Apple's shift to ARM Mac from Intel at WWDC will define a decade of computing
Next week, Apple's 2020 Worldwide Developer Conference is expected to detail a migration away from Intel's x86 chips to new processors of Apple's own design. Here's how that could dramatically affect the next decade of computing.
What's wrong with Intel?
Apple famously adopted Intel's processors for Macs in a 2005 announcement by Steve Jobs, which outlined that new iMacs and notebooks would begin shipping with Intel's freshly released x86 Core processors starting in early 2006. WWDC05 helped to prepare developers to make the switch to ensure that buyers of new Intel Macs could continue to use their Mac software.
That move to Intel benefitted Apple and its Mac users in a variety of ways. New Intel Macs could leverage the economies of scale in x86 chips to deliver regular new improvements in processing power at affordable prices that were not being delivered by Apple's existing PowerPC chip providers.
It also meant that new x86 Macs were hardware-compatible with running Microsoft Windows and the software designed for it. Beyond booting Windows, Intel Macs could also host Windows apps natively on the Mac desktop or virtualize entire Windows sessions.
Additionally, video games written for x86 PCs could be more easily ported to run as Mac apps.
So what's changed over the last 15 years that would make Apple interested in now moving away from Intel's x86 chips? There are a number of important factors. One is that Microsoft Windows and its Windows software have dramatically faded in importance as mainstream consumer spending and technical investments have shifted from PCs to mobile devices.
Windows and x86 compatibility are still important to some users, but neither has been less important to the majority of users than they are today. Additionally, most users who have some specific need to use x86 software are often the least likely to even consider a Mac from all of the various other PC options available.
Conversely, most Mac users have no need to host x86 or Windows code.
According to historical service data records collated by AppleInsider spanning the last decade, while around 15% of Mac users had Boot Camp installed in 2010, only about 2% of machines today are typically set up to dual boot into Windows.
One specific area that was expected to make a big difference for Intel Macs was video gaming. Yet PC gaming is still solidly planted on Windows PCs and Macs haven't materially shifted simply because of an influx of ported Windows titles.
On the flip side, Apple has also created something that has never existed before: its own mobile platform larger than Windows and unrelated to x86. Across the last decade, rather than investing solely in Intel's x86-related platforms, Apple has been increasingly investing in its independent tools and infrastructure.