipsets, but it may happen even sooner. Because this isn’t the first time Apple has switched from one chip to another. Back in 2005 Steve Jobs announced the transition from PowerPC to Intel processors, and estimated every Mac would be switched over in about eighteen months. Although it actually happened much quicker than that, taking Apple only ten months to transition their entire Mac lineup to Intel. So while something similar may play out this time around, the switch from Intel to ARM is a bit more complicated and likely to take more time.



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