News reports are swirling around Apple looking into the possibility of tapping ARM-based chips for its Macintosh computers -- at Intel's expense.
Bloomberg Businessweek is citing "people familiar with the company's research" as sources in a report that claims Apple is exploring ways to replace Intel processors with a version of the chip it uses in the iPhone and iPad.
"Apple engineers have grown confident that the chip designs used for its mobile devices will one day be powerful enough to run its desktops and laptops, said three people with knowledge of the work, who asked to remain anonymous because the plans are confidential," Businessweek reported. "Apple began using Intel chips for Macs in 2005."
Change a Few Years Away
Shaw Wu, an analyst at Sterne Agree, told us he's not surprised at the rumors because industry watchers have been discussing this transition since the iPad shipped in 2010 and Mac OS X Lion, which borrowed heavily from iOS, shipped in 2011.
"We believe it is inevitable to merge iOS and Mac but not likely for a few years, as Mac code is optimized for Intel," Wu said.
"From our understanding, the key reason is because OS X is optimized for Intel x86 processors while iOS is for ARM RISC," Wu said. "It will likely take some time to optimize OS X and hence Mac for ARM. In addition, Intel processors are much more powerful for running compute-intensive Mac applications and for development."
Intel's Battery Life
From Wu's perspective, one argument to merge is to simplify the architecture while simultaneously leveraging the large code base that has been developed on iOS by both Apple and third-party vendors via the App Store.
What's more, he added, merging could also allow Apple to deliver a more seamless and integrated experience across its platforms. The other reality, he noted, is that Mac represents only 14 percent to 18 percent of Apple's revenue, compared with 45 percent to 50 percent for iPhone and 20 percent to 25 percent for iPad.
"We believe this is a challenge to Intel to deliver stronger battery life. Today, when using an 11-inch MacBook Air, the smallest form-factor mobile Mac, we notice that it lasts about four to five hours under heavy use, which is only half of nine to 10 hours for an iPad."