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Intel Could Get Strong-ARMed Out of Macs

Intel Could Get Strong-ARMed Out of Macs

Apple is notorious for its desire to control the user experience, down to the last minute detail of design or technology. Widespread reports have the company considering exerting even more control by building its own processors to replace the Intel chips now powering the Mac lineup. Apple has switched processor families twice before, so why not a third time?

By Rachelle Dragani MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
11/07/12 5:00 AM PT

Apple might be looking for ways to ditch Intel in its Macs in favor of its own silicon, it has been widely reported.

The company recently restructured its executive team, placing hardware guru Bob Mansfield in charge of a technologies group that is reportedly leading new chip development at the company. That research could help transition its ARM mobile chips into its computer lineup, giving Apple products a more uniform inner makeup.

It wouldn't be the first time the company pulled off such a feat, leaving it in rare company in the industry, said Jim Turley, principal analyst at Silicon Insider. Apple's first Macintoshes were based on processors in what used to be Motorola's 68000 family, but it switched to PowerPC chips before changing again to Intel processors.

"The transition was not without its problems -- many Mac programs stopped working -- but for the most part it was successful," he told MacNewsWorld. "So it's entirely possible that Apple could switch processors [again], especially now that it controls application distribution through its App Store."

Going for Control

The decision would also fit in with Apple's emphasis on building a seamless ecosystem that gives it control over the entire user experience.

"It's true that an ARM-based Mac could theoretically run the same apps as iPhone and iPad, which have always used ARM-based processor chips," he pointed out. "Making the whole product line ARM-based would add some nice symmetry and commonality. It would also give Apple more control over its silicon future, and we know Apple is all about control."

Apple already has the expertise to have designed the ARM-based chips for its popular mobile devices, Turley continued, so it's not a question of feasibility. When weighing all the pros and cons, though, sticking to what has worked well so far for Apple might be wiser than trying to restructure a core component of its electronics.

"I'd give it a 50/50 chance," Turley said. "Yes, it's technically feasible. Yes, there are some strategic advantages -- but I don't see that the benefits are worth the upheaval."

Apple did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

Fighting On Shelves

Apple's market share of those mobile products decreased this quarter, according to a report from IDC released this week. The report predicted that sales of Apple's new iPad Mini and its revamped iPad would spark growth going into the holiday season, especially since many Apple fans were holding off on purchasing a new device until rumors of a smaller tablet were confirmed. Apple announced earlier this week it sold 3 million iPads over the weekend, double the 1.5 million it sold after it launched the third-generation iPad last March. That number includes both fourth-generation iPads and the iPad mini.

Apple also faces growing competition from companies such as Samsung, Amazon and Asus, however, according to IDC. The overall worldwide tablet market is up 49.5 percent from the same time a year ago, but Apple's percentage of that market has slipped. It shipped 14 million devices during the quarter from July to September, seeing its market share slip from 65.5 percent in the second quarter of 2012 to 50.4 percent in the third.

By comparison, Samsung saw a 115 percent increase in tablets shipped from the second quarter of 2012, bringing the heat on Apple with its wide range of Android and Windows 8-powered tablets. Its market share grew to 18 percent. Amazon rounded out the top three with about a 9 percent share.

Fighting in Court

Outside of sales wars between Apple and its fiercest competitors, it is also usually locked in courtroom battles as well. This week, a Madison, Wis. judge dismissed Apple's case against Motorola Mobility. Motorola had originally sought license fees of 2.25 percent of all net iOS sales on certain industry-essential patents. Apple accused the company of demanding too much for the standard patents.

Though it's not unusual for cases to be thrown out, it is more unlikely in a more high-profile battle with so much money at stake, said Roman Tsibulevskiy, attorney at Goldstein Law Offices. Apple, with plenty of cash on hand, is likely to appeal. Given the court's current attitude toward this case, though, it could mean the legal system is growing weary with the bitter, global patent battles that rage in the tech industry.

"However, since this is the patent war, anything goes," he told MacNewsWorld. "Over the summer, in a different lawsuit between Apple and Google, the judge there also dismissed the case very close to trial. So it is possible that a pattern is developing that judges are getting tired of all this."


Rachelle Dragani is a freelance reporter based in Brooklyn, NY. She enjoys staying on top of e-commerce deals, reporting on what new gadget is coming your way, and keeping tabs on anyone trying to hack into your info. Feel free to e-mail her at rachelle.dragani@newsroom.ectnews.com.


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