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Apple to (eventually) leave Intel

by: E. Werner Reschke | Jun 26, 2014

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Some things in life are just inevitable. If you eat one potato chip when the entire bag is available, it is inevitable that you will eat more; if you drink often in bars and pubs and then drive home, it is inevitable you will someday get a DUI. If you are in Vegas and on a lucky streak, if you keep betting it is inevitable that the casino will win all its money back and then some.

Concerning Apple and its Mac computers, at some point it is inevitable that the company will grow tired of Intel's main CPU pricing, known in the industry as the “Intel tax." The Intel tax is a bitter pill for computer makers to swallow, as Intel's gross margins can reach upwards of 80% for their CPUs.

In may ways Intel was lucky in the late 90's to have AMD come along and begin a semi-serious challenge to their x86 microchip empire. Without AMD, the U.S. Department of Justice may have very well put Intel it its cross hairs instead of Microsoft. If you think about it, Intel has enjoyed a virtual monopoly in the desktop microprocessor business for over 30 years, and their processors are the most expensive component in computers today.

Apple somewhat broke through Intel's monopoly when it introduced the iPhone that ran on a Samsung manufactured ARM processor. Soon after, Google followed suit by developing Android for ARM, as Intel's Atom processor was not yet efficient enough for mobile smartphones. While mobile became free of the Intel monopoly, desktop manufacturers have remained its slave.

Compared to OS X devices, iOS devices pricing has remained very consistent over time. That can not be said for Macs. Roughly every six months any given Mac model receives a processor update and the price goes up or down by $100. The reason is simple: Intel.

How long will Apple allow Intel to dictate their Mac upgrade cycles and prices on its OS X products? Recent rumors are beginning to point to the inevitable – Apple will turn to its own ARM based A-Series processors for Macs. Apple’s latest A7 processor already boasts desktop class 64-bit architecture, which Apple has been keen to point out. Furthering the A series move towards the Mac is ARM's latest partnership with AMD, expanding ARM's reach into the architectural world of Intel's x86 realm. Apple will surely leverage and customize these designs, eliminating the Intel tax, while dictating their own launch schedules.

Will Apple make the switch all at once, changing over the the entire lineup of Macs over night? Or will Apple take a more steady approach, converting Mac processors over time, like their transition from the PowerPC to Intel? Will the new laptops run a new version of iOS Desktop or a re-written version of OS X?

While these questions may not be answered until Apple makes its move, it is inevitable that Apple will eventually leave Intel for its own class of processors. The most logical timeframe would seem to come around the WWDC (world-wide developers conference), where developers can dig deep into Apple's new Mac hardware direction, learning how to best re-write and optimize their code. An imminent change? No. An inevitable change? Yes. The only question is, when?

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5 Comments

  1. Abby Brown ~ June 27, 2014 12:24

    I hope that this never happens. As a Mac developer we have a lot better things to do than to re-write our code to run on still another processor. Apple has a history of changing processors, but it has had a toll on its developers. Sure Apple makes it sound easy for developers to make the switch, and it may be for an app that just figures out 1+1=2. But for the really powerful apps that everyone uses, like Office, Photoshop, etc. it is years of work. Non-productive work where their users don't get many, if any real features added. I hope that it never happens. #
  2. RE: Abby Brown ~ June 27, 2014 18:06

    If I asked you what was the future of Apple, the iOS or OS X what would the answer be? It is iOS and the myriad of developers for the platform, and many do OS X apps also. For those only developing for Intel and OS X, those days are numbered. The smartest move is for Apple to move Mac's to ARM and make it dead simple for those iOS+ARM developers to move upscale onto mobile Macs and iMacs. That takes Apple's app library and offering to an entirely new level. No more waiting for Intel and paying their prices, Apple can - as was written - move and do things of their own choosing, not Intel's. Besides, a new version for a new processor type is a great excuse to sell a full upgrade of software all over again. #
  3. heinzbruno ~ June 28, 2014 13:50

    I don't care, as long as my EXPENSIVE intel games run on arm. Otherwise Apple will have to finally quit the intel gamers group. I do not want to play my games on an ipad, i want my 27" super duper iMac with 32GB RAM and all of my goos expensive games. I would not like to go to Xbox or PS. Never! #
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  5. Tom ~ July 14, 2014 11:58

    I would welcome it. ARM has been around a while. iOS devs can fully embrace the change. Like the change from PowerPC to Intel back in the early 2000's, it was easy because people could write for Intel and now people (thanks for mobile) can write for ARM. Sure Photoshop and the larger applications would have to invest a lot of time into switching it over, BUT as a graphic designer I've grown tired of Adobe's practices. Maybe some ARM based design programs on iPad such as iDraw or Procreate can put some heat on them to start treating customers right. I'd be giddy if desktops and laptops were one day powerful, cool, and fan-less. #

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