What it is: Qualcomm is readying a Snapdragon ARM-based processor for PCs and Apple is reportedly doing the same.
In the old days, everyone had to use a Windows PC for everything from instant messaging to maps. Then smartphones arrived and now most people rely on smartphones instead of PCs to do many tasks. That means people are far less dependent on PCs and far more dependent on mobile devices like smartphones and to a much less extent, tablets.
The processors powering PCs are x86 processors made by Intel and AMD. The processors powering mobile devices are based on energy-efficient ARM processors. Apple makes their own ARM processors called the A-series and Qualcomm makes a similar ARM-based processor called Snapdragon. The huge problem is that x86 processors are powerful but not energy efficient. That’s why ARM-based processors are getting more powerful while retaining their energy-efficiency. It’s only a matter of time before ARM-based processors are both more powerful and more energy-efficient than x86 processors. When that happens, there will be little reason to use x86 processors any more.
That’s why Microsoft is trying to shift Windows to ARM-based processors and that’s why Apple is rumored to be shifting the Macintosh to ARM-based processors from x86 processors sometime in the future. ARM-based processors already use less power than x86 processors and when they’re more powerful, x86 processors will have no advantages.
In the server market, ARM-based processors generate far less heat and require far less electricity to run. In the ordinary PC market, ARM-based processors allow laptops to run longer on batteries. When both PCs and smartphones rely on the same processor, it will be easy to run the same programs and share data between the two.
Now how will Microsoft and Apple shift their computer users to ARM-based processors? Microsoft has tried in the past and ran into problems with compatibility. Most Windows users want to run their old x86 Windows programs, so Windows on ARM processors must also find a way to run x86 Windows programs as well.
Apple has this same problem with the Macintosh. If Apple shifts the Macintosh to ARM-based processors, people will still want to run their older x86 Macintosh programs in addition to running Windows programs too. The best solution may be to simply create a computer version of a mobile device.
Apple can create a laptop and desktop that runs iOS and relies on a keyboard and a mouse/trackpad. Ideally this new computer should have a different name than the Macintosh to avoid confusing people. Then Apple needs to shift Macintosh users to this newer computer by offering a compatibility bridge such as including an x86 processor inside this new computer. That would let it run older Windows and Macintosh programs.
Whatever form this transition takes, it must be seamless or people will reject it like people rejected Windows RT for not being compatible with Windows. The future is ARM and that future is coming soon.