Why Apple Moving Away From Intel Is Good for Everyone

Except Intel, of course

  • The M2 MacBook Air isn't just lacking an Intel chip, it's completely free of Intel silicon.
  • The world's most popular notebook no longer uses an Intel USB/Thunderbolt controller.
  • Apple's insistence on complete control is behind what makes the Apple ecosystem so compelling.
person working on an M2 MacBook Air


You don’t need to follow Apple particularly closely to know it enjoys control, from the components it puts into its hardware to the companies that make them. Intel is one company Apple has been trying to nix from its Mac lineup for years, and with one new notebook, it’s done it. It might seem minor, but it symbolizes a philosophy that gives users features and benefits that are uniquely Apple.

The Mac in question is the brand new M2 MacBook Air. The M2 part refers to the system-on-chip (SoC) that powers the device. Think of it as the CPU, GPU, and more, all under one roof. It’s Apple-designed, giving the company complete control over every aspect, and that's important. The migration away from Intel and towards its own silicon has taken a couple of years and still isn't complete, but Apple is already going further. The world's most popular notebook now has zero Intel chips inside. The last part standing was a minor one—a USB and Thunderbolt controller, and now it's gone.

"Owning the full stack allows [Apple] to develop [its] hardware and software roadmap in lockstep with the silicon team, which enables products to have exclusive features and functions competitors can't, and core user experiences unique to Apple products," Ben Bajarin, CEO and Principal Analyst of Creative Strategies, told Lifewire via direct message.

But Why?

Apple’s quest to take control of every component that goes into its machines makes sense for various reasons. Apple prefers to own the complete stack, from hardware to software to services. People buy Macs powered by Apple silicon; they run Apple software on those Macs and use Apple services like iCloud, Apple Music, and others. It’s a level of integration few others can compete with.

Microsoft is one company that has a chance, but it’s missing an important factor—a phone. Windows Phone is long gone, but iPhone is very much alive and kicking, and again, we see the power of an integrated experience coming to the fore. Its iPhones run similar SoCs to Macs, meaning they also run similar software. Apple silicon Macs run iPhone apps without issue, in some cases, because the internals are so similar. But it goes beyond that.

AirDrop is a feature that allows files to be moved wirelessly from one device to another, and it works. AirPods instantly switch from iPhone to Mac to Apple Watch to iPad thanks to the Apple-designed chips inside. Apple Watches can be used to unlock Macs, iPhones can be used to authenticate downloads on Apple TVs, and so much more. 

Some of this works with Intel Macs as well, but it’s all built on a backbone of integration that few companies can boast—and it’s all thanks, at least in part, to Apple’s demand for control. Moving Intel out of the equation is part of that, and while Apple hasn’t confirmed as much, the switch to a non-Intel USB and Thunderbolt controller seems just as likely to be a functional thing as a financial one.

However, as much as Apple might want control, Carolina Milanesi, President & Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, believes control is only sought when the company believes it will help create a better experience. 

"I do not think Apple wants to control everything, only the parts that are material in driving a better experience," Milanesi told Lifewire via email. "The value to the customer comes from the higher integration of software, hardware, and services, as well as the better interoperability across devices. Apple has always delivered more across devices and, of course, for Apple, that ‘better together’ story delivers higher loyalty and engagement."

Good for You, Good for Apple, Bad for Intel

Intel isn’t coming out of all this too great, but we already know Apple is picking up the big win here. It isn’t on its own, either. As users of iPhones, iPads, Macs, Apple Watches, and Apple TVs, we now benefit from the integration mentioned earlier. It means we can enjoy features that might otherwise not be possible or, if they were, would be lacking in stability, reliability, or capability.

I do not think Apple wants to control everything, only the parts that are material in driving a better experience.

Apple hasn’t released a big new product in a number of years, with no entry into a new category since the Apple Watch in 2015. That will all change when the oft-rumored mixed reality headset arrives, maybe as soon as 2023. But again, that will be powered by Apple silicon. It’s rumored that the headset will connect to iPhones wirelessly, likely using some of the same tech already built for AirPods and Apple Watches. 

"To the AR/VR point, I've long believed Apple will have an advantage here because of their silicon efforts," Bajarin added when asked about Apple’s abilities to go beyond what much of the competition is capable of.

It’s often the intangibles that can make using Apple devices so special—those integrations and connections between the wrist, pocket, desk, and entertainment system. Could they exist if Apple used Intel USB and Thunderbolt controllers? Sure. But this is about more than one part being swapped out of a MacBook Air. It’s about Apple’s philosophy, and this MacBook Air part swap is the latest example of it.

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