When it comes to Apple and computers, everybody has an opinion in much the same way that they do about the company’s phones. It’s fashionable in some quarters to hate Apple and everything they do. It’s just as fashionable in some other quarters to love Apple so much that you queue up outside stores overnight to be one of the first to buy their latest piece of technology. Rarely do you find anyone who’s ambivalent about the brand. If you own a MacBook, the chances are that you believe it’s automatically superior to any other laptop you could own.
Even though there’s a devoted MacBook fan base, among whom the belief that MacBooks are superior is almost virulent, there’s never been a solid technical basis for making such a statement. That’s because – until now at least – the chipset underneath the casing of a MacBook is very similar to the chipset you’d find inside the casing of every other high-end laptop, right down to the fact that Intel’s CPU is the core of the entire system. Apple’s machines might make themselves distinctive by running iOS instead of Windows, but they’re drawing on the same mechanical power to go about their processing work. That means MacBooks have never been quite as unique as Apple would like you to believe they are, but they will be in the future. After years of development, the company is finally ready to say goodbye to Intel and start using its own chips instead.
The first rumors we heard about Apple preparing to sever ties with Intel came two years ago when the company formally confirmed that it was working on its own chips. At the time, it was thought that the move would not only be a significant plus for Apple as it reduced the company’s dependency on external providers but also a substantial financial blow to Intel, who has, by this point, become accustomed to large and lucrative chipset orders from Apple. During its early stages, the project to introduce the new chips had the catchy code name of ‘Kalamata,’ and was described within Apple as a wider-reaching project aimed at enhancing crossover compatibility between Apple’s computers, phone handsets, and iPads at a hardware level.
Aside from giving Apple greater ownership of its own creations, the move would also free Apple up from limitations on timescales. While using Intel hardware, Apple is forced to move at Intel’s pace. MacBooks can’t take a leap forward until there’s a new Intel processor to base a new machine round. Internally, it’s thought that Apple has believed Intel move too slowly for quite some time, and are eager to take full ownership of the construction process so they can push processor speeds forward and develop a more tangible lead over their rivals when it comes to laptop technology. When the idea was first floated in 2018, it was hoped that Apple would have a workable Intel alternative within two years. They haven’t quite managed to deliver on that timescale – but we’re now able to confirm that the first Intel-free MacBooks will hit the market early in 2021.
What’s particularly interesting is that news of the impending change has leaked without Apple ever admitting that it intended to ditch Intel. They were happy to let the world know that they were experimenting with their own ARM architecture in order to develop new chips and that they hoped to have finished their work by 2020, but they never actually said that their partnership with Intel would be broken as a result of the move. That didn’t stop the initiative from damaging Intel. When the news first broke in 2018, sales to Apple were responsible for 5% of Intel’s entire turnover. Their stock price dropped sharply on the announcement, and although it’s recovered since, it will almost certainly drop again when the inevitable confirmation that they’re no longer working with Apple arrives.
The bigger-picture story here might be that all of this is happening during a time when internal chipsets matter less than they have at any point in the past two decades. We’re seeing an increasing trend for processing to be done in the cloud, and the results then fed back to the end-user across the internet. The idea comes from online slots, where it’s worked very successfully. The fact that all of the processing work involved in running an online slots game happens through the internet has allowed online slots websites to offer hundreds of games with an excellent 10 free spins simultaneously without having to worry about the competency of the devices their customers are using to play the slots. It’s since become the foundation of Google’s revolutionary ‘Stadia’ platform, which allows people to play high-end, high-performance video games through their televisions without the need for a console. Taking the burden of processing away from laptops is the next logical step, and when that happens, internet connection speed will be far more important than processor speed is.
Whether or not Apple is able to battle against that trend will depend on how powerful its new processors are. Right now, that’s the great unknown. If processing moves to the cloud, laptops will become smaller, and processors will become an irrelevance. There will be some functions – mostly business or governmental functions – that cloud storage and cloud processing won’t be suitable for. That’s where MacBooks could find a new lease of life. For Apple’s (presumably expensive) new chipsets to succeed, the company may have to revise its idea of what an average MacBook user looks like from creatives and graphic designers to business people and politicians. It’s great that Apple has finally become the master of its own destiny when it comes to laptop design, but the move might have come too late.
With all that being said, this is still Apple. A new Apple MacBook with a new Apple chipset will be more than enough to excite the company’s fans, and there will doubtless be thousands of them queuing round the block to buy the first Apple chipset-based MacBook whether they truly need one or not. That’s the benefit of having fans – they’ll support you financially in any circumstances regardless of whether their support is merited or required.
Laila Azzahra is a professional writer and blogger that loves to write about technology, business, entertainment, science, and health.