Are ARM-based Macs with Magicwand keyboards really on the horizon?

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Ever since Apple first unveiled the iPad, we’ve been hearing rumors about Apple switching to ARM-based Macs. Now, the rumor is back again, with a French website claiming that Apple is actively developing 64-bit, quad-core Mac variants with ARM-based chips. But we’re just as skeptical as we’ve ever been.

According to French site Macbidouille — which has had more misses than hits when it comes to accurately predicting what Cupertino will do next — Apple is prototyping several ARM-based Macs, including an iMac, Mac mini, and 13-inch MacBook.

The site claims that the machines are far along in development, and will come with a new keyboard that incorporates a larger Magic Trackpad. It sounds something like an integrated Magicwand.

At first blush, it would seemingly make sense for Apple to abandon Intel for ARM. But as we’ve written many times, there’s actually not a lot of incentive for Apple to ditch Intel for ARM in its desktop and laptop models. Once you ramp up an ARM-based chip to x86 speeds, the power efficiency advantage of ARM largely disappears… and Intel’s x86 processors are still much faster than even the cutting-edge 64-bit A7 chip. At this point, an ARM-based Mac would mean a slower Mac that didn’t really get any better battery life than it did before, and required all existing Mac software to be ported over to a new architecture.

There are reasons why Apple might choose to move the Mac to ARM. For one thing, it would allow Apple to control its silicon destiny on the Mac the same way it does on iOS, by directly tweaking and manufacturing its own chips. Yet without foundries to mass produce its chips, Apple would likely have to team up with a partner company anyway to make ARM-based Macs a reality… and if that’s not Intel, then it’s likely to be Samsung.

The bottom line is that there’s little incentive for Apple to move the Mac to ARM. It would result in a fractured OS X app ecosystem, and would not likely come with any performance or battery-life gains. Cupertino is always testing new prototypes in its design labs, so we don’t doubt ARM-based Macs exist, but we do doubt they’ll be released anytime soon. As we said before, a Mac running on ARM is like an iPhone running Android.

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About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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