Reliable Apple supply-chain analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says ARM Macs are coming in 2021, according to MacRumors:
We expect that Apple’s new products in 12-18 months will adopt processors made by 5nm process, including the new 2H20 5G iPhone, new 2H20 iPad equipped with mini LED, and new 1H21 Mac equipped with the own-design processor. We think that iPhone 5G support, iPad’s adoption of innovative mid-size panel technology, and Mac’s first adoption of the own-design processor are all Apple’s critical product and technology strategies. Given that the processor is the core component of new products, we believe that Apple had increased 5nm-related investments after the epidemic outbreak. Further, Apple occupying more resources of related suppliers will hinder competitors’ developments.
If this report is accurate, the first thing it means is that I’m going to be wrong again and 2020 isn’t the year we finally see ARM Macs. But they’re coming.
The next question is, will developers be given advance warning from Apple? I would hope so, as early as WWDC this year. Ideally developers would even have some transitional hardware to use as a testbed—whether that’s an iPad Pro that can be wiped and turned into a sample ARM Mac, or something even weirder—as they work out any kinks involved in recompiling their apps to run on ARM. There is probably no company in the computer industry that has done a better job of navigating chip transitions than Apple. And in this case, they’re managing a transition to chips they design themselves. That’s gotta help, right?
The next question, of course, is what Macs make the move to ARM? The biggest appeal of ARM processors is that they’re remarkably energy efficient. And of course, Apple’s current chips are all designed for phones and tablets. As a result, it seems most likely that Apple’s first ARM Macs would be consumer laptops. We really don’t know if Apple intends to entirely replace Intel with ARM, or offer two different architectures for different kinds of devices. (There’s also that rumor that Apple may be toying with using AMD’s processors rather than Intel’s, adding yet another confusing wrinkle.)
That all said, as my chart from last week shows, Apple’s processors in the iPad Pro are remarkably powerful. Wouldn’t you want that kind of power (and energy efficiency) in a Mac laptop? I would.