According to certain reports, Apple plans to bring back its 12-inch MacBook. To make it relevant and competitive, this time Apple plans to use an ARM-based processor chip instead of Intel. In-fact Bloomberg states that by 2021 Apple may sell Mac devices with its own-chipset.
When the 12-inch MacBook was launched in 2015, it was advertised as the slimmest and lightest MacBook at the time. Like other Apple products, it had an aesthetically pleasing display and a quality build. It was supposed to replace the original MacBook and the old MacBook Air. However, it failed to do so.
Failure of old 12-inch MacBook
The mains reasons for its failure were: the 12-inch MacBook Intel's Core M processors reduced its performance, the Butterfly keyboard was criticized for being unreliable and not comfortable for typing. And it just had a single USB C port which limited its connectivity.
The 12-inch MacBook was considered too expensive for a device with entry-level specs. It was priced at $1,299 at the time of its launch. The new MacBook Air costs 100 dollars less at $1,199. And it offered more power and better connectivity options with multiple ports.
To add insult to injury even an entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro bettered the 12-inch MacBook performance. Despite being more expensive the MacBook Pro overtook its predecessor. Naturally the 12-inch MacBook was phased out in early 2019.
Switching to ARM
In the tech world, the news of Apple moving away from Intel chips and make its own chips for the MacBook series has been around for a while. It's not an easy task, but Apple has the necessary technical expertise and financial muscle to execute it.
It has already been doing it for a while. The A-series chips for iPhones, iPads, and the Apple Watch has been designed by Apple itself. And going by its longevity they seem to work well.
This automatically raises the possibility that when Apple designs a new MacBook, it will use its in-house ARM-based custom A-series chip. It makes sense as Apple has the necessary supply-chain and manufacturing allies for it.
Geoff Blaber, vice president of research at analyst house CCS Insight, posts that Apple would want to extend its ARM-based chip-design beyond iPhone and iPad. As this would mean reducing its dependence on Intel and gain more flexibility.
Apple stands to gain more than lose by making the switch to ARM.
Impact on Chromebooks and cheaper Windows laptops
How would Apple switch to ARM-based chipset to impact the wider laptop market? In direct competition to Apple's MacBooks, there are Windows laptops and Chromebooks.
Now Chromebooks also use ARM-based chips. These are usually low-powered devices for standard usage and hence popular in the student community. The Chrome OS struggles with third-party app compatibility and has a limited number of app sets compared to macOS or Windows 10. The more premium Intel-based Chromebooks are expensive.
Microsoft's Always Connected PCs too runs on ARM chips. But this suffers from app compatibility issues as well. This is because Windows 10 was designed to run on Intel which uses IBM's x86 architecture. Therefore emulation is necessary to run Windows 10 and its corresponding apps on an ARM-based architecture. This transition affects the compatibility of apps.
Apple gains an edge here because it already has an OS that runs on ARM-based chips, the iOS. Therefore, it can adapt its existing Intel-based macOS to ARM-based architecture more effectively.
Apple retains more control over its close-walled app ecosystem. This makes it easier for it to encourage developers to rework their apps to work on ARM as well as x86 operating systems. For Microsoft it becomes a difficult task to push developers for designing third-party apps for Always Connected PCs. Because their numbers are low.
Moreover the ARM based chipset will greatly help Apple to tweak the performance of its laptops.
We are not sure if Apple will name its new laptop as MacBook SE. But if Apple can re-introduce the 12-inch MacBook with updated features, improved connectivity, an ARM-based chip, and priced right in the $600-$900 range it is most likely to sell like hot-cakes. This would jeopardize the position of both Chromebooks and sub-$1000 Windows laptops.