Apple reportedly working on ARM chips for upcoming Macs

I’ve said before that it’s only a matter of time until all of Apple’s hardware devices will be powered by ARM-based processors, including the Mac. A new Bloomberg report, quoting unnamed “people familiar with the matter,” says Apple is designing a new chip for future Mac laptops that would take on more of the functionality currently handled by Intel processors.

I believe the report is accurate. What’s more, I think Apple’s homemade processors will eventually appear in Mac desktops, as well as laptops.

Bloomberg says that the chip, which went into development last year, is similar to one already used in the latest MacBook Pro to power the keyboard’s Touch Bar, The updated part, internally codenamed T310, would handle some of the computer’s low-power mode functionality, the article adds. 

Apple engineers are reportedly planning to offload the Mac’s low-power mode, a feature marketed as "Power Nap," to the next-generation ARM-based chip. This function would Mac laptops to retrieve e-mails, install software updates, and synchronize calendar appointments with the display shut and not in use. The feature currently uses little battery life while run on the Intel chip, but the move to ARM would conserve even more power, according to Bloomberg, which says we may see it in a Mac laptop later this year.

As the late Steve Jobs once said, Apple products work so well because the company makes “the whole widget.” There’s no reason to think that Apple isn’t interested in making its own processors. By designing its own chips, Apple can build hardware and software that work together better than any off-the-shelf processor. When it introduced its A7 chip for the iPhone, Apple described it as “forward thinking” and having a “desktop-class architecture.” 

Apple certainly has the money to make its own chips. Admittedly, such a task would be a huge one, even for Apple. However, the groundwork has been laid.

In 2008 Apple bought P.A. Semi, a chip designer that made “energy-efficient processors based on the PowerPC architecture that Apple used in Macs for years before adopting Intel’s x86 chips.” In December 2008 the company picked up a 3.6 percent stake in Imagination Technologies,  a graphics chip maker.  In 2010, Apple scooped up Intrinsity, which specializes in ARM processors. This August Apple acquired Passif Semiconductor, which manufactures switch-based wireless transceivers with low power consumption and a small footprint.

It’s not hard to imagine all Mac laptops, iMacs and Mac minis using the descendants of Apple’s A9X system-on-chip (SoC) solutions in the near future — with the Mac Pro taking longer to make the switch.

Plus, Seeking Alpha thinks Apple will design its own Mac chips for three reasons:

  • Apple is capable of scaling their custom ARMv8 core design to replace the Intel chips which power their Macs, thus unifying all their products under a single Instruction Set Architecture.
  • Apple could add custom hardware and accelerators to Mac chips and exploit them very well within the operating system and software applications to improve product differentiation and market share.
  • Apple’s profit margins would increase significantly if it were to use its own designed chips rather than Intel designed chips.