An intriguing rumor surfaced this week about Apple's future hardware plans. The story, on the tech news website SemiAccurate¹, said Apple is going to dump Intel processors from its laptop line in a few years in favor of ARM chips similar to those used in the iPad and iPhone.
The short story is that Apple is moving the laptop line, and presumably desktops too, to ARM based chips as soon as possible. With A15/Eagle allowing more than 32-bit memory access, things look up, but it seems silly to do so before the full 64 bit cores come in the following generation. Nvidia is directly telling certain favored analysts that they will have Denver out in Q4 of 2012, maybe Q1/2013, and that uses the full on 64-bit ARM instruction set. It won’t be out by then, but that gives you a good estimation of when that ISA will break cover from one vendor or other. Think mid-2013.
This generated a storm of reactions, ranging from near total agreement to complete rejection. As is often the case, Harry McCracken at Technologizer did the best job of putting the story in context and drawing smart conclusions. After reviewing the "debate" six years ago about whether Apple would move to Intel chips (which it did), he concludes:
In other words, rational analysis by knowledgable people turned out to be a lousy way of determining whether Apple was going to bet the Mac platform on a huge transition to a new architecture. Actually, rational analysis by knowledgable people almost always seems to be a lousy way of predicting what Apple is going to do. I’m keeping that in mind as I read about the ARM scuttlebutt, and think about it.
As I have noted before, we are not far away from a time when the processing power, storage and connectivity of a smart phone will be more than enough to power most people's computing needs. The first flawed but visionary tip-off is the Motorola Atrix 4G phone and it's laptop and desktop docking modules. Apple has already been talking about software convergence between iOS and Mac OS X. The chip shift would add another piece of the puzzle. And this exactly the kind of futuristic thinking that will keep Apple from being overtaken by a competitor with less of a vested interest in sticking with the status quo.
¹I like the name of this relatively new news site, which opened about two years ago. Makes you smile in a Monty Python routine-ish sort of way every time you say it: Well, Semiaccurate says that Apple...