Friday, February 3, 2017

ARM Mac Notebook Rumors

Mark Gurman:

Apple Inc. is designing a new chip for future Mac laptops that would take on more of the functionality currently handled by Intel Corp. processors, according to people familiar with the matter.


Apple engineers are planning to offload the Mac’s low-power mode, a feature marketed as “Power Nap,” to the next-generation ARM-based chip. This function allows Mac laptops to retrieve e-mails, install software updates, and synchronize calendar appointments with the display shut and not in use. The feature currently uses little battery life while run on the Intel chip, but the move to ARM would conserve even more power, according to one of the people.

This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. It just doesn’t seem like it would be worth it as described.

I’m more intrigued by this Slashdot comment by Anonymous Coward:

Apple already has several ARM powered laptops drifting around internally. I’ve seen several of them with my own eyes. There’s at least five different prototypes, all constructed in plastic cases with varying degrees of complexity (some are literally just a clear acrylic box, others look more like 3D printed or milled parts designed to look like a chunky MBA or iBook).


All of them boot encrypted and signed OS images, which are fully recoverable over the internet so long as you’ve got WiFi access (similar to how their Intel powered systems do it). You cannot chose a version of the OS to load, you get whatever the latest greatest one is and that’s it. They’ve completely ported OS X to ARM (including all of Cocoa and Aqua), however a ton of utilities that normally come with OS X are missing (there’s no Disk Utility, Terminal, ColorSync, Grapher, X11, Audio/MIDI setup, etc). A lot of that functionality has been merged into a new app called “Settings” (presumably to match the iOS counterpart), which takes the place of System Preferences.

Likewise, App Store distribution appeared to be mandatory. […] The filesystem seemed a bit… peculiar, to say the least. Everything was stored in the root of the disk drive—that is to say, the OS didn’t support multiple users at all, and everything that you’d normally see in your home directory was presented as / instead. I don’t think the physical filesystem was actually laid out like this, it’s just that the Finder and everything else had been modified to make you believe that’s the way the computer worked. There was no /Applications folder anymore, your only option for launching and deleting apps was through Launchpad.

The problem with the “dump Intel for ARM” idea is that it wouldn’t work at the high end. ARM isn’t competitive there, some people really want x86 compatibility, and emulation doesn’t seem feasible. Even Apple wouldn’t alienate its customers with that sort of a switch. But what if the plan is to bifurcate the Mac line? A line of locked down ARM Macs and a line of Pros that really do look Pro in comparison?

The ARM Macs would simply drop support for all the old software. Intel-based Macs would still be around for development and other high-end users who are willing to pay more, but Apple’s focus would be on the At Ease line. It would be a middle ground between iOS and Mac: more powerful than an iPad Pro with a keyboard, and limited to apps from the Mac App Store so that it’s harder to screw up than a regular Mac. This sounds like a crazy rumor, but there is a certain logic to it.

That said, my personal bets are:

Update (2017-02-03): ATP Tipster:

Allow me to take a moment and shoot down that Slashdot ARM Mac post. Total bullshit.

6 Comments RSS · Twitter

"I consider it much more likely that we’ll see an iOS device with a built-in keyboard."

This makes sense. However, my suspicious mind sees that this could be an intermediate step toward EOL'ing the Mac. Produce this device, stop actively developing the Mac, give the new device a year or two, and then stop selling the Mac.

It'd be sorta like the Apple II / Mac transition.

Of course, it'd be an awful outcome from my POV, (and yours too, I strongly guess), but awful outcomes for the Mac are sorta what I expect these days.

(I'm certainly not saying this will happen, but it just seems like how the nightmare scenario would play out.)

The slashdot comment sounds like complete nonsense - or rather the mac enthusiast's nightmare view of the world. There's a tendency to assume that touch is to the mouse as mouse was to the keyboard. I'm not so sure. The iPad was released in 2010 and we've been told this is the future, but I don't know anyone who does productive work on an iPad.

I think the future is not that the Mac is dead and that iOS is the replacement, I think the future is everything is a computer, and iOS is better suited to many contexts where "traditional" computer form factors don't work. If the future is everything is a computer suited to a context, then the Mac, or something like it, has a long way to go.

@Fred I agree with you, but the question is whether Apple believes iOS is the future. Tim Cook seems to. However, the other way of looking at it is that the more they think iOS is the replacement, the less sense it makes to make Windows RT–style Macs. iOS will take over anyway, so why bother?

Tim Cook likes to say the iPad is the future, but any device that's going to be the future needs quality software. How is Apple going to reverse the race to the bottom in app pricing on iOS so that developers can charge sustainable prices?

[…] But I think it might actually be a good compromise—and one I’d like to see on iOS. Fully locked down has advantages and drawbacks. So does fully open. A fee that people will think twice about, but […]

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