Why Apple could be getting closer to building its own Mac chips

Apple WWDC 2012 MacBook Pro Retina Display motherboard 2

Is Apple ready to dump Intel chips in the Mac? Not quite yet, but perhaps in the next few years, Bloomberg reported Monday afternoon. The report says that Apple is looking to use its own chips, like the ARM-based ones that power iOS devices, for future laptops and eventually get all of its devices on the same chip architecture.┬áThis same rumor pops up every now and again, but this time there are both technological shifts and structural changes in Apple’s management that make this possibility more real than ever.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But here’s why it makes sense that Apple is looking into this:

  • Apple is hungry for fast, low-power chips, and Intel isn’t leading in this area. While Apple has been using ARM-based chips in its small, thin iOS devices, the company has increasingly been making its laptops smaller and thinner too. Mobility and longer battery life are key concerns for Apple when it designs Mac notebooks, and ironically enough, were the main reasons Apple switched to Intel’s chips back in 2005: the older PowerPC chips simply weren’t as mobile-friendly as Intel’s designs.
  • Apple’s been buying up its own chip design firms.┬áThe Bloomberg report cites two unnamed sources who say that it’s aiming to use those chips for more than just mobile devices and “a shift to its own designs is inevitable as the features of mobile devices and PCs become more similar.”
  • Apple has already built its own CPU core. It’s the A6 that’s inside the iPhone 5, released in September.
  • SVP of Technologies Bob Mansfield is now in charge of his own division that governs chip research at Apple. Recently ousted executive Scott Forstall was in charge of the team designing mobile chips at Apple. With him gone, Mansfield, who used to run the Mac hardware engineering group, will be able to influence how mobile chip designers at Apple spend their time.
  • It’s in line with Apple and CEO Tim Cook’s core philosophy. The company aims to own the all the technology in its products: from the hardware inside and out, to the software, and the method for putting content onto these devices. It’s not quite there yet — Apple still sources plenty of components from third-party vendors — but it’s been moving in this direction for a long time. The thinking is that it allows Apple to (ideally) guarantee the quality of the product and ensure that all parts work together seamlessly.

A switch away from buying computer chips from the world’s largest supplier of them is not going to happen right away, if at all. The timeline mentioned in the report was after 2017. Plus, there are lots of ramifications that Apple needs to think through beyond simply the hardware: the software that people currently use on their Macs isn’t built for ARM-based chips.

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