Apple reported to be working on ARM-powered Macs

A French site Apple enthusiast site has brought up an old rumor, that Apple is developing Macs running an ARM processor. According to MacBidouille, a source told the site that Apple has prototypes of several ARM-based machines, including an iMac, Mac mini, and a notebook with four to eight 64-bit ARM Quad-core processors.

These machines are reportedly pretty far into development and come with a new keyboard with a large-format Magic Trackpad.

MacBidouille isn't a known source of reliable rumors, so it's tough to say if they are real or not. And this isn't a new rumor, either. Rumors of ARM-based Macs have been circulating for years, and with the release of the 64-bit A7 processor, this rumor will undoubtedly continue to circulate.

All Things D did a rather lengthy analysis in late 2012 on the feasibility of such a move by Apple. The bottom line was while Apple could do it, it would be a lot of work.

Perhaps the oddest part is the multiple chips claim. MacBidouille says the Mac will have four or eight quad-core ARM processor, the Mac Mini would have four ARM processors and the 13-inch MacBook would also come with four or eight processors. That's just unheard of. The only Mac with more than one CPU is the Pro and that's for a very specialized, high-end user.

If they are doing it for performance purposes, then it's an admission ARM doesn't have the horsepower of Intel, which is hardly a shocker. And at the same time, four or eight chips would pretty much negate any power savings that might be gotten from an ARM processor. I'm really not sure what to make of that claim, but if it is indeed the case, then that's an admission that ARM is seriously underpowered.

I can see it as a long term x86 replacement, though. All you have to do is look at the software landscape. Despite the nice revival Macs have enjoyed, Parallels is one of the best-selling pieces of software for the Mac, a tacit acknowledgement that the Mac still doesn't have much of a software ecosystem. Why anyone would buy an expensive Mac and then put Windows emulation software on it is beyond me, but different strokes for different folks.

The fact is if you take away high-end creativity software for content creators, like images, video and music, there is no software market for MacOS. I've been in the Apple stores. You can walk past the software section and miss it. iOS, on the other hand, has thousands of developers and more than a million apps, including now Office for iPad. So unless you are a musician who lives in ProTools, you could switch to an iOS MacBook and only get more software for it.

But I still doubt it. Here's why:

1) Apple's chip design would still be driven by ARM. It can build its own extensions to the Cortex design but still has to wait for the core architecture. That would likely be longer than Intel's tick/tock cadence, and Apple hates being at the mercy of other firms.

2) Why? To give iOS users more advanced hardware than the iPad? Then they would be acknowledging that the PC is superior to the tablet.

3) Complexity and confusion: This completely violates everything Steve Jobs wanted. He wanted simplicity and frugality of product lines. Then again, Apple's purchase of Beats shows Tim Cook is ready to violate those rules.

4) Confusion: iOS laptops and desktops will confuse people. Apple has no problem cannibalizing itself, like the way the iPhone pretty much killed off the iPod, but it won't muddy its own waters.

5) Apple may have built a 64-bit ARM processor, but where is the chipset needed in a full PC for things like ECC memory, PCI Express, SATA, gigabit Ethernet, etc?

But I guess we will see at WWDC, won't we?

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