Apple is planning to release its first ARM-powered Macs within the next 18 months, according to noted Apple watcher and analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.
"We expect that Apple's new products in 12-18 months will adopt processors made by 5nm process, including the new 2H20 [second half of 2020] 5G iPhone, new 2H20 iPad equipped with mini LED, and new 1H21 [first half of 2021] Mac equipped with the own-design processor," Kuo wrote in a research note released earlier this week.
Regular predictions have been made of such a shift for the past five years, but a number of in-house initiatives at Apple have also pointed in that direction in recent years. For example, Apple macOS 10.15 Catalina, released in Jun 2019, introduced the ability to run iPad apps on Macs and MacBooks. That initiative had been trailed earlier in 2019.
The first ARM-powered Macs, claims Kuo, will be built on TSMC's 5nm process, which it is working on now, and will appear in a new range of Macs coming in 2021. Apple will be taking delivery of samples in around June or July this year, he added.
This time last year, however, reports suggested that the first ARM-based Macs would be coming this year.
In shifting from Intel to in-house designed ARM-based CPUs, Apple would enjoy more control over its hardware platform, and would not be held back by Intel's own development issues and financial priorities.
Intel's development cycle has stalled over the past four years as it has struggled to make the anticipated shift to a 10nm process architecture at a time when foundries producing Qualcomm, Apple, AMD and other CPUs have shifted first to 7nm and now to 5nm - notwithstanding quibbles over design and what truly counts as 5nm or 7nm.
The CPU shortage resulting from Intel's production difficulties has had a number of knock-on effects. Over the past year, too, it has coincided with an uptick in the PC upgrade cycle as a result of the cessation of Extended Support for Windows 7. Intel has chosen to address the chip shortage by prioritising its more profitable high-end server markets.
AMD has been a prime beneficiary of this shift, while Apple has been criticised in recent years for offering Macs and MacBooks bearing outdated CPUs. In some cases, Apple's own release cycles have been out of kilter with Intel's, to Apple's detriment.
A migration to ARM would therefore also enable Apple to synchronise its Mac and MacBook update cycles with its in-house CPU developments. The company, of course, acquired PA Semiconductor in 2008 in order to develop CPUs for the iPhone.
However, a key indicator of an imminent shift should be the release of a developer transition kit to ease the shift for app makers - with the company's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC 2020) in June this year a key date.
Of course, a migration from Intel to ARM by Apple has been forecast in 2012, 2015, 2018 (twice), as well as 2019. In 2018, reports in an Oregon newspaper indicated that Apple was on a hiring spree not far from Intel's own Hillsboro base.
Meanwhile, a launch event expected in late March - possibly put back due to a coronavirus-induced supply-chain hiatus - is expected to feature the new low(er)-cost iPhone, new AirPods, an Apple TV refresh and a new iPod Touch.
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