Apple Silicon’s risky chip strategy challenged Apple in several ways

Apple’s move away from Intel to Apple Silicon was a difficult bet, and a profile of Johny Srouji revealed challenges, including an internal debate over component design, as well as the timing of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Apple’s resurgence of the Mac and MacBook series is largely due to its creation and implementation of the M1 chip series, where its Apple Silicon components are able to outperform its competitors. A profile of Johny Srouji, Apple’s SVP of Hardware Technologies, sheds more light on the design thinking behind the creation of Apple Silicon.

Apple had built a team to include thousands of engineers working on the company’s silicon for the iPhone and iPad. Limited by the limitations of working from a battery, the team’s designs also allowed for deep integration with the hardware to complete tasks that designers wanted their ranges to perform.

However, a flashpoint emerged in 2017 when tech bloggers spoke to executives, reports Wall Street Journal, where Apple apologizes for flaws in their professional Macs. Following continued complaints about low performance through the use of Intel chips, Apple intensified its efforts to switch away from the chip maker.

The change led to debate in Apple, Srouji confirmed, as computer manufacturers do not usually design such important components internally. The move was considered risky, in part because the team had to design a chip architecture that would work from the cheapest Mac mini to the most expensive Mac Pro.

“First of all, if we do this, can we deliver better products?” said Srouji about the debate. “That’s Question No. 1. It’s not about the chip. Apple is not a chip company.”

The team then had to find out if it could deliver the chip, while increasing the number to handle other projects and technological changes. “I do not do it once and call it a day,” Srouji adds. “It’s year after year after year. It’s a huge effort.”

The process prompted Apple to expand its chip strategy to Mac computers, complete with a scalable architecture. A former engineer told the report that Srouji’s team had suddenly become a key point in product development, increasing Srouji’s influence over time.

COVID-19 became a potential problem for Apple Silicon’s development, with mandates for telework affecting chip validation before production began. Instead of the usual process of getting engineers to see chips through microscopes in a plant, Srouji helped implement a process in which cameras were used to perform the inspection externally.

The rapid implementation was necessary to avoid any delay in production, but was rapid due to the size and spread of Srouji’s team. Distributed around the world, the group was very familiar with working via video calls across time zones.

“What I learned in life: You think through all the things you can control, and then you have to be flexible and adaptable and strong enough to navigate when things are not going according to plan,” Srouji said in an interview. “COVID, for example, was one.”

Apple is currently preparing to host its WWDC event in June, one that could see the company introduce the next generation of its Apple Silicon strategy. Rumor has it that Apple is working on introducing M2 chips in an updated MacBook Air and MacBook Pro later in 2022, which Apple may tease at the developer conference.