Piling onto months of rumours, Mark Gurman and Ian King of Bloomberg News are reporting that Apple plans to move to Apple-built CPUs for its computers, ending the use of Intel CPUs in Apple hardware. Apple is currently the third-largest maker of computers in the US and the loss for Intel would be significant. But it would also mean some major, and potentially unpleasant, changes for end users.
Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)
The reported initiative to use Apple CPUs in all Apple computers by 2020 is, according to Bloomberg, known as Kalamata internally at the company. The move is supposedly part of a larger strategy to ensure that all Apple devices - phones, tablets, laptops and so on - work together more seamlessly.
This isn't the first time we've heard these rumours about Apple chucking Intel and turning MacBooks into glorified iPads, but Gurman is notorious for his sources within Apple and information leaked to him is often correct. It's possible Apple may indeed leave behind the largest chipmaker, and this would only extend an already rough year for Intel, which started things off in January with the news that its CPUs, going back over the last decade, are subject to significant security flaws, before being trounced, critically by its once and former rival in the CPU space, AMD.
Intel has also struggled to roll out new CPUs in a timely annual fashion, with the current, 8th Generation of CPUs beginning their rollout in August 2017 and continuing to this day - in fact some notable CPU types from the company still haven't been announced, which might leave Apple and other desktop and laptop makers a little perturbed. If you can't release your cool new laptop because Intel hasn't released a chip that would actually work in it, then you might look elsewhere.
AMD is certainly hoping so and has had a very aggressive rollout of its rival CPUs and a plan to announce even more in the next few months. Even Qualcomm has been chasing after Intel by working with Microsoft to produce Windows 10 laptops powered by Snapdragon processors.
But let's forget about Intel for a moment - while things would be rough for the company, it would survive. Even if Apple kicked Intel CPUs out of its laptops and PCs, the company would still be responsible for making many other components found in Apple devices. But what would a major CPU change such as this mean for Apple users?
First off, you can probably kiss your Hackintosh goodbye. Hackintoshes are computer built from stock computer parts that run macOS. Until 2006, they weren't even possible. That year, Apple made its last big CPU change, moving from the Motorola-built PowerPC to the x86 Intel architecture that Windows and most kernels of Linux are developed on. When Apple made the move to x86, it allowed people to essentially "hack" macOS onto what would otherwise be just a Windows and Linux computer. I say "hack" because the process is not easy and requires a mix of bootloaders, kernel edits, custom drivers, and a lot of patience. It's also against the terms of service for your macOS licence, which means Apple can kill your access at any time.
Currently hackintoshes are a great way to build an Apple computer for half the price, a way to get macOS on a powerful PC for cheap, and an excuse to teach yourself a bit of code. If Apple stops using Intel processors, its a good bet that it will stop using the x86 architecture (using the architecture requires paying a licence fee) and eventually support for x86 architecture in macOS would end - killing with it the hackintosh as we know it. That could also kill dual support for Windows, and quick development of cross-platform apps.
In an email, noted hackintosh community leader tonymacx86 told Gizmodo that, if the rumours are accurate, Apple would at least have to support x86 through 2020 as otherwise it would kill many of the laptops people are buying today. But tonymacx86 said that when support ended, "it would have a negative effect on the Hackintosh community." Yet he wasn't all doom and gloom. "Although it's very possible that it may spark the open source community to create projects to regain support."
There's also the matter of what kind of CPU Apple would go to if not x86. While it's got a lot of experience building super lower-powered mobile CPUs for iOS, it has no real, public experience designing or building CPUs intended for the more complex demands of laptops and desktops which need to handle processing enormous 4K files, and your email, and iMessages, and 20 different open tabs in Chrome. AMD and Intel have both shown just how challenging that kind of CPU design is lately - and if Apple were to stumble it would be catastrophic for its computer division.
Apple could get around this with a fundamental redesign of MacOS not really seen since the move from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X in 2001. That redesign could bring it more in line with iOS, which means less having a bajillion apps open and more carefully curated apps built specifically for Apple's unique architecture.
That actually makes a lot of sense, and Bloomberg's report says this is part of the larger initiative to bring macOS inline with the much more widely used iOS found on iPad and iPhones. But let's be clear, that could be a bad thing, as iOS is strictly app-based - there's no easy way to load apps not available in the App Store, and Apple denies others access to the root operating system that many power users would prefer to maintain on their desktop. Right now it's very easy to tell macOS what your preferred email client or web browser is, and it's easy to load up weird little hacks that let you show hidden files or kill certain hotkeys. That could change if macOS became more like iOS.
But we don't actually know for sure how this all could play out. When reached for comment, Apple declined and Intel told Gizmodo, "We don't comment on speculation about our customers."