Intel's nightmare: Apple going ARM

News reports say the Mac maker is considering a move to the same chips used in the iPhone and iPad.

By Nov 6, 2012 6:09PM
Image: Circuit Board -- Datacraft Co Ltd, imagenavi, Getty ImagesBy Michael Comeau, Minyanville

If a report from Bloomberg is correct, Apple (AAPL) is considering replacing the Intel (INTC) processors used in the Mac line with the same kind of ARM-based chips used in the iPhone and iPad.

If -- and I'll emphasize that we're still in the "if" stage now -- this happens, consider it a nightmare scenario for Intel over the long term.

First, let's explore whether this is even possible.

My inclination is to say that it is. While Intel has a lot more experience than Apple in designing processors, Apple's come a long way in a very short period of time.

Look at the iPad line. It's less than three years old, but the newest fourth-generation model delivers screaming performance and extended battery life on a 9.7-inch, 2048x1536 screen for just $500.

Think about how good these Apple processors will be in three to five years.

I bet they'll be more than fast enough to make Apple reconsider whether it makes sense to hand over 60%+ gross margins to Intel.

Furthermore, Apple would be able to run the same operating system across all devices -- PCs, tablets, smartphones, and whatever hasn't even been invented yet -- providing users with perfectly seamless transitions between different products.

Now let's talk Intel's side of the equation.

Keep in mind, I consider this to be a long-term risk for Intel -- something that could hit it three years from now at the absolute earliest, or not at all.

In the third quarter of this year, Apple had 5.6% of the global PC market. I calculated this number by dividing Apple's reported Mac sales into the worldwide number reported by Gartner.

So Apple ain't a big deal, right? Wrong! In mid-2009, NPD released one of the most staggering statistics regarding the PC market I've ever seen: the fact that Apple controlled over 90% of the U.S. market for PCs over $1,000.

And keep in mind, Apple has gained significant market share since then with groundbreaking products like the Macbook Air. So its stranglehold on high-end PCs has gotten stronger, not weaker.

So what does this mean? Well, it's simple. Apple moves a lot of expensive Intel PC processors, and thus would be a terrible customer for Intel to lose.

Furthermore, think about Apple's influence within the gadget industry. What Apple does, everyone else copies. Google (GOOG) Android smartphones and tablets have mostly imitated the iPhone and iPad. Apple was also the first mainstream PC company to dump floppy drives, go all-LCD in displays, abandon legacy ports, and embrace built-in wi-fi. Everyone else followed along.

Heck, the supposed next big thing in Windows PCs -- the Ultrabook -- is simply a copy of Apple's revolutionary MacBook Air line, which debuted way back in 2008.

One other point: If Apple dumps Intel, expect competing PC makers to push Microsoft to get further into bed with ARM.

More From Minyanville

Nov 6, 2012 7:33PM
This sort of scenario is not even slightly realistic. It doesn't take into account so many things that even showing its flaws is a waste of time. Just like it was for me to read it.
Nov 6, 2012 6:59PM

1 Apple CPU $50

1 Intel Xeon X7560 CPU (server) $4,000


Ya I think Intel will be ok.....

Nov 6, 2012 8:10PM

I doubt that for the foreseeable future they will stop using Intel processors.  This is an interesting article, but there are some additional ideas to consider.  First, their is no current ARM processor that is nearly fast enough for a Macintosh computer.  The Core i5 and i7 chips in the Mac far outstrip the fastest ARM processor.  This lead is expected to continue in the future.  ARM chips use less energy.  This comes at a cost of computing speed.  Video professionals, artists, number crunchers and many other professions would find it nearly impossible to work with an ARM powered computer.  Perhaps a lower cost slower Mac may have an ARM processor, but Apple has always been in the business of making the best computers and products possible.

Also, the idea that Apple could run the same OS on all their products is true today.  The OS is not processor specific.  The target processor is determined by the software.  One demonstration of this was the switch from PowerPC processors to Intel processors.  It was essentially the same operating system, different processor.  Sure there are some adjustments to be made to enable this.  

The reason iOS is currently different is that Apple wants to provide a different experience on tablets as compared to Macs.  If they wanted to, they could release a tablet with OSX very quickly.  The only problem would be that the resulting OSX tablet would be very slow at processor-intensive tasks, such as video editing and compression.  I, for one, would not want to be 'stuck' with an ARM-based Mac.

Current tablets can edit video, of course, but they are limited.  ARM processors will get faster, of course, but so will the top Intel processors, making possible things we haven't envisioned yet.  There will always be a market for the fastest processors.  Until ARM produces that fastest processor, I believe there will be Intel-based Macs.

Nov 7, 2012 12:11AM
I double dare Apple to dump Intel, that'll be the biggest mistake in history of PC's.
Nov 6, 2012 11:31PM
Does anyone remember when Apple used the Motorola 68000 CPU?
Nov 6, 2012 10:07PM

Also, if Apple switches to ARM, will this be like what happened when they moved to Intel from PowerPC?  you will have to rebuy all of your applications when you upgrade?  I know that apple did this before, but I find it hard to believe as a near term possibility.  but, I have been wrong in the past.


and lets wait until all the apple fans, who have been busting on MSFT for removing a start button and RT users not able to run desktop apps on the ARM version of win8.


unless adobe is going to port all their apps to ARM in the near future, Mac users wont be very happy.

Nov 7, 2012 2:13AM
With OSX somewhere near 5% market share this wouldn't certainly hurt intel, but in no way would it be catastrophic.  I think if Windows RT takes off it will effect intel much more than Apple switching could.
Nov 6, 2012 11:33PM
I do...but I guess I am showing my age (Lisa)
Nov 7, 2012 3:22PM
I am amazed on the amount of articles of this non-sense. It is a waste of time to read these articles. Intel will continue delivering better performing chips with the tick-tock model. I do not see a chip from Apple that can compete with Intel to suppprt Mac Applications (today and future). If apple made the mistake to switch. oh well. Others will eat the lunch. Come one Apple bring your chip. Until then i seriously doubt that Apple can release something competitive with Intel.
Nov 7, 2012 7:41AM
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