Chipzilla should worry when both Apple and Microsoft don’t want its chips.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Chipzilla should worry when both Apple and Microsoft don’t want its chips.


“PCs are going to be like trucks. They’re still going to be around. But they’re going to be used by one out of x people.”

That was Apple’s Steve Jobs at the D8 conference in 2010. Jobs was explaining how advances in technology would enable non-traditional computing devices, like the iPad, to do more and bring about the “post-PC” era.

While the iPad has yet to become the computer on every desktop and in every home, it’s hard to deny that the traditional computer is in trouble. And if your main revenue stream comes from selling chips for those devices, you, too, are going to be in trouble. Yes, Intel, I’m talking about you.

According to Bloomberg, Apple might ditch Intel chips in Macs in favor of its own ARM-based processors as soon as 2020. Put Apple’s habit of wanting to have full control over its hardware and software stack aside. This reported switch makes sense because Apple’s A-series chips have started to outpace Intel’s laptop processors. When Apple made the switch from PowerPC to Intel x86 CPUs in 2006, it was because IBM’s chips weren’t performing. The 2020 Intel-to-ARM transition, if it happens, would be for the same reason.

One can argue that the Mac only makes up 8% of the worldwide PC market, so Intel is safe as long as they’ve chips to go into Windows machines. But remember, the PC market is expected to continue its decline in 2018. If you widen the PC market to include smartphones, tablets, and laptops, then look at device shipments by operating system, the two leaders are Android and iOS. The majority of these devices don’t use Intel CPUs.

As Microsoft places more bets on the cloud and A.I., even Windows’ future seems uncertain. The latest re-org saw a new “Experiences & Devices” division replacing the Windows and Devices Group. It’s Microsoft’s admission that Windows, and by extension the “Wintel” alliance, figure little in its long-term plans.

Consider this, too. On the consumer front, Windows on ARM is now a thing. And Microsoft has struck ARM cloud server deals with Qualcomm, Cavium, and AMD for its Zen-based processors. Such distancing from Intel would have been unimaginable not too long ago.

To quote Steve Jobs again, “We like to talk about the post-PC era, but when it really starts to happen, it’s uncomfortable.” Get ready for some discomfort.

By Ng Chong Seng