Not that many decades ago Apple Computer, Inc. settled on computer chips from Motorola to power early Apple computer models, including the original Mac. Things change rapidly in technology and Intel became the maker of choice for most of the world’s PCs.
To carve out a segment of the then still growing PC business, Apple, Motorola, and IBM formed AIM. Apple, IBM, and Motorola; the PowerPC Alliance. To mix a few metaphors, the math just wasn’t in the cards and the AIM alliance died on the vine leaving Apple and the Mac out in the cold. Today’s Macs all come with Intel Inside, but in some ways, it’s just déjà vu all over again. Intel is like the old PowerPC consortium that nearly destroyed Apple and the Mac.
Waiting For Chips
Things change. Intel maintains a tight grip on the traditional but floundering personal computer industry, but Apple has moved on to become a powerful and influential mobile computer company. Meanwhile, Intel struggles to bring new and more powerful chips to market. As happened with the AIM PowerPC consortium barely a decade ago, Apple is hurting to get newer CPUs from Intel– similar to the problems it had from FreeScale (Motorola) and IBM; an event that saw Apple jump from PowerPC chips to Intel Inside.
One notable difference between the problems Apple had with AIM and the Mac vs. Intel, the Mac, and the rest of the PC industry, is every PC maker and Apple Mac competitor today is in the same boat and completely beholden to Intel’s product schedule.
Back when Steve Jobs introduced Apple’s shift from AIM and PowerPC to Intel Inside, the company’s CEO displayed a photo of the building where the skunkworks project to ensure OS X ran on Intel chips was located. Does anyone not doubt that Apple has an internal project to ensure that future Macs have CPU options beyond Intel Inside?
I see two basic CPU opportunities from Apple. One is AMD, an Intel competitor with a new line of more powerful and less expensive CPUs that Apple could adopt in future Macs. The problems Apple has with Intel likely would be with AMD; supply and chip advancement. The entire desktop, server, and notebook PC chip industry is mature and advancements are incremental.
The second opportunity is in Apple’s own in-house chip design group which took the ARM architecture used in many mobile devices and turned it into a proprietary powerhouse of design and function. Who does not believe that Apple has an internal group working on putting macOS onto it’s own ARM-based CPU architecture.
That may never happen, but Apple learned a lesson with the AIM PowerPC consortium. Things change. Having Intel Inside means Apple is not in any worse position than other PC manufacturers, but differentiation is a key component to product marketing, so it’s easy to see Apple working on future ARM-based chips with their own custom designs which could eventually replace Intel as a key component vendor.
It’s been nearly six years since co-founder Steve Jobs died and more than a decade since Apple switched the Mac from PowerPC CPUs to Intel Inside. The technology world has moved beyond notebooks and desktops to mobile devices. Yet, here again, Apple faces a nemesis in Samsung that supplies the quantities and quality of components the company needs for future iPhones and iPads. Screens, SSD storage, RAM, and more are made by a competitor. Samsung.
Apple remains beholden to others for its future.