Bloomberg reports that Apple is considering a revolutionary step in the computing business: building its PCs around processor technology like that used in tablets and smartphones. It’s a step that would see the company ditch the world’s largest chip maker, Intel.
Apple already designs the chips for iPads and iPhones, with some help from Samsung, and has aggressively hired semiconductor designers, particularly in its Austin offices. In a statement announcing management changes two weeks ago, Apple mentioned that its semiconductor teams “have ambitious plans for the future.”
Bloomberg says only the switch from Intel is being considered, not confirmed, and by dumping Intel Apple would be turning its back on what is currently the most advanced chip technology on the market. But it seems plausible that someone inside Apple is at least experimenting with ARM-based chips, in the same way that Apple’s shift to Intel apparently began as a lone engineer’s side project. Such research is unlikely to be made public, but there are plausible reasons for Apple to make the switch. Here are five:
1. It could save money. Intel chips are expensive, reflecting the fact that they’re made with much more advanced technology than its competitors. If Apple could create ARM-based chips that perform well enough, they would likely be significantly cheaper than buying them from Intel.
2. Microsoft has shown that ARM chips can support a full operating system. The Surface tablet has an ARM processor and runs a special version of Windows dubbed RT. It can only run certain Windows applications, but shows that Microsoft considers ARM chips to be useful to PCs.
3. ARM wants its chips to be viable for PCs, too. The company recently launched the first of its designs that are 64 bit, something that boosts power and allows them to support more memory. ARM chips are already appearing in servers, too, in further validation that they’re becoming ready for more than just mobile devices.
4. Technology exists that can run apps for Intel chips on ARM chips. Apple would need such software so that existing software could us used on ARM-powered Macs. A Russian startup already makes it with server applications in mind, Apple could make its own or buy up the technology.
5. It would make it easier for Apple to bring innovations from the iPhone and iPad to PCs. The last few upgrades to Apple’s desktop operating system have seen features introduced borrowed from or inspired by its mobile software. If all Apple’s products run on the same, ARM-based, chips, such cross fertilization will become much easier.