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


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.

  • Paul Lloyd Johnson

    You’re wrong. No one said it would happen overnight. If you don’t think Apple is working to ditch Intel chips in the near future, starting with lower end Macs, you can’t see what’s right in front of you!

    • CelestialTerrestrial

      NO, here’s why. While OS X can be ported to other processors, the apps have to be written for the other processors and that’s NOT just for OS X and OS X apps, it’s for Microsoft Windows and Windows apps and Linux and Linux apps. Remember, Apple wants to be able to have their desktop/laptop platform be able to have Linux and Windows loaded at the same time… I think it would be a Herculean effort that I doubt is going to happen.

      What I do believe is that MAYBE someday, they might introduce an iPad where it can run OS X, and OS X apps, but I don’t think the ARM chip is necessarily going to replace Intel on the desktop/laptop. Does Apple ARM chips support Thunderbolt technology like the intel chips? Apple isn’t going to abandon Thunderbolt so quickly, now are they? THINK THINGS THROUGH.

      The ARM chip specs is just what it is, getting ARM chips to have similar performance as Intel, so that they can have similar performance. ARM chips of iOS and Intel chips to run OS X, Windows, and Linux, on a desktop/laptop with Thunderbolt, lots of USB ports, HDMI, yada, yada, yada….

      • Steve Chavez

        The ONLY reason I would see to sacrifice Intel would be in order to deliver a substantially cheaper, more portable product with less power consumption. (while maintaining comparable margins) I understand the point about Intel on Mac has been huge because processor emulation is not needed unlike it was under PPC or how it would be under ARM. You bring up an interesting point about Thunderbolt. I honestly have no idea if there would be support. I don’t see why there wouldn’t be, but I have no idea. What I DO see is a way for Apple to put pressure on Intel to give them leverage in negotiating pricing and exclusivity on new technologies where they can. Stories such as “Apple will move to ARM” might actually be quite helpful to Apple’s goals as they tout 64-Bit Desktop Performance in your phone and what not.

      • Ron Williams

        Do you really think that Intel is just going to sit on its ass and let ARM become as dominant as they are/were? That’s simply foolishness. Intel has the talen, capability and wallet to prevent that from happening. Anyway, Intel’s processors are continually advancing in power management as well as processing power. I’ll speculate that an ARM Mackbook Air would fail miserably especially that the newest ARM reference by Kuo is somewhere between an Atom. Probably closer to the Atom than the i3. I think I’ll buy one just for encoding 1 or 2 videos per day!

  • Apple is absolutely going to switch to their own chips…eventually. Their corporate DNA is about vertically integrating as much as possible. They wisely went with Intel 9 years ago when their PowerPC chips were falling behind. Now that they have developed their own powerful chipset, its just a matter of when their AX series “Performance per watt” reaches the point where it makes sense to use in a laptop or desktop.

    It may not be 1-2 years, but it will happen eventually.

    • pinz

      You have still to think about the software, that would need additional power like Intel offered compared to the PowerPCs to enable the Rosetta-layer. Apple would hit the Software-Developers big time without this, also the users that would sit on a pile of useless software after such a step and without such a layer.

      • RedMercury

        It’s a worthwhile point to remember this.

        I’m an old fart. I remember when Apple switched from 68K to PowerPC and you had the emulation layer. But PowerPC was fast enough to pull this off (entertaining trivia–it wasn’t until Mac OS 9, I believe, that the file manager was finally weened off of 68K). When running PowerPC software under Intel, it was noticeably slower.

        Imagine running Intel under ARM via emulation…

  • aardman

    Ha ha. To be “the most accurate Apple analyst” today is like being “the most accurate musket shot” during the Napoleonic Wars. i.e. you’re still not any good no matter what.

  • Martin

    NFC in the iPhone was predicted for years and it never happened… until it did. I wouldn’t go with what any analyst says. Go with what makes sense. For the most part, I’m still in agreement with you–the A series chips don’t currently offer the benefits necessary to make such a change. But to say it won’t happen… not so sure. Apple likes to hold all its chips, as it were. It wouldn’t be surprizing at all to see their own chipsets running Macs someday.

    • BusterH

      Not saying it won’t happen eventually, but it’s still farther away than 1 – 2 years.

  • OhStopItYou!

    Let’s ignore the elephant in the room (performance, battery life and so on …) and concentrate on just one thing: Apps (Which is what a platform’s success is measured in anyway). If it was possible to port all desktop apps to ARM trust me when I say this – Microsoft would pay big bucks for that technology. At the moment it’s not possible without much effort and that means even if they do release an ARM based laptop you won’t be able to run Photoshop, Rubymine, IntelliJ, Eclipse and so on… You also would not be able to run Microsoft’s office suite. Almost all desktop software (which is not available in the App Store) would not be able to run so I am going to predict something here:
    For the next 4 years, Apple won’t be ditching Intel

    • RedNinjaX

      Well to be fair you would be able to run at least Microsoft Office (we’ve all forgotten about Windows RT)

      • OhStopItYou!

        I believe it’s going to be different Architecture :(

  • Garth

    He was RIGHT about sapphire at the time of his prediction. The fact that they couldn’t pull it off doesn’t detract from his prediction.

    • aardman

      The prediction was spot on except for the fact that it didn’t happen? Are you being ironic?

  • Kr00

    This more about market manipulation than evidence based facts. Considering many windows users actually use Macs to run Microsoft software, which is why Apple shifted across to Intel chips, I can’t see this happening this decade if ever. ARM chips just won’t cut it in the heavy lifting stakes.

  • bdkennedy

    Truth is, no one knows what Apple is doing. They could be developing a whole new desktop chip. But they WILL switch to ARM because they will be in control of it.

    Let’s not forget that Apple surprised everyone last year with a brand new programming language. The last time they did that, it was XCode back in 2003 and then 2 years later they announced the switch to Intel.

  • Robert Johnson

    A laptop that lasts for 20 hours and fully charges in a couple – I so down for that.
    There will be 2 Macs one with ARM chips and pro ones with intel chips

  • Slajm_Kreils

  • Dimitris Theofilopoulos

    if they do that they will lose a lot of customers including myself, unless you can run other OS on their chip it will be a terrible move.