Why Apple won't ditch Intel... yet

While I would never rule out Apple deciding to purge Intel out of the Mac and switch to an ARM solution, this isn't going to happen anytime soon.

The rumor that Apple is getting ready to break up with Intel and manufacture its own processors for Macs has been circulating since Apple made the switch to Intel silicon in 2006. But while I would never rule out Apple deciding to purge Intel out of the Mac and switch to an ARM solution, this isn't going to happen anytime soon.

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This time around, the rumor has the weight of KGI Securities analyst Ming Chi-Kuo (who Business Insider called "the most accurate Apple analyst in the world") behind it. Ignoring the fact that Kuo is wrong more often than he is right, and that most of the benefits of switching to ARM would be lost once you want high-performance from the part, there are two other standout reasons why Apple is unlikely to make the switch from Intel x86 to a custom ARM solution.

First and foremost is that Apple doesn't sell that many Macs in the first place. The figure is somewhere between 16 and 20 million a year. That sounds like a lot, but it really isn't, and is too small a figure for Apple invest the considerable R&D required to bring desktop and notebook processors to market.

Why bother when the company can benefit from Intel's R&D investment?

Now you might counter with the argument that Apple already manufacturers processors for the iPhone and iPad, so why not Macs? True, Apple does design the chips inside its iOS devices, but the economies of scale are completely different. During Q4 2014 Apple saw its strongest ever quarterly Mac sales, pushing out 5.5 million units. But this is a drop in the ocean compared to the 39 million iPhones and 12 million iPads - that's over 51 million A-series processors sold right there over a three month period.

Another reason is priorities. Apple is doing a lot lately, and expending considerable effort integrating the iOS and OS X platforms, not to mention working on the Apple Watch. While I have no doubt that the company could put the cash, capital, and labor into transitioning OS X to ARM, not to mention building an emulator just like it did for the switch from PowerPC to Intel, it feels like the talent would be wasted since Apple gains little from the switch.

This isn't to say that it will never happen. If Apple can boost Mac sales then there could be an advantage to unifying the processors, especially as OS X and iOS converge. But right now, Apple has more important things to be doing that switching platforms.

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