What Apple's Next Tech Revolution Might Look Like

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I've long said that Mac OS X and iOS would merge at some point. While I've been wrong so far, I think there's fresh evidence of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) working to integrate the two systems beyond the sorts of borrowed features found in Mac OS X Lion. How then? Via chip design -- TechCrunch cites an anonymous friend of Jobs who says Apple has 1,000 engineers working on next-generation processors.

As TechCrunch editor Erick Schonfeld writes it, Apple leaves behind a team that's 100% focused on winning in the post-PC era. An era in which every electronic device can have a brain, and with a brain become a specialized computer built to accept specialized apps. Thus, creating the brain -- i.e., a low-power, high-function chip architecture -- becomes a priority.

To be fair, there's no rule that says a chip architecture needs just one operating system. Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) and Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD  ) create designs that work across Windows PCs, Macs, and Linux boxes. ARM Holdings (Nasdaq: ARMH  ) has long designed chips for both iOS and Android handsets.

But if Apple's vision really is to create an ecosystem of devices connected through one chip architecture, doesn't it follow that having a centralized OS and App Store would also make sense? CEO Tim Cook could then focus significant resources on hardware design, knowing all the while that the essential guts for its devices were 100% compatible.

Think of TVs talking with Macs while also talking with tablets and game consoles. We could call it the living room of the future. Or perhaps "iLife," the home game. Either way, it's a cool concept that puts TechCrunch's report in context.

Do you agree? Disagree? Please weigh in using the comments box below. You can also keep tabs on the comings and goings of the chip industry by adding any of these stocks to your Foolish watchlist:

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of Apple at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Google or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Intel. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Intel and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have also recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple and a diagonal call position in Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (3)

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  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2011, at 4:58 PM, mcva0953 wrote:

    The 'one chip ecosystem' : From a design perspective, I don't ever see this happening. Mobile small form factor devices have significantly different design considerations compared to an in place machine, a PC for instance.

    The PC has no limitation on power consumption or processing power (other than what the market can offer) making software design focus on programmatic performance instead of efficiency. A consolidated OS and App Store would be forced to comply to both the performance desires of a large form factor operator, and the efficiency perspective of a mobile operator.

    These two features of programming and hardware are inversely correlated, meaning that the resulting programming would be somewhere between the two ideals, making it perform poorly everywhere.

    A more reasonable outcome would be a tiered environment where there are unique operating systems and programming that are custom tailored for a particular environment, say a mobile phone versus a PC. This is really what we have right now, though it is just coming into being. With the tiered programming, you also get tiered hardware, a chip that produces top performance without significant power considerations versus a chip that puts efficiency first.

    Lastly a comment on the 'iLife' concept where many smart devices talk to each other.

    This concept doesn't require a unified physical architecture to become reality. In reality, a unified communications standard would be the requirement for this intercommunication between devices. While this may not be the ultimate solution, the internet is a very good example of such a communication architecture. I think my point here is that the possibility is there but not really linked to a hardware standard. Communication between devices is handled on a much higher level than a physical one, and as such, can be handled through programming rather than hardware, a much more cost effective solution to the issue.

  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2011, at 6:22 PM, jimstead wrote:

    ios *is* os x.

    Apple removed things like device drivers, unix utilities, and user interface widgets that make sense only on a mac. And they added things that are specific to small devices, like touch.

    The same underlying OS has been tuned for more than one specialized purpose, which is something that they've done with this technology for many years. What is it that you think they are going to "integrate", specifically?

  • Report this Comment On October 10, 2011, at 9:16 PM, techy46 wrote:

    "To be fair, there's no rule that says a chip architecture needs just one operating system. Intel and Advanced Micro Devices create designs that work across Windows PCs, Macs, and Linux boxes."

    Processors are not designed to run an OS. An OS is designed to be configured to run on as many processors as beneficial and practical. An OS can be modular with different modules configured for different processors. A smart phone with touch screen requires WIFI and touch UI modules but not necessariy DVD or printer modules. Likewise, processors can be modular and configured and scaled to target different devices. An Intel Atom for smart phones may have different processor modules than an Atom for notebooks. Proprietary hardware and software could be less than benefical in the long run.

  • Report this Comment On October 11, 2011, at 8:58 AM, rav55 wrote:

    Apple never really had a cohesive design philosophy until they developed the iPod. Apple hired talent then Steve Jobs cherry picked their ideas. It was Jobs vision that saw ideas and concepts distilled into innovation.

  • Report this Comment On October 11, 2011, at 10:44 AM, mtechac wrote:

    I agree, if Apple will buy AMD and it's Fusion architecture, they will rule the PC and embedded hardware and software world and all OS's. It will be the end of Intel and Microsoft as we know it.

    The AMD Fusion architecture does not really need to be x86 and they already ahve embeded devices that are OpenCL compliant, so they will have most of the hardware and base software in place.

    Intel is too greedy and does not have an APU of the quality AMD have. Faster CPU chips are nice but you need real GPU performance/technology with crossfire/sli type technology.

    I can just imagine how the world of hardware and software will change for ever if Apple buys AMD, which it can have for a bargain right now..!!

    @realtechwiz: If apple bought AMD they wouldn't have any competition in the future. They already have the building blocks

  • Report this Comment On October 11, 2011, at 9:55 PM, baldheadeddork wrote:

    @ Tim - Funny that you're a finance guy who read this story and was impressed by the tech, while I'm a tech guy whose first thought was that proprietary chips puts Apple at a major cost disadvantage.

    It's especially surprising given Apple's not-distant history. Apple basically had proprietary chips on their desktop and laptop computers until five years ago, and they were unable to compete with Intel on performance or cost. How is it going to be different against Intel, Qualcomm and nVidia?

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