Ming-Chi Kuo Says ARM-Based Macs Are Coming in the First Half of 2021

Ming-Chi Kuo, in a note to investors obtained by 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.

Juli Clover at MacRumors says “Apple is said to be moving to ARM-based chips in an effort to make Macs, iPhones, and iPads work together and run the same apps.” There’s obviously an aspect to that with Catalyst, but the existence of Catalyst now shows that it’s not necessary for the platforms to be on the same CPU architecture to run the same apps.

The reason for Apple to move Macs to its own in-house ARM chips is much simpler than that. (1) Apple’s laptop chips are better than Intel’s — they’re faster and more power efficient. (2) Using their own chips puts Apple in control of its own timeline for product updates. Why did it take so long for Apple to get the retina MacBook Air out the door? The one-word answer I was told by a high-perched little birdie: Intel.

I know others disagree, and expect Apple to just drop the mic and unveil ARM-based Macs as a surprise at some upcoming event. I still expect them to announce the transition at WWDC, ahead of actual hardware, because you really do want software to be ready on day one. With the PowerPC-to-Intel transition, Apple made the announcement at WWDC in June 2005, offered developer kit hardware to developers, and announced the first Intel-based Macs — MacBook Pros, replacing the PowerBook brand — in January 2006.

I could see Apple having a more accelerated timeline between announcement and hardware starting to ship with this transition, but I still think they’ll announce it at WWDC to give developers time to recompile Mac software to run natively before any hardware actually ships to consumers. I do not think x86 apps running in emulation on ARM Macs are going to perform well. I wonder, really, if Apple will even offer x86 emulation at all.

The other big question: does Apple intend to transition the entire Mac lineup to its own ARM-based chips, or just the portables? Apple has proven that they have chips that best Intel’s offerings for portables. If they’re working on chips that can best or at least equal Intel’s offerings for the iMac Pro and Mac Pro, it’s a complete secret at this point.

Also worth noting: Ming-Chi Kuo is often wrong, especially about products other than iPhones and iPads. We could be writing this same stuff a year from now and Macs could remain on Intel until the end of the platform. But I do think they’re moving to ARM, sooner rather than later.

Monday, 24 February 2020