As you might recall, Steve Jobs famously decried the use of a stylus on a mobile device. After all, people, assuming all digits are intact, have ten styluses already, so why would we need more? But that hasn’t stopped Apple from receiving patents on stylus-related technology that some call “iPen.” Regardless, it’s well known that Jobs would often deny the value of a technology and later introduce Apple’s version.
The go-away was simply that other companies did it the wrong way, and Apple did it the right way.
In light of those stylus patents, however, there are new rumors that an overgrown iPad, the supposed iPad Pro, will come equipped with one of those things. Or perhaps Apple will sell you one as an option. Options are good, since they add an extra income stream. But does that mean that Tim Cook’s Apple is doing the things that Jobs would have rejected? Is that what is at stake here?
So what about the iPad mini that was released despite Jobs’ statement that you’d have to sandpaper your hands to use a small tablet? What about the iPhone 6, which doesn’t quite fit as a one-handed device, and don’t remind me about the iPhone 6 Plus. Regardless of what you think of the former, the iPhone phablet is positively huge, but not as huge as those with six-inch displays.
Such decisions are meant to confirm the claim that Cook is systematically undoing some of the best decisions of his predecessor. What would Steve have done?
Well, Jobs did say in his final years that he didn’t want his replacement to ask such a foolish question. He recalled how the Walt Disney Company was stuck in a rut wondering what Walt Disney would have done in the years after his death. Only when they learned how to move on and find their own direction did the company regain its momentum.
But does this mean that an iPad Pro is in our future? What about that rumored 12-inch MacBook Air with Retina display and a single peripheral port? Why choose 12 inches, when there are perfectly respectable and quite popular 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Airs already? Why not just add Retina display alternatives? Does any of this even make sense?
To be fair, rumors of this sort come from the supply chain, and it’s very likely Apple is experimenting with all sorts of different form factors, but most will never see the light of day. We’re still waiting for that alleged Apple connected TV set that never connected. And what about the next Apple TV?
One rumor that has been resurrected of late is the possibility of an ARM-based Mac. On the surface, it seems to have a sense of logic behind it. Apple has made those A-series processors extremely powerful, capable of amazing feats for mobile devices. Isn’t it possible to scale up one of these chips to compete with Intel, at least in theory? Some day, Apple’s chip design team might be able to better Intel, but don’t bet on it. You see, despite Intel’s delays in getting the new Broadwell chips ready — they are months late, thus hurting the prospects for upgraded Macs — they still performed miracles with chip designs. Benchmark any Mac at any price point and you’ll see. But it is true that Intel’s Atom chips, designed to compete with ARM, have come up way short.
Now as some of you know, our sites are, as an experiment, now hosted on a Mac mini with an Intel quad-core i7, and I haven’t heard any complaints about degraded performance compared to the Xeon server we had been using previously.
Back on point, jumping to an ARM architecture, while theoretically possible, doesn’t quite fit the logic test for Apple. As Daniel Eran Dilger of AppleInsider demonstrated recently, the 20 million-odd Macs Apple sells each year may seem a lot compared to previous years, but those numbers don’t really justify the investment in a high-energy ARM processor for desktop computing use.
There are other complications.
One of the big advantages of moving to Intel is that Apple could take advantage of industry-standard commodity parts, making it possible to reduce the price of Macs while increasing the performance ratio. Running Windows at near-native speeds is a huge advantage, since it makes it much easier for someone to migrate to a Mac while keeping their hands in the Windows environment. Just install Windows under Apple’s Boot Camp or in a virtual machine run by the likes of Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion.
Some people need to use both platforms on a daily basis, so having one computer to perform the tasks of two is a huge advantage. Aside from games, a Mac often runs Windows better than many native Windows boxes.
That goes away when Apple moves to ARM. And what about tens of thousands of apps compiled and optimized for Intel? Sure, Apple has done processor switches twice already with the original Motorola and later PowerPC processors. An emulation environment, especially if it’s hardware based, might eliminate most of the speed hit in running legacy Intel software until app developers get with the program.
But where’s the advantage? Why go through this pain? So Apple could save some money buying chips? Is that worth would would be substantial R&D costs to make it happen? Apple moved to Intel because IBM and Motorola had given up on developing the PowerPC chip for personal computers; they had gone to embedded designs, such as autos, since there was more business to be had.
In other words, the PowerPC roadmap hit a roadblock, so Apple went with the only viable alternative, and that’s Intel, although AMD, which makes compatible chips, could be used if some compelling processor design makes it more attractive. But if Intel’s future processor development really comes up short, and AMD can’t fill the gap, I’m sure Apple could reconsider. But I don’t see that happening in the near future, despite the rumors and wishful thinking. It’s just another wacky Apple theory.