Exclusive: Apple legend Tony Fadell responds to ARM-based Mac transition, will lead to longer lasting MacBooks, accelerate innovation
Tony Fadell is one of Apple’s most iconic engineers having developed the iPod and then later laying the groundwork for the iPhone. As we know, the iPhone has gone on to reshape technology and society at large in ways that no one could have foreseen. Fadell is also responsible for Apple’s decision to use ARM-based chips in its iPods, the iPhone and the iPad. So, I tweeted to him about it a short while ago asking whether he could ever have foreseen Apple eventually using its own ARM-based chips in its Macs.
This is what Fadell had to say:
It’s been a dream for a long time. Awesome to see Apple moving to one unified SW/HW platform. My bet is that innovation will speed up more than ever in Cupertino! Looking forward to the new long life and cooler laptops…
Not long after the first iPhone shipped in 2007, Apple acquired PA Semi and Intrinisity under Jobs tenure setting in motion the path to Apple designing and developing its own ARM-based chips we now know as its A-series. They have become so powerful that Apple’s new ARM-based Mac mini developer platform uses the same Apple A12Z SoC found in its 2020 iPad Pro refresh. What’s more remarkable, is that this is a re-binned A12X from late 2018 meaning that Apple has much more powerful silicon up its sleeve.
While a strong motivation for Apple to switch to its own in-house chips is greater product differentiation and increased control over the user experience, Intel’s recent inability to advance its x86 architecture and fabrication processes sealed the decision. The A-series SoCs are at least a generation ahead of the competition in terms of performance, but also in the vital performance-per-Watt metric. This is what Fadell is referring to when he talks about ‘long life’ laptops.
Thanks to Microsoft’s Windows on ARM efforts, we’ve already had a taste of this. Although Samsung has just introduced an Intel Lakefield-powered Galaxy Book S, its first iteration released earlier this year was powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx SoC. Although not as advanced as Apple’s A-series chips, it delivers both strong performance and incredible battery life -- well over 20 hours in our testing. With SoCs that will be able to go head-to-head with Intel’s laptop chips in terms of performance while being able to trounce them in battery life, Apple looks set to do what it did to smartphones to laptops as well.
Another aspect of Fadell's remarks that leaps out is his view that the the Mac ARM-based transition will "see innovation speed up more than ever in Cupertino". When the late Steve Jobs penned his poignant resignation letter as CEO of Apple back in 2011, he wrote "I believe that Apple's brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it." The reality is, however, the most innovative products to have come out of Apple are still from the Fadell and Jobs era -- the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone and iPad. While the Apple Watch has been very successful, it isn't quite in the same league and in many ways is still heavily dependent on that era. That Fadell thinks this could be about to change is very exciting news if you're an Apple fan.