Apple (AAPL) could benefit in a few different ways from launching Macs featuring its own processors.
On Thursday morning, Bloomberg shared additional details about Apple's efforts to develop system-on-chips (SoCs) that would power future Macs -- efforts that have long been the subject of media and analyst reports. Specifically, Bloomberg reported that:
- Apple is prepping three Mac processors that will rely on ARM-architecture CPU cores, and be based on the A14 SoC set to power Apple's fall 2020 iPhone lineup.
- At least one Mac containing an Apple-designed processor will launch next year.
- Long-time manufacturing partner Taiwan Semiconductor (TSM) will make the chips, leveraging its next-gen, 5-nanometer (5nm) manufacturing process node. TSMC's 5nm node is in the process of entering volume production, and is widely expected to be used to make the A14.
- Like many mobile processors (including Apple's), the Mac processors will feature a mixture of high-power and energy-efficient CPU cores. The first processors will have eight high-power cores (codenamed Firestorm) and four energy-efficient cores (codenamed Icestorm).
- Apple has already begun designing a second-gen Mac processor that will be based on the SoC meant to go into Apple's 2021 iPhones.
The report arrives a month after noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo stated Apple plans to launch several Mac notebooks and desktops next year featuring its own processors. Kuo estimated that Apple could lower its Mac processor costs by 40% to 60% if it switched from Intel (INTC) processors to its own silicon.
While exact cost savings are tough to estimate, it's worth noting that Apple shipped 18 million Macs in fiscal 2018, the last fiscal year for which it broke out hardware unit sales. If Apple was to save, say, an average of $30 per unit after factoring in both its manufacturing and R&D costs, that could spell more than $500 million in annual cost savings.
MacBook battery lives could also get a boost, considering both the energy-efficiency demonstrated to date by Apple's A-series SoCs and the 20 hour-plus battery lives that have been recorded for Windows notebooks featuring ARM-architecture Qualcomm (QCOM) processors.
Both performance and battery life should benefit from the use of TSMC's 5nm process node, which is more advanced than the Intel process node -- officially labeled as 10nm, and seen as competitive with TSMC's 7nm node -- that's used to make the processors going inside of Apple's latest MacBooks.
And much as Microsoft (MSFT) has enabled for Qualcomm-powered Windows notebooks, Apple could leverage the low-power cores in its Mac processors to let systems do things such as instantly wake from sleep mode and maintain a data connection while asleep.
Last but not least, having Macs rely on the same CPU architecture as iPads and iPhones could strengthen its developer ecosystem over the long run, particularly given its existing efforts to bring Macs and iPads closer. Already, over the last 12 months, Apple has rolled out a solution for converting iPad apps into Mac apps (it's known as Catalyst), and has given iPads mouse and trackpad support.Apple's plans do face one big short-term challenge, however: The company has to make sure that its large Mac developer base has re-written popular macOS apps to natively run on ARM-architecture processors by the time that its first ARM-powered Macs hit the market. There's a good chance that Apple will kick this effort off in earnest at its June Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), which thanks to COVID-19 will be an online-only event this year.