Every press launch has an element of hyperbole, and you can generally play buzzword bingo at most of the major events. Sometimes though a turn of phrase sounds a little bit out of place; the recent classic being Apple’s Phil Schiller portrayal of removing the 3.5mm headphone jack from the iPhone as something that required “courage”.

The full quote is actually “The reason to move on: courage. The courage to move on and do something new that betters all of us,” with Schiller looking to frame Appe’s decision as something that changes the world.

Apple removed the floppy disk drive, and the rest of the industry followed. Apple removed the number pad from the phone, and the rest of the industry followed. And yes, Apple removed the headphone jack, and everyone followed. Is Apple going to follow the formula again and compel the desktop and laptop computing industry to break with Intel and move towards ARM architecture?

Tim Cook has stated that the transition of the Mac platform to ARM will take two years, which I take to mean that each island in the Mac ocean will have an ARM machine; there will be a MacBook Air powered by ARM, a MacBook Pro ARM, an iMac, a Mac, and yes, even a Mac Pro. These will no doubt sit alongside the existing machines designed for Intel – which will be supported by MacOS versions in the future – but the real future belongs to ARM.

MacOS 11 ‘Big Sur’ drops support for a number of older Mac machines, but you will still be able to update and run Big Sur on the veterans such as an early 2015 Macbook, a mid 2014 iMac, and a late 2013 MacBook Pro. Appleis to be commended for offering a seventh year of OS support to the MacBook Pro, but that’s surely the last version this laptop will get. I’d expect Apple’s support of the older Intel machines to shorten over the next few years. 

Intel and ARM will live on side by side, but it’s not going to be an equal partnership. Even without Cook’s two-year warning, it’s clear that Intel will be eased out into a supporting role. Any newly purchased Mac should come with a health warning; this Intel powered machine may not be supported for as long as think it wiil

Apple’s ARM chips promise better battery life, improved connectivity, and an increase in power. If Cook is saying ‘two years’ then it’s a pretty safe bet that the new Mac machines put on sale in 2022 will all be ARM-powered and have equal or better performance than the machines on sale today.

You know who else would like a laptop with better battery life, improved connectivity, and equal or better performance to today’s models? Every other computer manufacturer.

ARM’s move towards desk-bound computers has not gone unnoticed by Microsoft. Windows 10 on ARM does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s Windows 10, and it runs on ARM hardware. With the ARM-powered Surface Pro X, Microsoft showcased the product in the high-end Surface portfolio. 

It is very early in the days of Windows 10 on ARM, and the Pro X was as much a demonstration of Microsoft’s view of ARM-powered computing as it was a bleeding-edge piece of hardware. It showed that the issues around app compatibility had been addressed, although not perfectly. As well as apps specifically compile for ARM, it would also run x86 apps designed for Intel-based machines, albeit only those targeting 32 bit Intel chips.

Nevertheless, the package presented to the public essentially works. I’d expect the same to be the case when Apple sells its first ARM-powered Mac machine – likely to be a MacBook Pro variant launched at the end of 2020. The Surface brand is used in part as a technology demonstrator. In the past it has shown the capabilities of Windows 10 and Microsoft’s cloud-based services, to promote the idea of the 2-in-1 tablet format, the ultraportable Surface Laptop, pushing the design envelope with the Surface Book, and the massively useful Surface Studio.

Now it’s the turn of the Surface range to demonstrate Windows’ future with ARM to the rest of the ecosystem.

Herein lies the question. If the ARM architecture offers manufacturers a better feature set, if ARM can match the performance of the equivalent Intel chips, and if Apple’s laptops and desktops are pulling ahead because of its use of ARM technology, will rival manufacturers decide to pivot away from Intel – perhaps not for every single computer, but to stay in the game there will be far more ARM computers out there.

Apple’s leadership role will be validated. Diminishing Intel’s ability to define the future of computing, putting clear water between MacOS and Windows 10, and watching the competition try to catch up on a position it has already solidified? 

That’s something worth labelling as ‘courage’

Now read more about Apple’s surprising Mac Pro offer…

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