Apple may soon switch to ARM processors on the Mac, but the company has been closely linked to ARM in several ways over the past thirty years – and these connections have contributed to the reason that Apple survived the dark days in its history.
Rumors that Apple is moving the Mac over ARM processors have been around for a decade. However, the movement had its origins three decades ago.
Apple’s connection to ARM has seen its benefits in the iPhone and iPad, but that’s also why Apple survived.
Since taking over as interim CEO of Apple in 1997, until the release of iMac in 1999, Steve Jobs has taken two very public measures to reverse the situation. Apple is only 90 days away from going bankrupt, but Jobs has worked out a deal for Microsoft to invest $ 150 million in.
There was probably more immediate value to what Microsoft was committing money to, since Bill Gates also pledged to develop for the Mac for five years. That’s what really knocked Apple down.
Likewise, Jobs’ other public gesture was to cancel projects like the Newton. In the midst of the outcry, however, what was missing was that the Newton was running on an ARM processor. And at the same time that the MessagePad was canceled, Jobs began selling Apple’s stake in ARM.
This is where the real money came in. And this is where ARM first saved Apple.
ARM, Acorn and Apple
ARM has its roots in the British company Acorn. Although little known in the United States, he was famous in the United Kingdom for being behind the BBC Micro. This device competitor like the Commodore 64 was a huge success in British schools and in the early 1980s this support enabled Acorn to plan for the future.
In 1983, the Acorn RISC machine project was launched. RISC, or computer with a reduced instruction set, is a processor that cannot work with as many instructions as an ordinary CISC or computer with a complex instruction set. But it works faster.
The result is a less powerful but much more powerful processor. It is powerful and fast enough to more than make up for the fact that instructions need to go through more steps to be executed.
Along with this power and speed comes low energy consumption – and that’s where Apple got interested. In the late 1980s, Apple began working with Acorn, and on November 27, 1980, the two companies joined with chipmaker VLSI Technologies to form a company.
The Newton MessagePad was the first device powered by Apple’s ARM
Its name was Advanced RISC Machines Ltd., and Apple paid $ 3 million to own 43% of the company. The intention was to have an ARM processor designed and then designed for what was to be the Newton MessagePad.
The new company did just that and in 1993 the first Newton came out. At the same time, however, two other things happened.
Also in 1993, ARM, perhaps concerned about being involved in manufacturing processors for a single device, began to seek a license for its technology. It was an unusual decision at the time in the industry, but that is how ARM moved on to a company that designed processors for other companies.
Later that year, Texas Instruments became a client, and that instead validated both ARM and its new approach to designing processors and collecting royalties from them. Shortly thereafter, employees of Texas Instruments persuaded Nokia to embark on ARM. In 1994, the Nokia 6110 was released.
It all remains to do with ARM looking to grow, and there was this other thing going on at the same time. Apple did not sell enough Newtons. Apple was not selling enough and it was really doomed until Steve Jobs returned.
ARM saves Mac
However, you can’t turn an Apple-sized business into $ 150 million in 90 days. So you could do it if you could get, say, $ 1.1 billion.
Much less publicly than Microsoft’s deal or the cancellation of products like the Newton, Jobs also sold ARM shares. It is not known how many shares Apple ultimately sold, or whether it kept any. But in February 1999, Apple only owned 14.8% – and made $ 1.1 billion.
This gigantic profit of 366 times its initial investment would not have been possible if ARM had not been made public in 1998. And it should not have been made public if it had not been a huge success with, at the time, at least 165 different companies using its ARM processor designs. Apple was one of them.
The beloved but failed Newton is gone. The iPod arrived in 2001 and was also built on ARM. Apple has used ARM processors in this high-performance device, but also in devices such as its AirPort wireless base stations – and the iPhone.
Intel lost the iPhone
The second time ARM saved Apple was with the iPhone. All iPhones ever made, from the start, used a specially designed ARM processor – but that was not planned.
When the iPhone was designed in the mid-2000s, Apple was increasingly involved with Intel. So he asked Intel to produce the processors for the iPhone.
If Intel had said yes, ARM would probably be very successful anyway, but you wouldn’t have heard of it. It would just be the type of processor behind many devices like the Internet of Things.
Only, Intel said no, and if its reasoning seems short-sighted today, we have the advantage of knowing how many devices Apple has sold since. At the time, Intel had just sold its own division that worked with ARM designs, and it did so because it had not been successful.
Coupled with the way Intel expected the iPhone to sell only in limited numbers, it was a simple spreadsheet calculation. The high cost of developing the processor and the many potential sales did not add up.
Steve Jobs unveils the original iPhone in 2007
Intel must regret it now, but at the time, it must have been Apple who wanted things to go their way. Forced to use an alternative, however, Apple worked with ARM to design, then with Samsung to produce a processor for the very first iPhone.
Apple goes on board
This original iPhone was a lot, but it was not particularly fast. And one possibility for this is that, although ARM technology is fine and Samsung’s manufacturing is exactly what was asked for, there was a weakness in the middle. Apple didn’t know enough about processor design.
Since then, he has learned. It has learned a lot.
In 2010, the iPad came out and rumors are that Apple is in talks to buy ARM. At the time, ARM was valued at around $ 8 billion, and whether or not Apple could not justify these expenses at the time, the company fell back.
Instead, Softbank bought ARM in 2012. So Softbank is now the owner of the company Apple uses for its A-series processors, but Softbank is also the company that asked Steve Jobs to offer him the iPhone exclusive to Japan.
ARM remains a company that designs processors rather than manufacturing them. There remains a company that partners with other technology companies to create ARM processors.
He now manufactures many to the detailed specifications of Apple’s own team. Apple has increasingly enriched its own pool of processor designers and its efforts have paid off.
No doubt, ARM really saved Apple a third time because of the lead it gave it in smartphones. Consistently, an iPhone will outperform an Android phone of similar or even ostensibly better specifications, due to the design of its processor.
This has always been true and is one of the reasons why today’s cheapest model, the iPhone SE, is faster than the more expensive Android devices.
The difference has never been more acute than in 2013. It was then that Apple unveiled the iPhone 5s with its 64-bit A7 processor. ” It’s the first [64-bit processor] on any phone, “said Phil Schiller of Apple at the time. I don’t think the other guys are even talking about it. “
They were, in fact, but whatever their distance, it was far behind Apple. Enough for competitors to try to make fun of him, saying that no one could ever need a 64-bit processor in a phone. Not until they’re all out.
In the future
Apple’s use of ARM processors in the iPhone and iPad, in particular, has been a pretty impressive tale of ever faster and more capable designs. Apple’s use of Intel processors in the Mac has not been.
Intel has been behind its own roadmap for processor development for several years, and Apple has been repeatedly delayed because of this. Apple may have a design to offer, but the available Intel processors are not up to par.
And it’s not like Intel is selling its processors at low prices either. Part of the price difference between the low-end and high-end 13-inch MacBook Pro is due to the amount billed by Intel.
So, on the one hand, Apple is delayed by lagging Mac processors. And on the other, it advances faster than its rivals on the iPhone.
Apple no longer needs to save today. Apple is doing very well and where it once was 90 days after bankruptcy, it could now last more than a year without selling a single penny to a single customer, and that would be nice.
Still, this is a point where Apple can radically change Macs, and it seems to be a point where it is ARM that will make it possible.
If Apple announces Mac ARMs at WWDC 2020, it is likely that the earliest we will see one on sale is the end of this year. Which just happens to mark 30 years since Apple founded ARM in the first place.