Why the world’s top Apple analyst is wrong about Macs ditching Intel

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Are Apple and Intel ready to break up? Photo: Apple
Are Apple and Intel ready to break up? Photo: Apple

The tech blogosphere has been buzzing this morning with news that Apple might be ditching Intel after ‘the world’s most accurate Apple analyst’ issued a report predicting iMacs and MacBooks will shun Intel processors for Apple’s own ARM-based solution within the next 1 – 2 years.

The ramifications of Intel getting ditched by the only personal computer line that’s still gaining marketshare would be huge. Intel’s stock has been trading down 1.53% since the news broke this morning, but before you ditch your Intel stock and start dreaming of a fanless ARM-powered MacBook Air, there are two things you need to know that show Kuo is probably wrong.

1 – Ming-Chi Kuo isn’t “always right”.

In fact, Kuo is wrong more often than he’s right. In the days leading up to the iPhone 6 event Kuo predicted that iPhone 6 would have a programmable power button, and that the 6 Plus would have sapphire glass to differentiate it and launch later than iPhone 6.

In 2013, Chris Rawson tracked all of Ming-Chi’s reports and found he had about a 50% accuracy rating. His overall roadmaps are usually somewhat accurate, but often miss key details on timing and product features.

Kuo points to the Apple Watch with its custom S1 chip as more evidence that Apple wants to control the processor manufacturing of all its products. TSMC and Samsung split production of the A8 and S1 chips though, so Apple is still dependent on third-parties to make the processors that power its devices. Switching away from Intel on the Mac side will only increase Apple’s dependence on Samsung and TSMC.

Ming Chi Kuo is one of the most accurate Apple analysts in the world. But in a field that includes savants such as Gene Munster and Peter Misek, it’s not that hard to stand out by only being wrong half of the time.

2- Apple ditching Intel has been predicted every year for the past five years. And it’s never happened.

Ever since Apple released the original iPhone with its homegrown ARM processor, the tech world has predicted that Macs would eventually be next. ARM processors have certain advantages over Intels chips in the areas of efficiency and power consumption, but because of their architecture they’re still not powerful enough for  the MacBook Pro or iMac.

There have been sketchy rumors claiming Apple is developing a 64-bit ARM processor to power the iMac and MacBook, but as we’ve extensively reported in the past, switching to ARM chips doesn’t make a lot of sense yet.  Once you ramp up an ARM-based chip to x86 speeds you need on a desktop machine, you pretty much lose ARM’s power efficiency advantage.

Kuo says Apple is developing an ARM-chip that’s as powerful as Intel’s Atom processor line that debuted in 2008, and the Intel Core i3 line that currently maxes out at 2.5GHZ. Intel’s x86 processors are still way faster than Apple’s 64-bit A8 chips, so they’d be sacrificing slower Macs for battery life that’s not much better.

Oh, and let’s not forget that all existing Mac software would have to be ported over to the new architecture. Apple has developed huge software projects in total secret in the past, but switching OS X to ARM overnight would be a colossal feat.

We’ve also heard rumors that Apple and Intel were in talks to put Intel chips in iOS devices. That deal would have allowed Apple to ween itself off Samsung’s foundry business, but it never happened either.

Intel has said Apple switching to ARM processors is a very real and very scary threat to the company, but we’re still more than two years away from it being a feasible option. That’s not to say Apple couldn’t release a super low powered, fan less, NetBook Air with only one USB-C powered by an A10 ARM processor. But I wouldn’t bank on it quite yet.