Innovation & Disruption: Apple & ARM vs Intel & x86
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Innovation & Disruption: Apple & ARM vs Intel & x86
Apple with their new M1 SoC (system on a chip) is doing a classic disruption move (as defined by Clay Christensen) on Intel. Intel's market is deeply entrenched with the x86 architecture and has effectively been ignoring ARM for years. It did so because ARM wasn't good enough to replace Intel's primary business model: chipsets for servers and desktops (Intel's 🍞 & 🧈). As seen by Intel, ARM was only good enough for an inferior business model: embedded or small computing devices.
 
But while this has been happening a revolution has taken place. Those embedded and small computing devices are gradually eating the world. It's the same move that happened to mainframes with PC's (one Intel had a major role in!)
 
Apple on the other hand (who also had a major role in PC's) has come along and said, "hey ARM is totally good enough for our the iPhone". Which while revolutionary, the first iPhone wasn't anywhere "good" compared to a desktop or laptop. But because it was a new market, it didn't need to be as good as a full laptop or desktop. Because in this new market you can't put a desktop or laptop in your pants pocket or purse, but you can put a highly capable phone in it and take it everywhere.
 
(In so many ways this is like the classic example of hand held radios displacing huge home radios)
 
Apple has been steadfastly progressing ARM year over year since the first iPhone. Tackling different problems (heat, power consumption) that Intel didn't have to worry much about. Apple eventually brought the SoC design process in house so they could drive innovation faster. (Where others farmed it out to Qualcomm). They got single minded on improving ARM for iPhone.
 
And then 💥 ARM isn't just for iPhone anymore, they released the iPad with their own silicon. The iPad is still not a desktop or laptop replacement, but it's a whole lot closer to Intel's market. And Apple continues to march. Intel continues to march in the same upmarket business model as usual. But while Apple is gaining steam, Intel starts stumbling. They have unsuccessful ventures into ARM and they try other chip sets, all the while Apple gains steam.
 
iPhones and iPads were not competing against desktops as much as they were competing with other alternatives (JtbD). This gave Apple room to build on "inferior" tech until... it wasn't so inferior.
 
And then you start feeling the switch.
 
Just a couple years ago Apple silicon started being comparable to the average Intel silicon, and current chips are now faster than well above average Intel chips. And now Apple has the M1, a SoC built for desktops and laptops, that is faster, uses less power, and Apple owns entirely. It's beating the pants off of comparable Intel chips and this is just the lower-end SoC Apple started with.
 
And now suddenly Apple has silicon as good as or better than Intel, but has lower heat and power consumption, giving it incredible battery life. It's also just the opening act, as the next iterations will be upmarket where Intel is. So now Apple is in all markets with their silicon, the newer portal computing market and desktops (and servers apparently).
 

Warning for Apple?

The one thing I don't get about this situation is that Apple doesn't have its own fabs. They are entirely dependent upon someone else to make their chips. This has led them to early advancements as these fabs have outdone Intel. But if they are totally reliant on other peoples fabs, are they at risk of disruption themselves?