Apple has long was the only wolf of the personal computer industry in maintaining its own operating system rather than licensing Microsoft Windows like its competitors. On Tuesday, it launched its first laptops and desktops based on processors that were entirely developed in-house.
The silicon shift is giving Apple new control over its own destiny – and perhaps the future of the personal computer.
The change was long awaited. Apple already makes the chips and software that power its mobile devices. On Tuesday, the company introduced the first Macs based on a processor, the M1, which was developed by Apple’s own chip engineers and which the industry-leading supplier Intel gives up.
The M1 is similar to Apple’s iPhone and iPad processors, so mobile apps can run on the new PCs and energy efficiency is improved. “This was Apple that stood out even more from the rest of the PC industry,” says Kevin Krewell, a principal analyst at Tirias Research who tracks the chip business. “The PC is becoming more like the smartphone.”
Developing its own mobile processors has helped Apple innovate such as facial recognition and augmented reality on the iPhone. The development of its own chips for devices like MacBooks and Mac Mini, which were announced on Tuesday, should also enable Apple to be more creative with PCs.
When chip, device and software developers work closely together, they can get more performance out of a device than is possible with a commercially available chip. At the event on Tuesday, Apple software boss Craig Federighi boasted that the new MacBook Air can wake up from sleep mode more or less immediately, much like a smartphone or tablet. The company also praised the impressive battery life of its new M1-based MacBooks, which allow up to 20 hours of video playback on a single charge.
Apple’s new design freedom could prove influential to other PC manufacturers, just as the iPhone shaped the smartphone market.
Everything Apple announced, from new Macs to new chips
The company showed off three new Mac computers on Tuesday, all powered by its newly developed M1 chip.
Smartphones started out as smaller, less powerful accessories for PCs. With its new chip strategy, Apple is reversing the dynamic and blurring the lines between PC and smartphone. Competitors who don’t also make industry-leading smartphones may struggle to keep up. Krewell said Apple could also leverage its iPhone experience to incorporate cellular connectivity into its Apple laptops and give users another way to get online.
Apple’s event on Tuesday also suggested getting software engineers – and those of other software companies – to work more with artificial intelligence on laptops and desktops. Like Apple’s latest iPhone chips, the M1 has a special “neural engine” that allows machine learning code to run more efficiently. Apple said Tuesday that this will help make photo and video editing packages faster. Dedicated AI support can also help with gaming or with new categories of desktop software.
Taking control of processors is the latest and greatest step in Apple’s long campaign for vertical integration. The company has spent more than a decade building a pool of chip design talent, and since 2010 has developed the processors at the heart of its mobile devices. Last year the company spent $ 1 billion to acquire Intel’s unit that makes cellular and Wi-Fi devices. Fi modems. Now it’s also designing the silicon at the heart of Macs.
Apple’s chip swap has been in the works for years but appears to be well timed as it could help the company tackle two big challenges in the computing business.
“This was Apple that stood out even more from the rest of the PC industry.”
Kevin Krewell, Principal Analyst at Tirias Research
Intel continues to dominate the PC and server chip market, but has endeavored to bring the two latest generations of chip manufacturing technology to market on time. Using its own chips, developed and manufactured by Taiwan’s TSMC itself, frees Apple from Intel’s problems. Losing Apple isn’t a big blow to Intel in terms of sales as Apple is a small player for PCs, but it adds to the perception that Intel has lost its mojo. This is a reputation boost for ARM, the UK-based company that licenses ARM chip technology to Apple and many others and is expected to be acquired by graphics chip company Nvidia.