Why Apple should develop its own chips for Mac

April 04, 2018 17:20
For Apple, the decision to develop its own chips for Mac computers aligns with its product roadmap as it could help Mac and iOS devices to work more seamlessly together. Photo: Bloomberg

The news that Apple plans to develop its own chips for its Mac computers, instead of relying on external parties, is not so surprising. 

The technology giant has done the same thing on its iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch products. More than that, the company has to differentiate its Mac products in terms of hardware specifications and create synergy with its mobile devices.

Currently, Mac computers are all powered by Intel-developed central processing units. The plan to use Apple-designed chips could probably be sad news for Intel as Apple accounts for around 5 percent of its annual sales.

But for Apple, the decision aligns with its product roadmap as the new chip could help Mac and iOS devices to work more seamlessly together, according to a Bloomberg report.

In fact, the market has been speculating on such a move, and Intel may have prepared for a possible end to its relationship with Apple. In June last year, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said it probably made sense for Apple to use its own chips for Mac.

For Apple, the change would be a leap forward to its hardware system. Intel chips are one of the few major processor components designed by external parties inside Apple’s product portfolio. Currently, all iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, and Apple TVs use main processors designed by Apple and based on technology from Arm Holdings.

Using its own chips for Macs would allow Apple to release new models according its own timeline, instead of relying on Intel’s schedule.

Apple's move to design and use its own chips could be done by phases. Industry watchers have said that Apple could first introduce an ARM-based chip as a co-processor to support additional exclusive features on Macs such as Touch ID and Touch Bar, and the new chip could also help enhance the encryption of data on Macs.

Currently, top-tier MacBook Pro and iMac Pro have ARM-based co-processors. It is highly likely that Apple will introduce such co-processors in Mac product updates.

The deployment of ARM-based chips would also help Apple in fast-tracking its own product development roadmap, as the company need not have to wait for Intel’s new chips for its product launches. In one case, Apple had taken four years to enhance its Macbook Pro with Touch Bar and Touch ID features.

Another reason for Apple to have its owns chips on Mac is to enable applications running on iOS to also run on desktop Mac devices simultaneously. Such a new initiative, which media have reported over the past few years, could be another key Apple announcement as it would mean integrating iOS and MacOS into a single platform just like Microsoft's Windows 10 system.

That would enable software developers to create and publish apps that would work on both iOS and macOS. An app could be activated using either a touchscreen or a mouse/trackpad, depending on which device is running it.

From developers’ perspective, both platforms running on the same architecture would mean an easier way to support their apps.

Apple has already made several moves to bring all its applications closer together, such as its rollout of the shared APFS file system.

The company is also setting the stage for Mac/iPhone/iPad app interoperability. Bringing iOS apps to the Mac gives the Mac access to a robust software ecosystem, considering that the Mac App Store has struggled to gain as much traction.

The move would also make it easier for Apple to encourage developers to develop new apps for Mac and to strengthen its market share.

In the personal computer arena, Apple is gaining market share from the Windows camp. Its plan to use its own chips on Mac may not happen within a short period of time. But it certainly would allow Apple to demonstrate its strength and leadership in the field of technology and help convince the hundreds of millions of iOS device users to switch to Mac if they haven't yet.

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EJ Insight writer