Over at Seeking Alpha, contributor Alcaraz Research suggested that Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) upcoming iPad Pro tablet could use a microprocessor sourced from Intel (NASDAQ:INTC). Its argument hinges on the notion that key productivity software suites -- such as Photoshop, AutoCAD, and Final Cut Pro) -- currently only run on systems running Intel-compatible (i.e., x86) processors.
I don't agree with Alcaraz Research and firmly believe that the rumored iPad Pro -- when and if it actually hits the market -- will feature an Apple-designed system-on-chip rather than an Intel processor. Here are three reasons why.
1. The software argument doesn't hold up
Alcaraz Research rightly points out that the software ecosystem around traditional PC operating systems running x86 processors -- at least for professional applications -- is more robust than that on the mobile-centric iOS.
However, Apple is not a company known for putting out half-baked products with minimal software ecosystems. If Apple is serious about pushing the iPad Pro as a productivity device, then I am fairly confident that the company is working closely with top software vendors to ensure that crucial software suites make their way to iOS.
2. Speaking of software...
Although the iPad Pro is expected to be targeted at more "professional" use, the device still needs to be viable as an iPad. To do this, it would make the most sense for Apple to have this device run iOS and not, say, a flavor of Mac OS.
For Apple to build an x86-compatible iPad, it would first need to port iOS to x86. After that, it would need to mandate that developers port over their iOS applications to run on this x86-compatible version of iOS.
Given that the existing iPads won't be moved to x86, nor will the iPhone, developers would needlessly need to submit multiple versions of each of their applications to the App Store in support of this odd-man-out x86-powered iPad Pro.
3. Apple's mobile applications processors are really good
Although I still believe that at PC-class performance levels, Intel processors will remain the gold standard for the foreseeable future, Apple's home-grown applications processors are quite good for what they're designed for.
The Apple A8X found in last year's iPad Air 2 already delivers strong CPU and graphics performance, and it will only get better with this year's A9X. The A9X probably won't be in the same league as a high-end Intel Skylake-based Core M processor in terms of CPU/graphics performance, but it should still be plenty fast and deliver a smooth user experience.
"Intel Inside" the iPad Pro is simply wishful thinking
Although the idea has been much talked about, I think that the odds of Intel supplying applications processors into Apple's iPad Pro (or any iPad, really) outside of a semiconductor foundry deal are only infinitesimally north of zero.
Apple has invested heavily in building up substantial semiconductor talent and I expect it to leverage this talent wherever it makes sense to. I don't think Apple will boot Intel out of its Mac family of products (Intel's PC processors are quite excellent), but for all of its non-Mac needs today and going forward, I expect the company to use internally designed applications processors.