If the Apple lineup is going ARM, which for the record many journalists don’t believe this point, the MacBook Air may be the first Mac to migrate to the ARM chipset. Better battery life and ultra-portability are obviously things Apple’s been taking very seriously across their entire lineup, especially when it comes to the MacBook Air. But, the question remains, is there value in leaving behind Intel and adopting yet another CPU architecture, the third in the span of six years?
According to Barron’s, Barclays analyst Ben Reitzes seems to think so:
We believe that Apple will be the first in our sector to embrace ARM for some Macs, as early as C2H12…
We believe that Apple is already working hard on the software to accomplish this feat within the MacBook Air line-up. Through its own development of ARM-based processors and ARM-based iOS software, this migration would be rather natural for Apple. Apple is already moving toward enhanced battery life and ultra portability with its current MacBook Air line, which uses NAND instead of HDDs.
If Apple chooses to make the move, we doubt it will be very difficult for the company to maintain support for both Intel and ARM systems. They pulled it off flawlessly with universal builds during the Power PC (PPC) to Intel transition. The only people who would say otherwise are those that may still be rocking a PPC device.
The only thing Apple should be worrying about at this point, if this rumor turns out to be true, is the long term implications associated with moving to ARM. Those of us who were around during the PPC years remember just how annoying it was when Intel blew past PPC speeds, leaving PPC in the dust, and ultimately dead. It wasn’t fun.
Also, what about all of those giant companies (Blizzard, Autodesk) that have titles for OS X now? Are they willing to design there products around ARM? It may not matter for the MacBook Air — people won’t be gaming, or building CAD designs much on a machine of that calibre — but if the iMac and Mac Pro are going ARM like Reitzes suggests, then we may see some problems. Apple better be confident that these companies are willing to go along for the ride before making the switch, because frankly put, I’m not. But, that’s also why I don’t make the big decisions over at Apple Inc.
Apple had absolutely nothing to lose switching from PPC to Intel back in 2005, but switching from Intel to ARM may prove to be a more difficult transition than the PPC to Intel switch. Getting the MacBook Air onto an ARM chipset makes the most sense, but that doesn’t mean Apple’s ready to make the switch either.