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Apple to reveal a new era for MacBooks later this month

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(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Apple has long been rumored to be eyeing a shift away from Intel in favor of making custom ARM-based chips for MacBooks. Now we finally have an idea of when it will happen. 

Bloomberg, citing people familiar with the plans, says Apple could reveal in-house ARM-based chips for the MacBook at its WWDC developer conference on June 22. The annual event will be all-digital this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

We don't expect to see MacBooks running on custom Apple chips until 2021 but an early announcement would let developers get a jump start on the change. Apple will strive to do better than Windows in getting developers to ensure their apps are compatible and optimized for ARM. This is a crucial step, and why Apple would make the uncharacteristic decision to announce something so early.

Apple reportedly has three ARM-based Mac processors in development, each based on the iPhone's next A14 chip, as part of the internally codenamed "Kalamata" project. In the report, Bloomberg explains that Apple is moving away from Intel because of the chipmaker's failure to significantly increase performance gains year-over-year. Apple is also reportedly seeing better performance out of its own ARM-based chips than the Intel processors it currently uses. 

We've reviewed Windows laptops running on ARM-based processors but those were nowhere near as powerful as their Intel or AMD counterparts. Limited app compatibility is another issue we've encountered with ARM-powered devices. We expect Apple to buck the trend. After all, the company has produced powerful chips for its iPhones, and the A12Z SoC in the iPad Pro already delivers better performance than most mid-range laptops using Intel CPUs.

ARM-based MacBooks could not only deliver faster performance than the current Intel versions, but they would reduce Apple's reliance on Intel, a company that has run into supply problems in recent years. At one point, Apple CEO Tim Cook openly blamed Intel for declining Mac sales. Also, once developers are on board, Apple will have greater control over its products, and having a fleet of ARM-powered products could allow for greater interoperability. 

When will the first ARM MacBook arrive?

You can conservatively expect the first MacBooks with ARM-based processors to arrive in the first half of 2021. Bloomberg says they will arrive in 2021 but doesn't specify in which quarter or month. 

Reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo agrees. He said in February that the first MacBooks with ARM CPUs will be released in 12 to 18 months from now, or between February and August of 2021. 

Others are more optimistic. The latest rumor, from iPhoneHacks citing leaker @choco_bit, claims the Apple CPU-powered laptops will be released later in the year. That would be an ambitious timeline for Apple, especially considering possible delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether it is this year or next, the shift away from Intel to ARM will see the emergence of a new generation of MacBooks, and could cause a ripple effect throughout the industry.