Apple M1 Minority Report — Another Phase Change

Thimble Peak, Kirkwood, CA 2019

Many reports talk about Apple’s M1 chip. Here I would like to provide a few different opinions: how it helps Mac’s bottom line, re-enforces its competitive advantages and a new phase of SoC for PC.

Bottom Line —🤑

Again, Apple demonstrates it’s core competence as the top notch OEM by squeeze every last drop of mile from its cash cow. Wccftech estimated Apple could save $2.5 B a year by switching to its M1 chip.

Obvious Intel is taking the direct hits. But if I’m other top PC OEMs, I won’t be too contactable with the recent situational 13% grow. Rather, I’ll be very worry about Apple will eat my lunch further soon too. After all in a mature market, the name of the game is Zero-sum.

Canalys: PC market shipments grow a stellar 13% in Q3 2020 to break 10-year record

Long Term Competitive Advantages

Cost saving is great, but not likely it’s only motivations. To understand that, let’s take a step back to see a bigger picture. Porter’s Value Chain is very useful framework for companies to strategize for competitive advantages. We can re-frame it as the Value Stack to fit Apple’s Platform Economy better.

The top-level value stack of consumer computing universe.

Oh the middle, there is no much today. Because the end game of mobile platform war had been set long ago as a trilogy: 1 timing the start right, 2 invincible speed by vertical integration & 3 scaling for 100x by open platform.

Bonus: there will continue many regional/vertical platform wars on the edges. 2 extended markets are most interesting to me: A. Smart Watch as the personal health touch point & B. Smart Car as the transportation touch point. But, they are stories for other days.

Another Phase Change

System on a Chip is the mini-steel mills eating CPU/GPU’s lunch. SoC may started humbly for small systems because power & cost saving is more important than high computing power. Thanks to the mobile revolution, SoC become a key driver of the IC fabrication technology toward a hard physical limit (around 0.2nm with circuits 1 atom wide). Where local bus technologies, e.g. Peripheral Component Interconnect just can not keep up against it. Furthermore, all computing units(CPU, GPU, Neural Engine & more) are accessing the same Unified Memory pool. No more copying between different memory pools as other PCs do. It is a big performance boost & power saving. And the gap will be even bigger as image/video resolutions increases and more sophisticate AI use cases. As Disruptive Innovation theory predicts SoC in mobile, a low-end disruption gradually taking over the higher end markets, notebooks used to dominate by CPU/GPU.

How low-end disruption occurs over time.

According to Apple M1 is:

  • 3.9X faster video processing & 7.1X faster image processing. Thanks to its Unified Memory Architecture.
  • 2X faster CPU performance or only using 25% of the power for the same performance.
  • 2X faster GPU performance or only using 33% power for the same performance.

This is a phase change will not be reverted. And, now you know a bit more why NVIDIA is paying $40 B to acquire ARM.

Apple M1’s Unified Memory Architecture
Apple M1: CPU performance vs. power
Apple M1: GPU performance vs. power

The opinions stated here are my own, not those of my company. Furthermore, considering them are thought experiments & open to debate, because strategy changes nothing without proper execution.

A Taiwanese lives in Silicon Valley since 2014 & has random opinions on some stuff. The opinions shared here are my own, not those of companies I work for.

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