Is it a smart move for Apple to switch to ARM processors?
Apple’s new M1 chip is powered by custom-built ARM processors, marking a shift away from Intel, the chipmaker Apple has relied on for the past 15 years. Under the declining sales of MAC and MacBook, will Apple’s decision to developing its CPU be a smart one?
The answer is Yes. Let’s elaborate it by the following three aspects: 1) solving the “old problem,” 2) exploring the “new opportunities,” and 3) the potential caveats.
The “old problem”
The immediate problem for ARM to solve, and probably the real motivation of the new CPU, is the reliance on Intel. Technologically, designing its own CPU will make it more compatible with Apple’s apps. It’s reported that ARM for MacBooks delivers better graphics and AI performance and are more efficient than Intel chips, so forthcoming MacBook laptops should last longer on a charge.
In terms of production and market, moving away from Intel enables Apple to gain more control over the supply chain and have a better grasp of how MacBooks interface with iPads and iPhones, both of which are already running on custom ARM chips. Also, previous reports claim that Apple was concerned about Intel’s unsatisfactory performance improvements. Thus, switching to custom ARM CPUs will help optimize developers’ apps and enhance their performance.
The “new opportunities”
Apple has already controlled the processors on iPhone and iPad, and the new ARMs for MacBooks and MAC will complete the full control of the processors in its native products, which opens up new partnerships with more App developers on desktops and laptops. For example, Microsoft will work on new designs particularly for Office for MAC’s processors, and Adobe will set up new apps to run on Apple silicon. Those developers have been running well with Apps on iPhone and iPad and they probably have inherent demands to move to MACs, too. Integrating the similar platforms/apps on the native CPUs will clearly make it more compatible and cut various operational costs for the developers as well.
Pricing will be an additional bonus. Competition in the laptops and desktops market is fierce, and Apple’s already “over-priced” label will likely be mitigated with ARM’s lower production costs than using Intel’s CPU. The cost advantage will provide Apple substantial leverage on pricing to compete with competitors.
The potential caveats
One caveat of Apple’s upcoming move is the “retaliation” from Intel. Market wise, Apple hasn’t retained the leadership in the field of desktop and laptop. Designing its own CPU may be risky as Intel will strengthen its relations with Apple’s competitors like Windows and Linux, which hinder the growth of Apple in the operating system market.
Another caveat is limited time allowed for developers to customize Apps for the new ARM CPU. The earlier the first ARM-powered MacBooks are released, the more constraint for developers to optimize their APP’s ARM compatibility.