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.

  • Jared E.

    I doubt they would hit market as well, not as things stand today… but you can’t really use the x86/Arm/fractured apps ecosystem either – as an argument. Remember what came before the Intel chips…. they’ve switched more than once before

  • Windlasher

    Why assume they are ditching intel? Could possibly be for a Low Cost Mac Running IOS. Could be a box similar to a chrome book with everything stored in the cloud. If you give me a minute I could probably think of 10 other reasons. AND… They wouldn’t fracture the ecosystem any more than it is now.

    • Gary Deezy

      ‘Cause Apple has fought the low-end, Netbook / Chromebook paradigm forever, unstoppably making its money on the high-end, quality gear. If your argument were true, they would have made a half-baked, cheap iPhone years ago.

      • Windlasher

        But they DID eventually make a half-baked, cheap iPhone, didn’t they? Tim isn’t Steve no matter how much you want him to be. Remember Scully? Everyone thinks their way is the best way wrong or right. Who knows what is in the pipeline, which is why I said, WHY ASSUME that they are ditching intel, per the assumption in this article. Unless you work for Apple and are leaking legitimate facts, never assume….

  • digitaldumdum

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

    No.

    • Windlasher

      Didn’t you dispute a large screen iPhone would be coming last fall?

      • digitaldumdum

        First, I don’t think there *was* a larger iPhone last fall. Maybe you’re confused. Second, are you checking up on me?? No need for any police here. Third, looking at your few posts in this thread alone, it appears *you’re* the one who loves to dispute.

      • Windlasher

        I meant the rumors that started last fall when people started talking about the 6 being larger.

  • Gary Deezy

    IF Apple would ever build an ARM based Mac, it would run iOS. And IF it ran iOS, a touchscreen, rather than an off-to-the-side trackpad, would be the correct user interface. So, no.

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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