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Apple's Custom Chips: A Genius Decision?


Within a decade, Apple twice changed its mind about where the boundaries of the firm should lie. In 2010 the company introduced an Apple-designed custom "system on a chip" (SoC) for its iPhone and iPad products, which replaced non-customized Samsung chips. Then in 2020, Apple announced that it would end its 15-year partnership with Intel and begin designing the microprocessors inside its new Mac computers.

This was the second time Apple had switched microprocessors in its computers. From 1994 to 2005, Apple computers ran on IBM PowerPC microprocessors, which were incompatible with the dominant Intel x86 chip architecture. At the time, Apple had only a 4 percent share of the personal computer market. In 2005, the company announced it would switch its Mac computers to Intel chips to take advantage of Intel's industry-standard architecture and superior product roadmap, which would enable Apple to build the products it envisioned.

In November 2020, Apple unveiled three Mac computers that used its new custom M1 processor. Apple's custom chip contained numerous special-purpose accelerators that enabled performance and capabilities not accessible with off-the-shelf chips. As it did when it switched to Intel microprocessors, Apple provided software emulation technology that enabled existing Intel-based apps to run on the new Macs until they were updated to work with the new Apple chips. Huawei and Samsung had developed custom SoCs for their smartphones, but no other personal computer company followed Apple's path.




Meghan Busse, Susan Springer

Date Published



Busse, Meghan, and Susan Springer. Apple's Custom Chips: A Genius Decision?. Case 5-421-752 (KE1225).


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