Apple currently has the fastest and most powerful smartphone SoC in the form of its in-house A13 Bionic chipset which powers the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max and the recently launched iPhone SE 2020.
The tech giant even uses its own chipsets in its iPads and the Apple Watch lineup. However, it doesn't make processors for its computers - the iMac and MacBooks - but that may be about to change next year.
Apple is working on its own processor for Mac
According to a Bloomberg report, Apple is planning to launch at least one Mac with its own main processor that will be based on chip designs used in its iPhones and iPads by as early as next year.
The Cupertino, California based tech giant is working on three custom ARM-based chipsets for the Mac, which will be based on the upcoming A14 processor in its next iPhone 12 series, suggesting that Apple could be transitioning more of its Mac lineup away from the current chipmaker Intel, sources familiar with the matter said in the report. Though, the processors will be based on the A14 chip, the first of the Mac versions will be much faster and more powerful, the sources added.
The initiative to develop multiple chips based on the A14 SoC has been internally codenamed Kalamata, according to the sources. The processors will be manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), Apple's manufacturing partner for the iPhone and iPad processors.
Mac processor based on Apple's A14 SoC, but more powerful
The components will be based on a 5nm fabrication processor which is the same size that Apple will be using in its A14 chip for the next iPhones and iPad Pros. It will be a complete system-on-chip which will include both the CPU and GPU on a single die similar to the current Apple A-series chipsets.
The sources also claim that Apple's designs will double or quadruple the number of cores than what Intel provides in some of its upcoming Mac. For context, the current entry-level MacBook Air has just two cores.
Meanwhile, like most of the mobile semiconductor industry, including rival Qualcomm, Apple designs its smartphone chips with technology from ARM Inc., which is owned by Japan's SofBank Group Corp. ARM's chipsets are generally more energy-efficient than Intel's components.
It also seems likely that the first ARM-based would most probably be MacBooks rather than iMacs Mac Pro desktop computers since the performance and efficiency that ARM brings will mostly benefit portable computers nor laptops.
Processor will debut on a new MacBook
The report also suggests Apple's transition to in-house ARM-based processor designs will most probably begin with an entirely new MacBook, as the company's first custom made chips for Mac won't be able to rival the performance they Intel provides with its processors used in high-end MacBook Pros, iMac and the Mac Pro. However, it won't be too surprised if Apple starts using the chips for the standard non-pro iMacs in the future.
Apple has already started designing a second generation of the Mac processors which are based on the architecture of chips planned for the 2021 iPhone, suggesting that the company want to put its iPhones, iPads and Macs on the same processor development cycle. But despite the uniform design technology, the upcoming Mac with ARM-based chipsets will continue to run macOS operating system and it will be interesting to see how Apple collaborates its software and hardware and component-sourcing teams, given the current coronavirus pandemic situation.
Apple may use its Catalyst technology to port x86 to ARM
According to the report, Apple will likely offer some system to port the existing x86 applications onto the ARM instruction set. Apple has a technology called 'Catalyst' which currently allows developers to port iOS apps onto macOS, so it is possible that the feature could be updated to do the other way round.
The Kalamata project has been active for several years now and in 2018 Apple has reportedly developed a Mac processor that was based on the iPad Pro's A12X processor for internal testing. This development could be the reason why Apple engineers are confident they could make a processor for the Mac's that would help the company replace Intel's processors.
Apple slowly distancing away from Intel
Apple is also said to planning to stop using Intel's cellular modems -chips that connect smartphones to the internet and help cellular reception – after using them for merely four years. Apple had acquired Intel's modem business last year after striking a short-term deal with Qualcomm but it is planning to use Qualcomm's 5G modems in as many as four upcoming iPhone models later this year.
Although it will be a big blow for Intel, it will be interesting to see how Apple will be transitioning away from Intel and how it plans to make its unified chip design not just power efficient but also more powerful to be used on the more power MacBook Pro and iMac Pro models.