Why Apple’s Mac is changing its chips after 15 years

By 2005, IBM and Apple had fallen out, and Jobs announced that it would switch to Intel (the company retained enough leverage to demand that the famous “Intel Inside” stickers would not appear on Macs). But the same year, Intel turned down an offer to develop chips for the iPhone, failing to see the potential of the smartphone market. 

Apple ordered processors on the chip architecture developed by Cambridge-based Arm and manufactured by Samsung. In 2008 – the year after the iPhone was released – it bought semiconductor start-up PA Semi, setting into motion a journey that culminated on Monday.

Since the iPhone was released in 2007, Apple has steadily become one of the world’s most advanced semiconductor companies, and stuffed its devices with its own designs, rather than Intel’s off-the-shelf components. The company boasts that its iPads match up to game consoles, and analysts compare its iPhones to desktop computers when it comes to processing power. 

Today, Apple’s MacBook laptops and iMac desktops are alone among its products in relying on computer processors designed by another company. Changing this – what Cook called “a historic day for the Mac” – offers its own speed advantages. While techies were disappointed at a lack of statistical proof on Monday, Apple executive Johny Srouji said its new Macs would offer “the highest performance, at the lowest power consumption”.

Impressive demos showed power-hungry software like Photoshop and Tomb Raider running flawlessly on the technology. Crucially, Apple’s own chips are also likely to cost the company far less than buying them from Intel. In short, Apple’s new computers could be cheaper, more powerful, boast longer battery life and have higher profit margins. Chris Caso, an analyst at Raymond James, said he expected Intel to lose up to $4bn (£3.2bn) in sales a year.

Ordinarily, this would be enough to make ditching Intel a no-brainer, even though the move, expected to take several years, does not come without costs (developers will have to rewrite their code to support the new designs, and it is unclear how prized features such as a Mac’s ability to emulate Microsoft’s Windows, an advantage of Intel, will work).

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