Yet Another Prediction About the End of OS X

December 15th, 2015

Now consider some basic facts before we deal with fantasy. The 2015 MacBook, with a low-power Intel processor, is eclipsed by the iPad Pro in performance. The newest member of the iPad family is about 50% faster. Apple boasts the high-end tablet is also faster than 80% of the note-books sold in the last year, although that number is somewhat deceiving. You see, most note-books are cheap and low-powered Windows PCs. And besides, the MacBook has been criticized for barely adequate performance.

Other than the MacBook, the iPad Pro is closer in performance o Macs of a year or two ago. Sure, this is a pretty remarkable achievement for Apple’s in-house processor design team. It’s also true that Apple earns far more revenue from gear sporting their own A-series processors than Macs, which come with Intel processors.

You can see where the other shoe is about to drop in a recent hit bait blog post about the future of OS X.

So this particular article, which doesn’t deserve a link, is trying to convince the reader that Apple is so focused on mobile that OS X is designed to become a “legacy” platform. Now let me make it very clear that I do expect that to happen some day due to market forces, but not in the near future. Selling five million Macs a quarter, with high average resale prices, is not a business to take lightly. Apple still makes a larger profit on personal computers than any other PC maker, even the ones that sell much larger quantities.

That takes us to that article’s theory, such as it is.

So we are told that, “Apple has made steady progress on custom ARM chips and shows no sign of stopping.” It’s also an extremely dumb statement, because it’s obvious Apple would continue to improve those chips. But it happens to be true that Intel didn’t just shut down its development labs, and their processors are also getting faster and more power efficient. Sure, perhaps Apple is catching up, but that is not necessarily justification to give up on Macs using Intel Inside, and that’s where the article is taking us.

The next argument is that it cost Apple far less for its ARM-based processors compared to Intel. No doubt, but that doesn’t mean Apple isn’t earning substantial profits from Macs. The blogger’s contention is that it makes no sense to have two platforms with two processor families,  but it does, since Macs and iOS gear are complimentary and one doesn’t necessarily have to replace the other.

So a personal computer can perform a much wider range of tasks that are only approximated on an iPhone or an iPad. While the new multitasking capability of iOS 9, best implemented on the latest iPads, does allow you more flexibility in running multiple apps, it doesn’t come close to a Mac. There are many things that you still cannot do even on an iPad Pro; there tens of thousands of Mac apps that have no equivalent on Apple’s tablet.. How does the fact that Apple’s processors might some day exceed the performance of Intel hardware change that?

The article also resurrects the OS X on ARM argument, failing to recognize the shortcomings, the first of which is forcing developers to undergo yet another processor migration. Sure, I realize Apple is perfectly capable of building an emulator as they did with the PowerPC and Intel transition. It would allow Mac apps to run on ARM with decent performance, but why?

To be able to sell Macs cheaper? Why assume Apple can’t walk and chew gum at the same time?

Remember that Apple’s chips are optimized for resource sensitive gear where saving power and working with less memory is as important as good performance. What would it cost to develop and scale up A-series chips to work on a traditional PC form factor? What would be involved in building that Intel emulator? What about the ability to run Windows on a Mac with comparable performance to a PC under Boot Camp? Or getting most of the way there with virtual machine apps, such as Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion? Believe me, this is an important sales incentive for Macs in the enterprise.

With ARM, the emulator may work just fine with minimal impact on performance, but we may be back to the days where running Windows would be a pathetic exercise, as it was with the PowerPC.

Other than saving money on chips, it hardly makes sense for Apple to replace Intel on Macs. Indeed, if Intel had problems improving their processor designs — and it’s true that recent chip updates have been late — I suppose Apple could consider AMD as an alternative. Maybe AMD chips aren’t quite as powerful as Intel, but they do offer good deals on lower-powered processors, and Apple already buys their graphics chips.

Remember, AMD hardware is compatible with Intel.

But even if Apple did another processor switch in order to reduce the cost of building Macs, that shouldn’t signal the end of OS X by any means. While iOS will continue to improve and become more productive, and OS X will integrate better with Apple’s mobile gear, it doesn’t mean convergence is in the cards anytime soon. Or even that it’s necessary, since that goes against Apple’s main argument for having separate computing platforms.

Ask me in another five years.

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6 Responses to “Yet Another Prediction About the End of OS X”

  1. Shaw says:

    Thanks for this write up. I read that opinion piece yesterday, and was still scratching my head about it.

  2. DaveD says:

    The blogger needed to fill a blank page with rehashed “what ifs.” What was missing is for Apple to sell OS X. There was a valid reason for Apple to switch Intel processors on the Macs, survival. The PowerPC G5 was too hot for a PowerBook. That’s not the Apple of today. Hard to find a reason of necessity for Apple to put forth resources to make another switch. To do it for the sake of change, I would say “Why?”.

    • @DaveD, You make the point that these bloggers cannot answer. Besides, Intel also made it possible to run Windows and other Intel-based operating systems with great performance. I continue to manage Windows with a virtual machine, and performance has gotten really good unless you need to play high-energy games. This was a magic bullet for the enterprise.


  3. Peter says:

    Actually, several years ago at WWDC, one of the Apple engineers had the best comment about OS X.

    “Do you really think we want people developing iOS Apps on Windows?”

  4. Brant Merryman says:

    Steve Jobs made an interesting comment when he compared desktops/laptops to trucks and iPads and iPhones to cars. An iPad isn’t a replacement for MacOS X because lots of people sit at OS X all day and do productivity work – including iOS development. If Apple comes up with a great way to converge the two – maybe. And if at some point in the future Apple wants to switch to ARM processors for Mac instead of Intel – I would assume it would be because the world had changed and somehow that made logical sense – I’d have no problem with it, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    • @Brant Merryman, The argument of convergence has to be made with a solid description of what this new device is supposed to accomplish, and how it can capture the major features of both iPad and Mac. Bu the article never considered that problem, since it disproves the major point of the article.


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