It seems that finally, the rumors are coming true, and Apple is making plans to dump Intel chips and kit Macs out with its own processors based on technology licensed from Arm.
There are a number of good reasons why Apple would want to do this, but a broader question remains: Who will be the target audience for these Arm-powered Macs?
Back when we had firm data, we knew that Apple shifted about 20 million Macs a year. That's a lot, but it's a mere drop in the ocean compared to the number of iPhones it shifts. Also, it's highly unlikely that Apple will make the move overnight, so the initial chip production could be small. It's reported that Apple will begin with a portable and move to pro systems from there.
But that doesn't answer who is supposed to buy these? As I see it, the Mac market consists of two demographics:
- Power users
- Legacy users who grew up on Macs or PCs don't want to make the change to the iPhone/iPad
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Rumors suggest that Apple's first Arm-powered portable will be a MacBook Air, and this makes sense because that platform would better show off the core advantages of the Arm -- top of that list being better power management and improved performance.
Apple could then further narrow the gulf between the Mac and the iOS/iPadOS platforms, blurring the line between the segments.
Another interesting aspect of this change to ponder is whether this is just buying time for a dying platform, or a new lease of life for the Mac? Again, going back to when Apple told us how many Macs it was selling, it was clear that Mac sales had flatlined, and even showing signs of a slow decline.
I doubt that this has changed since November 2018. What that means is that Macs are, in essence, a dying segment.
So, is Apple seeing the switch to Arm as a chance to reinvigorate the market, and get market share growing again, or as just a way to better cater for that market in the twilight years?
My take is that Apple sees the laptop and desktop markets as legacy. Sure, I still use desktops and laptops, but a lot of people don't. And just as a decade ago I never saw myself doing so much as I do on a phone, I think that in another decade we'll look at the old form factors as, well, old.
It's also going to be interesting to see if Apple can convince developers to embrace this platform. If Apple makes it easy -- and it has a knack for making development tools that make things quite easy for developers -- then the transition could be quite smooth. But is what people expect from an app on the iPhone or iPad too radically different from what users expect on a Mac?
Also, will dropping Intel mean no more Windows on Mac? Is this something that people are still doing, or just another bit of legacy?
And one final question.
Just how far would Apple go with Arm? Will Intel get the boot at the top end? After all, replacing Intel Core chips with Arm seems doable, but replacing the Xeon chips in the Mac Pro or iMac Pro is another matter.
Are you interested in a Mac with an Arm CPU? Why, or why not? Let me know!