Apple’s all-new iPad Pro has been breaking some land-speed records. Testing has revealed the iPad Pro’s processor runs laps around Intel’s Core-M chipset (found within Apple’s MacBook), while coming perilously close to Intel’s flagship Core-i5 series of chips.
The simplified history is Apple’s ARM-based designs have been moving north faster than Intel can move south into the mobile space. The question one must ask is, how long will it be until Apple equips their Mac notebooks with their own A-series processors? There are a number of factors that go into such a massive foundational decision, but the positives — assuming the A–series chips continue their northerly trajectory — should quickly outweigh the negatives.
Internal costs for Apple would be a key incentive in moving from Intel to their own CPU designs, as Intel can have as much as 75% gross margin baked into their silicon. Initial pricing from Intel states $281 per tray of Core-M processors, which are used in the lowest powered Apple notebook (the MacBook). Even if assuming heavily discounted volume pricing for Apple, the A9X would dwarf Intel pricing, as the A9X is estimated to cost Apple roughly $25 - $35 per chip. The savings Apple would gain in using their own processors would equate to billions of dollars saved each year. The flexibly this change would give Apple in terms of pricing, or large discounts in promoting iPhone + Mac sales, would prove to be mammothly large. It is a component advantage Apple would have which Microsoft and their hardware partners could not leverage.
There are also several key secondary advantages Apple would gain in moving to it's on processors for the Mac. If Apple’s next generation A–series meets or leaps over Intel’s latest Core-i5 series in performance and power saving abilities, Apple’s bragging rights would be stunning, and you can bet the farm on Tim Cook and crew letting everyone know it. While Intel is a quiet specification in today's Macs, any Macs sporting Apple's own "A10X" Apple CPU will become the number one marketed feature for at least a year or two.
For the consumer, does it really matter if a Mac notebook has an Intel processor or an Apple processor? Not really. But owners of these new MacBooks will clearly understand the advantages of a A–series driven Mac over that of an Intel box, which drives more value into MacBooks. It all adds to Apple's ability to further differentiate their products from Windows PCs.
The technical advantage for an Apple processor driving Macs lies within the developer community. It will certainly take more than a few simple tweaks and a recompile of iOS apps to run on a A-series driven Mac, but it will be much easier than the current port from A-series iOS devices to Intel driven Macs. As for existing developers that create Mac-only applications, with Apple’s latest tools, such as Metal GPU for both iOS and OS X, porting will continue to get easier. iOS and OS X, while still miles apart, are worlds that are coming closer together with each passing update. Apple will certainly aid the developer in making the move as easy as possible, and the explosion of new apps for the Mac will be a boon for the OS X platform.
Lastly, Apple’s advantage to launch Mac computers whenever they are good and ready becomes a reality with their own CPU. No more waiting for Intel's own roadmap, or for their Fabs to get over yield or die shrinking issues. Whenever Apple finds it appropriate to launch product is when it will do so. This also helps keep Apple’s competition off guard, while allowing Apple to greater differentiate the advantage to design Macs all in-house.
Apple’s WWDC, likely held in June of 2016, marks the ideal time and location for Apple to launch such a massive transition. The tools Developers needs to be communicated to those that stand to profit from the switch. The first Mac primed for such a transition is the MacBook and a revised MacBook Air. Our understanding is a 14-inch MacBook is likely to be revealed at the show, which would relegate MacBook Air as the entry-level Mac until extinction is required. The transition is not likely to be as swift as Apple’s move from the PowerPC to Intel silicon, as Intel had a host of processors at all levels to aid in Apple's move. This results in Pro products sticking with Intel for a few more years, while the mass consumption Mac laptops and Mini will move to Apple’s CPUs.
Apple's A10X MacBooks, boasting better battery life and power than Intel CPUs, along with thousands of new apps waiting in the wings? The positives clearly outweigh the negatives. WWDC can't come soon enough.
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