Very recently, Tim Cook, the CEO of technology titan Apple Inc., announced that it will be releasing a new range of desktop and laptop computers under their renowned Mac brand, with a rather interesting twist – instead of using processors made by Intel, Apple’s microchip partner on the computer front for over fifteen years, Apple will be using new processors that the company has designed internally, to be manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.. Intel and Apple first began their partnership in 2005 under the leadership of the late Steve Jobs, who famously decided to shift from Motorola-built PowerPC CPUs to the powerful new CPUs from Intel, which helped to bridge the performance gap that existed between Apple computers and Windows-based ones.
This change could not have come at a worse time for Intel, as they have been globally suffering crushing defeats at the hands of rival chipmaker AMD repeatedly for several years running. While Intel’s gargantuan revenue streams have enabled it to survive AMD’s repeated assaults, it continues to rapidly lose valuable market share to AMD, as more and more OEMs and PC enthusiasts alike shift to the rival’s Zen architecture-based CPUs.
It must be noted here that Apple parting ways with Intel are not a major financial threat to Intel, as a mere 5% of its annual revenue used to come from the sale of Macs. However, it is a powerful symbolic gesture, as Apple’s highly influential impact on tech trends can cause other computer manufacturers to move away from Intel – at a time when it really cannot afford such a loss of goodwill – and opt for using CPUs manufactured by other companies instead. And indeed, with the spectacular new lineups of CPUs from AMD and Qualcomm, Apple’s shift from Intel is likely to spur a mass exodus of other PC manufacturers to competitor CPU brands.
While it is true that Apple’s computers are rather modest sellers compared to its phones or tablets, they are still generally perceived by most professional and casual users as top-of-the- line devices, and they bring in an annual revenue of about USD 25 billion to Apple’s ample coffers. They are considered industry-standard machines which set trends for the products from many other manufacturers, and the elimination of Intel from their production chain goes on to send two critical messages to any observer – a) Apple wants to become more self-reliant, and b) Intel is behind the curve. The latter of the messages is a far worse prospect, because Intel is suffering greatly from their own reluctance to adopt new methods of production and moderner miniaturization techniques, which is proving to be a major bottleneck in the capability and efficiency of their products.
instead of using processors made by Intel, Apple’s microchip partner on the computer front for over fifteen years, Apple will be using new processors that the company has designed internally, to be manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.
Apple’s success can at least partially be attributed to their absolute control over their hardware and software divisions, and their agile mentality of switching or eliminating inept or inefficient suppliers when the need arises or better alternatives present themselves. Intel’s removal can be attributed to this cutthroat mentality on Apple’s part because of their own laggardly ways and now-subpar products, which may have caused Apple’s plans to design and develop their own processors to be accelerated. Insider sources have revealed that this switch has been in the making for many years, with Apple looking for a way to shift to its own homegrown CPUs from as early as 2012.
It is interesting to note that Apple is choosing to go with the much-lauded ARM architecture on their new Macs – a considerably different processor architecture that is typically used for building the CPUs of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets but can be potentially upscaled to suit more robust purposes without sacrificing efficiency and battery life. This switch, however, means that software developers will need to modify their apps to make them functionally compatible with the new hardware architecture. Software giants such as Adobe and Microsoft have already started working to port the computer versions of their killer apps – the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite and the Microsoft Office Suite respectively – to Apple’s ARM architecture.
Apple is also working on a new version of macOS, the operating system which runs on Macs, called Big Sur, which includes support for their upcoming processors. This new iteration of macOS seems to have borrowed quite a few design cues and elements from Apple’s iOS and iPad OS mobile operating systems. The freshly redesigned stock applications have been demonstrated to run fluidly on Apple’s own CPUs, which should not come as a surprise, given that Apple already has a solid track record of designing powerful ARM-based systems such as the A13 Bionic.
In response to Apple’s decision to move to their own CPUs, Intel announced that it would keep supporting Apple as a major stakeholder, and it also took the opportunity to tout the supposed superiority of their own chips as well as the openness of their development platforms. However, given the direction in which Intel has been headed for the last few years, such boastful claims from them should be taken with nothing less than very large handfuls of salt.
It cannot be confirmed if Apple will phase out Intel CPUs from their computers all at one go, or if there would be an overlapping period when Apple’s own CPUs would initially appear only in some of their computers. It also remains to be seen if Apple can beef up their CPUs sufficiently to keep them performing at least on par with the powerful but backdated Intel CPUs that are in use in their heavy-duty workstations, as failing to do so would at least partially negate the point of such a drastic transition.
Only time will tell how successful Apple’s shift to their own CPUs would be, but the addition of yet another nail on what appears to be Intel’s coffin-to-be is something that is bound to make the industry sit up and take notice. At the very least, we are likely to see some super-efficient laptops popping up at Apple’s end, although whether they would finally be affordable or come equipped with touchscreens is anybody’s guess.