At the risk of handing down Apple-style hyperbole, we might be on the cusp of one of the biggest changes to the MacBook ever — yes, even bigger than the Touch Bar and getting rid of the useful USB ports. After all, by 2020, Apple is reportedly planning to remove the one thing that brought the MacBook line into being in the first place! When the first MacBook was introduced in 2006, it replaced the iBook and PowerBook laptops while introducing a brand new partner — Intel. Apple started the new series of laptops alongside the move from PowerPC processors to Intel processors, and now that era might be coming to a close.
According to a report from Bloomberg citing sources “familiar with the plans,” Apple will begin to phase out Intel processors in favor of processors of their own design, based on ARM architecture. That would likely mean processors more similar to what Apple uses in their iPads and iPhones, although presumably with a bump in power. Intel would lose out on both designing and manufacturing the chips, with manufacturing likely going to Apple’s usual partners when making their mobile processors — Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor.
While Apple has refused to comment on the report, it wouldn’t be out of character. About one year ago, Apple announced that they would start designing their own mobile GPUs, the last component that Apple hadn’t been designing in their mobile products. That decision came at the expense of Imagination Technologies, a company that relied on Apple for half its business! The company sold itself to a private equity fund about five months later.
Intel won’t feel nearly that kind of pressure. While losing Apple as a customer would sting, Intel is still making a huge amount of their cash on processors for larger datacenters. They’ve also invested heavily in near-future technologies like AI, autonomous driving, and 5G networks, so losing out on a chunk of the unexciting personal computer business isn’t going to be the end of the world.
For Apple users, this might be more than just a boring change on the spec sheet. If Apple does start designing their own processors, it’s likely that they will take the opportunity to make their mobile and desktop operating systems more similar — you could see more iPad-like apps as a result. Whether or not that means touchscreens on MacBooks remains to be seen!