Apple might achieve what Windows 10 never could

Putting the same chips into MacBooks and iPhones opens up exciting possibilities

When Windows 10 was first revealed back in 2014, I was naturally interested in its new features but what intrigued me most was its promise to bring the desktop and mobile app experiences into unity.

At the time, hopping from phone to laptop to browser had become a fact of life, and I was getting decidedly fed up of dealing with multiple versions of everyday apps and services, all with different experiences and feature sets. I even thought this could be the feature that persuaded me to ditch Android and switch to Windows Phone.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Well, we all know how that turned out. But it's lately become apparent that the dream might not be dead - and its fulfilment could come not from Microsoft, but from the company's long-term antagonist, Apple.

To explain, this all stems from the recent revelation that, in the next few years, Apple plans to stop buying chips from Intel and start designing its own laptop and desktop CPUs instead. As it stands, this makes a lot of sense: Intel's processors once helped Apple lead the market, but today it's no longer the prestige brand it was.

Indeed, being tied to Intel has become a liability for Apple. The capabilities and specs of its computer designs are greatly delimited by what Intel's CPUs and chipsets can do. In recent years, customers have complained about the 2016 MacBook Pro being limited to 16GB of RAM, and about the 12in MacBook lacking Thunderbolt 3. Apple has no control over this nor over Intel's manufacturing timetables, which means Apple doesn't fully control its own supply lines either.

Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement - Article continues below

Of course, this has long been the norm for computer manufacturers, whether they've sourced their processors from Intel, AMD, Motorola or whoever with the exception of one upstart company that, nine years ago, decided to create its own A4 processor for the original iPad.

There's no debate to be had about whether that was the right decision: Apple's CPUs have since made the iPhone and iPad consistently the fastest devices in their respective classes. What's more, Apple has gained the ability to expand the design as it sees fit, and to build in new components such as the "taptic engine" coprocessor.

In short, switching to in-house chips seems like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, migrating macOS onto own-brand CPUs isn't going to be quite as simple as it was for iOS. With its mobile devices, Apple was easily able to license the ARM architecture that the iPhone was already using, and customise it to its needs. ARM's business is based on companies doing precisely that.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Intel does things differently. Back in the 1990s, the company did authorise a few third parties to make their own x86 processors - a right that AMD and VIA retain to this day. There's an argument to be made that, as the company seemingly struggles to advance its own architecture, it might be smart to once again let someone else take on the challenge, and sit back and reap the licensing fees. But, for better or worse, the Intel of today isn't in the licensing business.

Would such an arrangement even make sense for Apple? On the plus side, it would ensure that everything that works on macOS today would continue to work. But consider the alternative: if Apple instead migrated macOS onto its existing ARM architecture, it would have only a single hardware platform to support, rather than two.

Advertisement - Article continues below

That's a hugely attractive idea, and not just because it greatly streamlines Apple's engineering challenges. It's a fantastic opportunity for developers too, making the old dream of "write once, run anywhere" shockingly achievable. Best of all, it would finally deliver on the promise of Windows 10: a standard platform for apps that would run identically on tablets and laptops, or on smartphones and workstations.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Am I too optimistic? Frequently. But the fact that Microsoft blew it doesn't necessarily mean that Apple can't make it work. For a start, Windows' Universal app framework was effectively an attempt to foist a brand-new platform on an unconvinced world.

Apple will be starting with a market of a billion iPhones, a mature set of tools and an enormous developer community.

What's more, this sort of radical migration isn't new to Apple. In 2001, it aggressively transitioned its entire computing family from OS 9 onto an entirely incompatible successor. In 2005, it did it again, shunting the whole shebang from the PowerPC architecture onto Intel. By comparison, getting the modern macOS platform to work on the same hardware as iOS should be a breeze. After all, the two already use the same Darwin kernel, and have many core components in common.

I'm not the first person to predict that macOS will end up being merged into iOS. I remember Barry Collins confidently making the call back around the launch of the original MacBook Air; you can see exactly what he thinks about that possibility opposite.

Advertisement - Article continues below

While most analysts have focused on the global opportunities for Apple, I'm thinking closer to home. I ditched the iPhone nearly a decade ago, swearing I'd never return to that walled-off, overpriced, back-buttonless platform. Yet if anything can woo me back, it could be the once-denied dream of the top-to-bottom application stack. After all, I use my MacBook Pro daily, and I don't see myself ditching the smartphone any time soon.

In short, Apple could be gearing up for its greatest coup yet. Moving 100 million macOS users onto a whole new platform - heck, that's been done before. But getting me to consider ditching Android and moving back to the iPhone? I never thought I'd see that.

Image: Shutterstock

Featured Resources

Top 5 challenges of migrating applications to the cloud

Explore how VMware Cloud on AWS helps to address common cloud migration challenges

Download now

3 reasons why now is the time to rethink your network

Changing requirements call for new solutions

Download now

All-flash buyer’s guide

Tips for evaluating Solid-State Arrays

Download now

Enabling enterprise machine and deep learning with intelligent storage

The power of AI can only be realised through efficient and performant delivery of data

Download now

Most Popular


Zoom kills Facebook integration after data transfer backlash

30 Mar 2020
Server & storage

HPE warns of 'critical' bug that destroys SSDs after 40,000 hours

26 Mar 2020

These are the companies offering free software during the coronavirus crisis

25 Mar 2020
cyber crime

FBI warns of ‘Zoom-bombing’ hackers amid coronavirus usage spike

31 Mar 2020