Apple Rumoured to have ARM-based Macs in Advanced Stage of Development

Apple Rumoured to have ARM-based Macs in Advanced Stage of Development
It has long been speculated that Apple has a keen interest in transitioning away from the Intel processors and architecture that currently power its entire Mac lineup in favour of ARM-based chips that it could develop itself. Apple would have to be extremely confident of its processor design capabilities and the strength of its customer base in order to make such a drastic transition, and it now appears that things might be progressing more quickly than previously thought.

French website MacBidouille is the source of a report (translated to English here) that cites a known and trusted source who claims that prototype Macs in three form factors are in an advanced stage of development - a thin notebook, desktop all-in-one and mini desktop; supposedly equivalent to today's MacBook Air, iMac and Mac mini. Each of these would have a new keyboard that incorporates a large Magic Trackpad for gesture-based control.

The website describes the purported machines as having "4 or 8 quad-core ARM64 processors". Apple's A7 System-on-a-Chip (SoC was a pioneering example of the 64-bit ARM architecture when it debuted inside the iPhone 5s last year, and the company is widely expected to introduce a much-improved A8 in the second half of this year.

The rumour excludes a Mac Pro equivalent, which would line up with the known limitations and use cases of ARM-based processors. Apple's professional audience would also demand compatibility with existing software and would be the most difficult to transition.

MacBidouille and 9to5mac speculate that Apple's primary concern is that the transition would fundamentally change the Mac lineup and confuse customers, which could be "disastrous" in the market. Apple would have to expend significant effort in ensuring broad software compatibility in order to minimise disruption to end users.

It is also possible that the purported new products might not replace existing Macs, but form a whole new product line to complement them. Such products might run iOS, which is already designed for the ARM architecture. These would offer users extraordinarily long battery life and access to a vast library of iOS apps, while X86-based Macs could continue to be available for those who need them.

Current Intel-based Macs can run a huge library of software, partly due to a common architectural basis with Windows-based PCs. Apple's transition from the PowerPC architecture to X86 in 2006 was rocky, but ultimately well received because of the immediately apparent performance gains, adequate notice for software developers to create compatible versions of their software in advance, and official compatibility with Windows.

Apple had been secretly working on an X86-native version of its OS X operating system, and there is no reason to doubt that an ARM-native version could also be in the works.

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Further reading: ARM, Apple, Intel, Mac, Mac mini, MacBook, MacBook Air, OS X, X86, iMac, iOS

Jamshed Avari has been working in tech journalism as a writer, editor and reviewer for over 13 years. He has reviewed hundreds of products ranging from smartphones and tablets to PC components and accessories, and has also written guides, feature articles, news and analyses. Going beyond simple ratings and specifications, he digs deep into how emerging products and services affect actual users, and what marks they leave on our cultural landscape. He's happiest when something new comes ...More

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