Apple has been making the case for the past few years that its iPad Pro line of tablets are powerful enough to work as laptop replacements… especially now that they support mouse and trackpad input.

But some folks will likely always prefer a desktop operating system like macOS (or Windows or GNU/Linux distros) thanks to the huge number of desktop-specific apps already available and the way these operating systems handle multitasking, among other things.

One thing that’s not in doubt? Apple makes some of the most powerful ARM-based processors. And so it’s no surprise that rumors have been circulating for years suggesting that eventually the company would use its own ARM-based chips in upcoming Mac computers.

Now industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says the time is almost here.

The folks at MacRumors report that Ming-Chi Kuo sent out a research note suggesting that we could see several Mac notebook and desktop computers powered by ARM processors in 2021.

It’s important to note that this is not an official statement from Apple. Kuo has a better track record than you’d probably get from just guessing, but as of a few years ago, he was right less than half the time.

That said, I’d be surprised if Apple didn’t try to release an ARM-based Mac at some point. The company likes to have total control over the hardware and software used in its products, and relying on third-party chip makers like Intel is inherently limiting. And while ensuring that legacy software can run on a completely different CPU architecture isn’t easy (as Microsoft would surely tell you), this wouldn’t be Apple’s first time making such a leap.

Apple started transitioning from PowerPC processors to Intel x86 chips in 2006, and by the time OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard was released in 2009 it was an Intel-only operating system. During the transition period, Apple included a tool called Rosetta that allowed users to run PowerPC apps that hadn’t been migrated to the new architecture.

It’s likely that the company would take a similar approach if and when it begins the transition from Intel x86 chips to ARM… although it’s unclear whether users will notice a performance hit when running legacy apps (as is often the case when running x86 apps on a Windows 10 on ARM machine).

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  1. I still can’t see the benefit of moving over to ARM, Apple’s ARM chips are powerful but only in a mobile iOS context – apps that are far simpler than what we use on desktops.

    That and losing x86 compatibility, the plan doesn’t sound viable to me unless all you use a Mac is for stuff you can already do on an iPad – then what’s the point in turning Macs into iPads?

    1. I can see the benefit.

      Intel has stagnated, and Apple is weary about using AMD chipsets. With that said, ARM is now the most powerful processor out there… and Apple designs the most powerful version of them. So going with ARM means the chips can be manufactured cheaper, run faster, use less power, and do ALL of that at the SAME time.

      Apple has already started ditching Intel and x86. The Mac lineup is pretty much a footnote in their business model. First and foremost is the iPhone, then it is the Services they provide through iOS. This is then followed by their Accessories range. So if Apple can capitalise on this for their laptops, they will.

      Besides, we should illustrate what challenges they face. In terms of the OS or First-Party Apps, porting them from OS X to iOS won’t be an issue. The main issue is to convince the actual Professional programs like Photoshop, Adobe etc etc to port over. And I sort of think, Apple might be cunning, that they might actually do this first. So if and when they launch their next iMac’s, it will be more powerful than current iteration (and/or better battery life) and will be finalised from the point of the OS, First Party Apps, and Partner Third Party Apps. The rest of developers will be given the SDK and told to move along.

      Remember they’ve just killed 32bit program support on macOS, and they’ve just introduced TouchPad support for iPads. So we’re halfway there already for the convergence.

    2. For people in education who use MacBooks, there would be a huge drop in sales since x86 compatibility is essential for the programs they run and dual booting Windows among other things. If Apple goes ARM, it could very well work out in the long run but in the short term, it will spell a significant drop in sales from those who buy it as a luxury style PC-compatible laptop.

    3. Better battery life, far greater profit margins. For example, an Intel 10th gen processor y series can be as much as $300. A high end ARM chip by Qualcomm goes for around $80. Apple using their own chips can likely reduce the processor costs to less than $30, yet still sell the MacBook air at $999 or above. When selling millions of devices, that profit margin can mean billions of dollars saved.

      Apple also would have complete control of most of the hardware that goes into their laptops.

  2. Still hoping for Windows on ARM to enable OEMs to create UMPCs and, I guess, I could hope for Apple to do it too (not likely I bet).

    I wonder what the prospective notebooks Apple is looking into internally. Particularly, their physical size. I keep hearing their ARM based SoCs are one of the most powerful out there (the most powerful?). It’d be nice, for me personally, to see Apple create a 10″ screened or smaller notebook with them.

    I’ve eyed the iPads but even with their new trackpad/mouse support, the iPadOS is still not much different from what my iPhone is running.

    For now, I’m using a Surface Go LTE. It’s been great so far. From what more definitive news and semi-credible rumors I’ve read in the UMPC/small desktop OS PC area, I’ll likely be getting the Surface Go 2 LTE if/when that comes out.

    1. I don’t know your workflow but an iPad mini with a keyboard and mouse should be a decent UMPC.
      The OS between iPhone and iPad have started to look really different.
      What’s missing is pencil 2 support and the iPad will be just fine.

    2. Apple ARM processors are currently the fastest in terms of CPU compute. However, the MS SQ1 processor (MS and qualcomm partnership) used in the Surface pro X currently has the best GPU compute at 2.1 teraflops.

      I expect future SQ1 processors being the only ones that can go toe to toe with the Apple chips.