Apple Reportedly Designing Custom ARM Processors For Macs And iPhone Modems To Supplant Intel, Qualcomm Chips

A11 Bionic
Tell us if you've heard this one before. Apple, which is obsessed with bringing as much of its hardware design in-house as possible, is looking to cut out supplier like Intel and Qualcomm with its own custom chips. We've seen it happen recently with Imagination Technologies, which was dropped by Apple in favor of its own tri-core GPU that is found in the A11 Bionic SoC powering the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X.

Now, a new report is reigniting rumors that Apple could move away from the Intel processors that it has embraced since 2005 for its MacBook, Mac Mini, iMac and Mac Pro family of computers. According to Nikkei, Apple wants more control over its hardware, which will be used to help fuel growth areas like artificial intelligence and machine learning.

For products like the MacBook and MacBook Pro families, adopting processor designs based on ARM architecture would allow Apple to make even thinner devices while boosting overall battery life. We've already seen that Apple's new A11 Bionic processor is a force to reckoned with (at least in synthetic benchmarks) and even rivals recent Intel Core-powered MacBook Pros in some tests.

macbook pro

Apple also wouldn't be at the whim of Intel's production/release schedule with regards to new processors. There have been a few times where Apple has had to delay product introductions due to delays in Intel's processor roadmap, which can't sit too well with the folks in Cupertino.

"By designing its own chips, Apple can better differentiate itself from others," said Mark Li, a Hong Kong-based analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein.  "Further, depending too much on other chip suppliers in the age of artificial intelligence will deter its development."

But it's not just the brains of its computers that it wants to have more control over; Apple reportedly wants to bring modem/baseband development in-house, casting aside current suppliers Intel and Qualcomm. Apple is currently involved in a legal spat with Qualcomm, so the sooner the company can rid itself of those contractual entanglements, the better.

Apple suppliers Analog Devices and Synaptics might also want to watch their backs, as the fruit company is rumored to be developing its own touch sensors and display driver ICs.

Even if Apple is currently at work on its own custom chips, it could be another two years or more before we see those designs end up in shipping products.