Look, I know many of you that stop by our little corner of the web are here precisely because you are turned off or alienated by all things Apple. I used to be that way, too, and to a certain degree I still am. Love or hate the company, it needs to be recognized that Apple holds a very integral place in the overall tech community and their decisions and announcements carry weight that few other companies can match. They have a tendency to sit back, calculate, and then enter a space when they are good and ready. Following those entries, they find great consumer success and tend to change the way we look at or perceive tech.
Take the Apple Watch, for instance. Wearable tech had been around for quite a bit, but nothing was truly taking off. Apple showed up, released what felt like a half-baked watch and, began to slowly take that space by storm. Simply put, they own the smartwatch space at this point only a few years later. The same happened with Air Pods. Wireless headphones were sort of a thing before them, but Apple took the time to do it very well and they put a shot in the arm of the industry. A few years later, everyone is taking a stab at making an Air Pods killer.
I say all that to make the point that while you may dislike Apple or love them, none of us can deny the affect their products have on the tech industry as a whole. There’s no way you can discard the impact of the iPhone, the iPad and the Macbook on their respective categories. We can talk all day about the questionable things Apple chooses to do with their place in the tech sphere, but we have to make peace with the fact that they hold sway like no other company when it comes to hardware.
Why this could matter for Chromebooks
At today’s WWDC, there’s rumor that Apple will unveil the first ARM-powered Macbook or at least the plans for one. This is a shift that people have prophesied for years as Apple’s in-house ARM chips that power the iPhone and iPad have become increasingly powerful and capable in the past few iterations. The A12 and A13 chips can perform things previously reserved for far-more power-hungry x86 chips and they can do so in small, light, thin, battery-saving packages. With Apple’s in-house control over them, the A-series chips could take ARM processors to a place they’ve never been before and could be the beginning of a big change for Macbooks.
Apple making this move could be the beginning of a similar shift for others as well. ARM has launched a new program called Cortex-X that allows for easier customization of their processing cores for less capable chip makers. Apple and Samsung, for instance, have experience and scale on their side and can take what ARM offers and build custom solutions for their own use and hardware. Other manufacturers don’t have these luxuries and are forced to use the latest from Qualcomm to put out their flagship-level devices. This is far more expensive and far less integrated than what Apple can do, but that is all on the verge of changing.
With ARM’s new Cortex-X, companies will be far ahead of where they would be on their own and companies like Google could take this and begin building their own custom chips for their own hardware. This would mean far more vertical integration and far lower costs for chips that are very, very fast and intended for the laptop or phone they are sitting in. It is all very exciting and a development that I think will go far in getting more powerful ARM processors into Chromebooks in a much shorter time frame.
And that’s why I’m excited to see Apple move forward with ARM-powered Macbooks. I still don’t want one and I don’t have any intention of needing one any time soon, but as Apple goes, the industry goes. Windows laptops with ARM processors have largely failed so far. Chromebooks with ARM chips have been hit or miss, but we’ve been pretty clear about our hopes for more-powerful chips and have so far been let down. Apple making the move to push developers to think ARM-first could provide a needed shift towards developing for ARM as a primary target instead of a secondary one.
It’s a long game, sure, but I really think the future of mobile computing – especially for Chromebooks – is going to be powered by ARM architectures. Apple will help move that needle considerably if they do end up beginning to ship Macbooks with ARM processors inside. The rumors are substantial and all the evidence points this direction, so now it is just a matter of when they will move. It looks highly likely that start could come today, and that is enough reason for you to sit up and pay attention. We will be, too, and we can all watch together with the embed below at 1PM EST. Just grin and bear it through all the indulgent back-patting and passive-aggressive stat vomit at the beginning and you’ll be fine.