Will Apple Really Cut Ties with Intel? Signs and Indications

7 Nov

Steve Jobs and Intel CEO Paul Otellini during the Macworld 2006 keynote

According to a recent article from Bloomberg, Apple’s much rumored plans to ditch Intel in favor of designing—as well as creating— its own custom chips may in fact happen, although no confirmatory statements have been released as of yet. The suggestion was provided by anonymous sources allegedly familiar with the Cupertino company’s research operations as well as Tim Cook’s long term vision. As more and more Apple devices begin to share “similar features,” the allegation is that the Cupertino company will eventually be capable of creating a consistent and universal chip architecture, one that will not only be applicable to mobile iOS products, but also to all the eventual Mac desktops and Macbook lines as well. Stacey Higginbotham, from Gigaom, noted in a recent article how such an outcome will only a matter of time, going as far as to state that ARM-based chips may eventually become the norm for all future Mac devices.

For anyone who’d been keepingtrack of Apple’s movements and past relationship with chipmakers (ie. PowerPC), the aforementioned news should evoke a familiar feeling. Much like when the initial slew of Apple-Intel rumors sprung up a few months ago (as covered in one of our early articles), indications of a potential split between Apple and the world’s largest chip maker were not just noted by observers, but also widely discussed as well.

Evidences for the Potential Separation

Future Apple products to eventually feature universal chip architecture? (picture credit: icreatemagazine)

Among the early hints of the Cupertino firm’s potential future move worth mentioning is the major acquisition involving P.A. Semi, which Bloomberg indicate was clearly intended to facilitate the development of custom chips that are applicable to devices beyond mobile products. Given Intel’s specialty in PC-oriented chips, there’s hardly any question that Apple desktops and notebooks are a major part of the acquisition’s potential priorities. Subsequent indicators include: the unveiling of the iPhone 5’s powerful, custom-designed A6 chip (a testament to Apple’s potential in the chip designing area), the gradually fading ties with Samsung’s chipmaking departments, Apple’s supposed interest in “merging” the Mac OS and iOS platforms, and the granting of chip researching authority to Senior Vice President of Technologies Bob Mansfield (a move suggesting that Apple’s increasing commitment, as well as interest in, the semiconductor field).

A look into Intel’s own operations also makes it appear sensible for Apple to contemplate about an eventual split. Both Bloomberg and Gigaom have made a note of the struggling PC industry and the increased difficulties the chip maker will face with regards to providing “fast” and “low power” chips that suits Apple’s needs. As the Cupertino company’s notebooks and desktops grow lighter and thinner by each year, the company’s demand for powerful chips that are efficient –to the point that they do not compromise overall performance– is becoming all the more apparent.

Potential “What Ifs”

At this point, no official decisions or comments have announced from either sides. Bloomberg suggested that a transition may happen at around 2017, although made note of the possibility of no movements taking place at all. Should Apple eventually be able to take over the design and manufacturing helm for all of its major product components, there’s little question as to the saved costs and time that company will enjoy. However, there’s also no telling how successful Apple will be in creating future ARM chips significantly more “powerful” than the current A6 CPU, and whether Intel will in fact be unable to come up with efficient chips that fulfill Apple’s future needs.

Given the potential time it takes for chips designs to be created and tested, for the next few years, at least, one can reasonably assume the relationship between Apple and Intel to remain intact.

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