Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) today announced updates to its 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro and its 27-inch iMacs. These latest iterations of the systems still feature Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) Haswell processors, which were introduced in 2013 and refreshed in 2014.
This lack of an upgrade in the 27-inch iMac isn't much of a surprise given that the "true" successors to the higher-performance Haswell-based desktop processors won't come until later this year when Intel launches Skylake. The shocker for many, including myself, was that Apple seems to have skipped Intel's latest Broadwell for the refreshed 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro lineup, opting to stick with the Haswell processors.
What does this mean for Apple?
Apple brought enough at the system level to make this a reasonably compelling refresh for the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro. The company added a Force Touch trackpad, sped up the flash storage subsystem, updated the discrete graphics chip for the higher-end configuration (base remains with integrated graphics), and increased battery capacity.
Although this means users won't gain an increase in CPU performance relative to the 2014 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro, I doubt Broadwell would have brought sufficient improvement over Haswell to get owners of 2013/2014 15-inch Retina MacBook Pros to upgrade anyway.
Finally, I suspect Apple is paying less for these "mature" Haswell processors than it would for a newer and more-expensive-to-make quad-core Broadwell chip. This might help Apple offset the system-level cost increases associated with incorporating a Force Touch trackpad and a larger battery into the device.
What does this mean for quad-core Broadwell?
Sticking with Haswell isn't likely to hurt Apple, but it does have some interesting implications for the higher-end quad-core Broadwell processor that was expected to launch in the middle of this year.
The 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro is one of the highest-volume designs that use Intel's CPUs with integrated Iris Pro graphics. I suspect the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro and the $1,299 21.5-inch iMac combined make up the majority of Intel's Iris Pro-based processor shipments.
Without the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro, the market for the Broadwell chip with Iris Pro becomes substantially smaller. This will be offset to some degree by Intel's plan to bring the quad-core Broadwell with Iris Pro graphics in socketed form to enthusiast desktop users.
That said, I suspect most enthusiasts will opt to either buy Haswell chips today or wait for unlocked Skylake chips, which should launch in just a couple months.
Intel needs to get the quad-core Skylake chips out soon
From a commercial standpoint, the quad-core Broadwell for mobile is more or less a lost cause. For whatever reason, it's not inside the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro, and although Apple could refresh the 21.5-inch iMac to include this chip, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Apple wait for Skylake before refreshing the system.
Intel now must roll out the quad-core mobile Skylake chips as quickly as possible. The chipmaker also needs to make sure that it rolls out the entire Skylake family much faster than it did Broadwell.
With the Haswell generation, Intel was powering the 2013 MacBook Air in June, and by October Apple was launching the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro with Iris Pro graphics. That's just four months for Intel to get all of its Haswell PC chips rolled out and in major quantities.
If we assume a quad-core Broadwell launch in June, then Intel will have taken about nine months (the first Core M chips launched in September) to launch all of the client Broadwell chips.
Now, suppose Intel can get its Skylake family out in roughly the same time it took to issue all of the Haswell parts. If we assume the initial wave of Skylake parts comes in the third quarter (as PC vendor Asus outright said in a recent investor presentation), then Intel might have the Skylake parts with Iris Pro graphics available for systems launching in late 2015/early 2016.