Following earlier reports suggesting that Apple may be releasing a brand new Mac that’s very different from current products, Intel confirms that they’ve been hearing rumors that Apple might drop Intel as well.
Intel’s Ultrabook director Greg Welch tells CNET that they are very aware of the reports of Apple testing Mac prototypes build with their own custom A5 processors. He continues to suggest that Intel will continue to innovate so that Apple will continue to use them as a supplier.
Intel continues to view the possibility that Apple may move away from Intel and the x86 processor as a strong threat. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard rumors of Apple making the move over to custom ARM-based processors for the Mac, in fact, these rumors seem to be becoming more and more frequent. Below, we discuss some of the implications of Apple making the move to their own custom processors.
The main benefits that Apple would glean from such a move are that they could make their products even thinner and more power efficient than they already are. The tradeoff, in a nutshell, is with software compatibility and total computing power, both of which would be strongly affected.
If Apple did decide to began using custom “Systems on a Chip” (SoC’s) in future Macs, it would certainly improve battery life, and enable Apple to make even lighter and thinner Macs. It could also help Apple to bridge the gap between iOS and OS X. One possible concern, however, is that it could require software written for the Mac to be re-written in order to run on the new hardware.
One interesting possibility, however, is that by working closely in or heavily investing with a chipmater on such a chip, perhaps using 3D transistor technology, such as that recently developed by Intel (which improves both performance and power consumption), it’s possible that a new custom-made chip could combine the current x86 platform with ARM-based processing cores. Intel has even publicly stated that they would be willing to consider working with Apple on projects like this, and I suspect other processor manufacturers would feel similarly.
The result of this would be a chip that could support both architectures simultaneously, running code designed for x86 processors (such as Mac apps) as well as code designed for ARM processors (such as iOS apps). It could possibly result in universal apps becoming available that work not only on iOS, but on a Mac as well, as it would simplify development of apps that work with both iOS and OS X.
Apple could easily invest a chunk of their massive cash reserves into researching this type of technology and either build their own custom processor or hire another company to build it for them. If any company could pull out all the stops and stand as another major presence in the processor world, it’d be Apple.
If the rumors are true, and Apple is indeed considering taking this road, this could lead to a greater transitioning and bringing-together of iOS with the current desktop platform, OS X. It seems as though Apple is already working to bridge this gap, particularly considering design decisions that Apple has made in Mac OS X Lion’s interface to make it more iOS-like. Certain analysts are even alreadypredicting that Apple will eventually combine OS X and iOS into a single unified operating system.
It’s possible that Apple could transition all future portables, even the MacBook Pro, to use a powerful space and battery saving SOC, without significantly sacrificing either computing power or compatibility.
One downside to this, however, is that it would decrease a user’s ability to perform upgrades, as RAM becomes integrated onto the chip, which might leave users of Apple’s Pro line of hardware feeling a bit betrayed.
If nothing else, this certainly does provide us all something to think about.