Apple A4, Intel Atom and Mac OS X - a quick thought.

Ever wonder why Apple removed support for Intel’s Atom processors in the latest update release of Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6.2)? Even though Apple hasn’t released a Mac that ran on Atom processors, previous builds of Leopard and Snow Leopard would boot and run on Atom machines, noticeably all those tiny netbooks floating around, like the Dell Mini 9/10. The “hackintosh” community was all over this. Now, since the release of 10.6.2, attempting to install (hack) OS X onto a machine running an Atom will simply not work (without some modding at the kernel level of the OS).

Now why would Apple do this? The first simple answer would be that it’s one way to prevent people from installing OS X non-Mac hardware. Yet, you can still install OS X onto computers running other processors. Why single-out Atoms?

Now, after Apple announced the iPad and their shiny in-house-designed A4 chip, another scenario seems to pop into mind. The A4 chip is a competitor to the Intel Atom chip - reasonably fast and super low power. Perfect for those ultra-mobile devices. Perhaps Apple-designed chips are not destined for just iPads (and next-gen iPhones)?

This article from describes this scenario really well. I think Apple dropped support for Intel Atoms from OS X because it has no plans to have a Mac with an Intel Atom processor. Instead they will use their own chips.

How would you like to see the next generation MacBook Air running some variant of an A4 (A5?) chip with nice speed and crazy-awesome battery life? How about a similar iPad-like month-long standby time allowing you to have an “always on” MacBook Air running Mac OS X? While the current A4 is too under-powered for this, perhaps the next iteration ARM design with dual-core (Cortex A9?) capabilities will find its way in there. Who knows?