A Bloomberg report this week has made public something that should have already been obvious to observers in the technology industry: Apple plans to replace Intel processors in Mac computers with its own chips after 2020. The two California companies have enjoyed A long and fruitful partnership since Apple made the switch to the Intel CPUs with the MacBook Pro 2006 and the iMac, but recent trends have made the separation between them inevitable. Improvements in Intel chips have stagnated at the same time as Apple's chips have accelerated, and now iPhone-on-chip systems are surpassing silicon in the laptop class of Intel's Core line. Even if Intel never gives up its performance crown, the future that Apple is building will always be better served by its own chip designs.
Apple's decision to abandon the world's most popular CPU line for laptops and desktops may seem radical, but there are a number of key factors that make it obvious and inevitable.
Attend any major technology exhibition and you will find Intel announcing or relaunching slightly improved processors. Whether it's IFA in Berlin, CES in Las Vegas or Computex in Taipei, the spiel is always the same: the future is wireless, battery life is important for everyone, and there are many people with five years of age PC They might see a difference if they buy a new computer with an Intel processor. Everything is painfully gradual and out of sync with Apple's product cadence. Apple will give you, at most, two years with an iPhone before inviting you to an update, while Intel is trying to convince people with PCs that have half a decade to do the same.
In the past, Intel could rely on microarchitecture changes for one year and the contraction in the production process one more year to maintain its momentum for improvement. But the infamous Moore's Law came to an end in 2015. Intel is approaching the limits of what is possible with silicon, and has not yet discovered its next step. The following chart, compiled by AnandTech, illustrates Intel's situation well. Notice how long the 14nm process node lasted, the question marks next to the launch window for the 10nm chips, and the almost total absence of a future route map. In previous years, Intel's ambitious plans would be known well in advance. (The company has not become more reserved, it just does not seem to have any secrets). And without the energy efficiency gains that come from building smaller chips, Intel simply can not compete with ARM processors designed first for efficiency.
If there is a unifying theme to define everything that Apple does, it is integration. From the integration of components in a logic board to the integration of a complete ecosystem of Apple devices such as the iPhone, Mac, AirPods and HomePod to integrate supply and distribution lines under their centralized control. Apple started designing its own iPhone chips because it did not want to depend on Qualcomm. A year ago, he started making his own graphics processors to lend his confidence in Imagination Technologies. Apple also created its own Face ID system, acquired the manufacturer of its Touch ID system and was recently reported to secretly develop its own MicroLED screens for Apple Watch.
Apple will tell you that it is obsessed with delighting the consumer, creating elegantly designed objects or some other high aspiration, but the company's primary ambition is to control every last minute aspect of its products. The Intel chips that have been at the heart of MacBooks and Mac for more than a decade are not tiny; they are fundamental to the design and engineering of each computer. Apple has been with them for a long time due to the previously insurmountable leadership of Intel, but the way we use computers is changing, the workloads on a CPU are changing and the Apple A series of chips is better designed to handle that new world of computing. In addition, the iPhone has demonstrated the advantages of designing hardware and software in harmony, since it requires smaller batteries and less RAM than similar rivals in Android.
The iOS laptop
Apple's macOS, the operating system that runs on Intel's x86 architecture, is now legacy software. This may sound like a blunt statement, given that Apple still sells a lot of MacBooks and iMacs, but the development of that operating system inside Apple seems to have stopped completely. Today, macOS feels as if it is in maintenance mode, waiting for a widely expected change that will produce a unified iOS and macOS operating system, with iOS taking precedence.
If this is true, it is one step closer to the next big Apple machine: a consumer laptop with iOS. Call it MacPad or relive the iBook name. Use the touchpad in the same way that 3D Touch is used on iOS devices to move the cursor easily. (And build more tricks). I'll buy it. https://t.co/s2gWAA8fWk- Walt Mossberg (@waltmossberg) April 2, 2018
Mobile computing has firmly established itself as the predominant mode of use these days, and that trend will only become more pronounced in the future. The main focus of Apple software is fixed in iOS, which works with the ARM instructions, not the Intel x86. So, if Apple intends to bring iOS to its less portable computing line, and if it has chips that offer performance comparable to Intel's consumer processors (which it does), why not build all of that into the top of your own processor? ? Whether it's presented as a new iPad Pro or MacBook Air, a device that combines the strengths of iOS and the convenience of a clamshell design with a generous touch screen is something many people would love to have. By following this course of action, Apple gets to scratch its vertical integration itching while satisfying the existing demand.
The mobile office
What makes Apple even contemplate running its agile mobile operating system on its most powerful computers is the way our computing habits are changing. Not only are we using mobile devices more often than desktop devices for entertainment, but we are now also doing most of our work on phones. You can be a professional photographer with only a Pixel 2, for example. The phrase "call him on the phone" certainly has a completely different timbre in 2018 than it did at the beginning of this decade.
As investment and development dollars continue to flow to the dominant mobile platforms, Android and iOS, it is logical to expect that all useful desktop applications that have not yet been adapted are already on the way. Sure, Intel is likely to maintain its dominance at the high end of computing, but for the vast majority of people and situations, iOS will soon be able to provide everything users want. And once the software reaches that point, Apple will want to combine it with hardware that is powerful and ergonomic enough to take advantage of.
It is not only Apple that is moving away from Intel processors. Google has been hiring and working with its own custom chip designs, and Microsoft and Qualcomm started this year to push Windows on ARM as an alternative to typical laptops powered by Intel. The whole world of technology is moving first toward development and design for mobile applications, and Intel's desktop roots continue to prevent it from being competitive in that expanding market.
Apple keeps going because Intel is quiet.