For the last half decade or so, Apple has been developing its own ARM-based CPUs for its iPhone and iPad products. With experience acquired in a number of acquisitions, the company has been able to better control the timing of its annual product launches and focus the development of its hardware in concert with the chips at its core.
Though Apple relies heavily on third-party firms like Foxconn and Samsung to source raw materials, plus build and assemble its products, it prefers to do as much of the design and development as it can in-house.
Apple has used Intel chips in its Macintosh products for some time, changing over from IBM and Motorola-made PowerPC chips in 2006. This switch was largely made because Apple was a very low-volume consumer of the PowerPC chips, and it could not ensure continued development of its machines to keep pace with Windows/Intel machines.
Apple was still somewhat at the mercy of a third party (Intel, in this case), but at least its interests were well-aligned with its partner company, as both firms were looking to drive the PC market forward.
However, when it came time to launch the iPhone and iPad, Apple chose to go with the ARM-chips, a different type of CPU that was more focused on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets but is capable of running low-end PCs as well.
KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a solid enough track record that his claims should be taken seriously, says Apple is considering using its own self-developed ARM processors in a line of low-end Macs. The launch may come as soon as in the next one to two years.
"This prediction is based on the assumption that Apple's self-developed AP performs at a level between Intel's Atom and Core i3 and is good enough for Mac," writes Kuo in the report, as transcribed by MacRumors.
Apple's close integration of hardware and software has enabled it to see significantly better performance from comparable hardware on the iPhone and iPad than its Android competitors. It's possible that tying together OS X with Apple's own custom-designed chips could see similar improvements, plus gains in battery life, which is something the company has focused significant engineering efforts on for its MacBook Air and Pro lines.
In the short term, a possible switch to ARM processors is unlikely to make much of a difference for users or IT buyers — but for the many office workers who don't need significant horsepower from their computers, lighter-weight ARM-equipped Macs could deliver strong gains in battery life, whch could be very useful when the time comes.
At the very least, it makes sense for Apple to be examining the use of its own chip designs in Macs. Whether those designs will ever see the light of day remains to be seen.
Do you think Apple will launch its own PC-class processors? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.