What's the Arm? First Apple laptop to ditch Intel will be 13.3" MacBook Pro, proclaims reliable soothsayer

We'll find out as WWDC rolls on

WWDC Apple will confirm its transition to Arm this week at the virtual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), says Ming-Chi Kuo – the analyst widely regarded to be the most accurate when it comes to Cupertino's movements.

Kuo's latest report comes via an investment note sent to clients of TF International Securities, and echoes similar predictions made in recent weeks, most notably by Bloomberg's Mark Gurman.

Surprisingly, Kuo reckons the first Mac to ditch Intel will be the 13.3-inch MacBook Pro, which he said he expects to see released in Q4 2020 or Q1 2021. This will reportedly kickstart a process that will see Apple switch from Intel across its entire computing lineup.

Earlier reports suggested that Apple would use its cheapest, most consumer-oriented devices as a launchpad for in-house silicon. The MacBook Pro is, as Reg readers know, more of a workhorse for creatives and developers with a price tag to suit.

Historically, those users have represented the core of Apple's computing lineup. They're also the most sensitive to disruption. A change of architecture could potentially result in compatibility and performance issues – at least in the earliest moments of transition.

It'll be interesting to see how Apple works around that. Will they offer something like Rosetta, the Rosetta binary translation tool layer that softened the blow from PowerPC to Intel? And if so, how long will they support it? Rosetta only lasted three generations of Mac OS X before it was discontinued, presenting problems for those using unsupported legacy applications.

Any change in architecture will make cross-platform development tricky as Mac owners will no longer be able to dual-boot Windows 10 via Bootcamp. There'll probably be some form of workaround – virtualization maybe, either locally or on the cloud – although it would likely not feel as graceful as the current status quo.

Still, the migration does send a message that Apple has confidence, not only in the fact that its in-house chips can rival Intel's performance, but also that it's able to offer continuity for its existing users.

Kuo said he expects Apple will follow up with a redesigned 24-inch Arm-powered iMac. Given that the base iMac currently includes a poky (if not embarrassingly stingy) 21.5-inch display, the extra 2.5 inches will be welcomed.

Speaking of which, the Apple expert or well-connected leak receiver (depending on who you talk to) also predicted Apple will refresh the existing Intel iMac models later this year. Seeing as the iMac last saw an update in early 2019 (or, at the time of writing, 461 days ago), this feels like necessity more than anything.

And if that happens, it'll likely be the last hurrah for Intel in Apple's world, compounding Chipzilla's woes. According to the New York Times, Apple buys $3.4bn worth of silicon from Intel each year, representing roughly 5 per cent of the Chipzilla's annual sales. Intel also has to contend with a resurgent AMD, as well as the prospect of Arm growing market share in the server and PC worlds.

WWDC starts today, and will run for the entire week. This event has traditionally served as a springboard for Apple's most fundamental platform movements, and there's nothing more fundamental than a CPU.

There's a lot to get your teeth into here. A move to Arm would potentially bring improved multi-core performance, longer battery life, and an NPU dedicated to handling AI-driven tasks.

That said, it's likely that Apple's professional users will be paying close attention to the broader strategy behind this new Arm-powered push, and won't be distracted by shiny new hardware.

But what about those who need plenty of computational power, and are currently being served by the iMac Pro and the Mac Pro desktops? Where do they fit into this brave new world?

Similarly, will Apple offer discrete graphics on par with the current Radeon cards found on its premium laptops and desktops? Gamers, and those who use GPUs for work stuff, like building neural networks, will want to know. So do we. The Reg is still in the market for a seat, Apple folks. You know how to reach us, Alan. ®

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