One of the most recurrent rumors of recent years affect the Mac and would mean a very important strategic change for Apple. The Intel processors have become almost standard in the market and Apple uses in its computers from the iMac to the MacBook.
However, rumors say that Apple could leave behind Intel and the x86 architecture and start designing their own ARM processors for the Mac.
x86 vs ARM
Intel is a company with proven quality, but the lack of competition makes the evolution of processors has stagnated in recent years. The processors that Intel uses have an architecture called X86 that has great advantages in computers but in other devices such as smartphones have no place due to its high consumption, that’s where the ARM processors come in.
During these years in which Intel has stalled, we have seen how processors with ARM architecture evolved amazingly. These are the processors that use smartphones and tablets like the iPhone and the iPad. Its improvement in recent years has been exponentially cutting each year distances with the power that traditionally had the Intel processors. Also here we have many brands developing, Apple, Samsung, Qualcomm or Huawei, so the competition is fierce.
Until now, the change of the x86 architecture to ARM did not make any sense since the power of the former made it unfeasible, but the evolution of recent years means that the medium-term possibility exists. This could have advantages and disadvantages, so the decision is not simple. Apple already had to migrate a few years ago to the X86 architecture from the old PowerPC processors, but this type of jumps are complicated.
Each architecture is different and the change, in broad strokes, requires that both the operating system and all the applications that are available have to be redesigned. This is a rather difficult task so far this was discarded.
Advantages of Macs changing to ARM
The main advantage for Apple of this change is that it would go on to control even more the hardware included in its devices. This means that you could develop specific processors for each Mac model without having to wait for Intel to update the processors. Apple would be the one that controlled the process and would make their devices unique.
As with the iPhone or the iPad, Apple could schedule an annual renewal event without having to wait for Intel and so users would have much more clear when they will update the company’s computers.
Another great advantage offered by ARM processors is that they consume much less power than the x86. A 12.9-inch iPad Pro offers the same, or more, autonomy as a MacBook Air in a design that takes up half the space and with a much smaller battery. Mac with ARM could have an amazing battery.
Finally, the arrival of ARM processors could make a big jump in the number of applications and programs available for Mac. Compared with Windows, macOS has very few applications but Apple has a great advantage in applications for ARM with its App Store. The arrival of ARM to the Mac would facilitate the creation of all the developers that publish in the iOS App Store.
Disadvantages of Macs switching to ARM
The main one is very clear: to redesign the entire system and the applications that we now have available for macOS. This would force Apple to create a tool capable of transforming applications created for x86 into ARM applications that would facilitate the process, something that they are probably already preparing. It is not the first time they do it when they changed the PowerPC processors for the Intel Apple created Rosetta, a tool capable of converting apps designed for PowerPC.
So far what we have seen is the opposite, iOS applications, ie ARM, which will work without problems on Macs with Intel, x86, with the project “Marzipan”. We do not know if it is only a first step, but Apple knows what it does and surely is a project in which they have been working for years.
The second big disadvantage comes when using another system like Windows. Thanks to Boot Camp Apple allows Windows to be installed on any Mac and this makes it very easy to change the system to play or run exclusive programs. The jump to ARM is likely to cause the disappearance of this function.
In addition to this, the change to ARM processors will make it much more difficult for Hackintosh, computers with generic components to which you install macOS. With Apple’s own processors probably also cease to exist.
A transition that can last for years
Apple is unlikely to jump from one year to the next, this type of transitions can last for years as the life cycle of computers is long. Rumors indicate that these early Macs with ARM would arrive in 2020. The MacBook is the main candidate to include an ARM processor, a computer that does not seem to have its site in the current range.
However, it is likely that Apple will continue to sell computers with Intel while this transition is being made. Right now the ARM processors are not up to the power they offer, for example, the Intel i7, so the most powerful Mac will have to wait.