Rumors that Apple might ditch Intel chips in the Mac for ARM-based chips of their own design are nothing new. Back in 2012, we reported that Apple would soon be dropping Intel chips from all their Macs. And earlier this year, ex-Apple-executive Jean-Louis Gassée claimed that he thought Apple would soon ditch Intel too. Heck, even Intel has said in the past it considered Apple switching to ARM on the desktop to be a very real and scary threat. Yet it still hasn’t happened. So far, it’s the rumor equivalent of the Apple HDTV: even though it endlessly comes up in the news cycle, it still hasn’t happened.
Even so, when usually accurate analyst Ming-Chi Kuo from KGI Securities issued a note last week saying that Apple would fully switch from Intel to ARM by 2016, it caused a ruckus. People took the rumor more seriously than most, just based on Kuo’s amazing track record. But according to Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, he’s not worried. But he’s also not denying it’s a possibility.
Asked during CNBC’s Squawk Box about the rumors, Krzanich said:
I just hear the same rumors. Our relationship with Apple is strong and their products are great. Apple is always going to choose the supplier who can provide them the most amount of capability in innovation for them to build on, for them to innovate. They’re a company based on innovation. Our job is to continue to deliver parts that have that capability give them that, that are better than our competitors. And then they want to use our parts. So I wake up every morning making sure that across the board, whether it’s Apple or Lenovo or Dell or any of our customers — we have to provide the most competitive part: performance, price, reliability, all of those.
That’s a fairly reasonable answer. Apple’s doing to do what Apple is going to do, but if Intel can continue to deliver great chips that outperform ARM chips, it’s not an issue.
In the past, I’ve argued that you’ll probably never own a Mac with an ARM processor, and I still don’t. First of all, there’s no real silicon advantage of Apple switching to ARM — Intel chips are still way ahead of ARM in performance and power-efficiency, although the gap is narrowing all the time. And even if ARM catches up with Intel, it would hugely disrupt the Mac space: unless ARM processors become much faster than Intel chips, you’ll never have ARM > Intel backwards compatibility on a Mac, which means every piece of software on OS X would need to be re-engineered to run on an ARM instruction set.
But I’ll admit. Kuo thinks it’s not just possible, but definite. And that makes me wonder whether or not I might be wrong. After all, there is one major advantage of Apple switching to ARM. If they do that, they can design their own chips however they want. That’s just not something that can do to Intel.