updated 05:58 am EST, Thu March 7, 2013
Intel in talks with Apple on mobile chip fabrication
Intel has been in discussions with Apple to fabricate its ARM-based A-series designs, reports Reuters. Executives from the two companies have been investigating the possibility of a contract manufacturing deal that would get Intel into the mobile space, while helping Apple extricate itself from its ties with Samsung. The report follows a similar rumor that first surfaced in mid-2012, which suggested that Intel was targeting Apple’s mobile chip business, albeit with its own x86-based designs.
At the time, Intel CEO Paul Otellini was aiming to get Apple to adopt its low-power Atom-class mobile chips, not fabricate Apple's ARM-designs. Until recently, Otellini’s mission has been to "ensure [Intel's] silicon is so compelling [that Apple] can't ignore us." Eight months further along and that possibility still seems unlikely given the overall performance per watt advantage that Apple is able to achieve from its custom A-series designs. While the UK-based ARM Holdings designs compete directly with Intel’s x86 architecture, and notwithstanding the fact that Intel sold off its ARM-based Xscale operations to Marvell, fabricating Apple A-series chips still gets Intel into the mobile market.
In addition to offering Intel economies of scale by potentially utilizing idle foundry time, it gives it a sizeable chunk of Apple’s multi-billion dollar chip fabrication business; even if it doesn’t stand to make as much money from such a deal by selling its own x86 chip designs to Apple. It could be considered a ‘Plan B’ option for Apple’s business, but one which still makes sense for Intel, especially given its apparent inability develop a competitive mobile chip in the six years since the iPhone, and later the iPad, reshaped the mobile device landscape.
Apple and Intel already have a close working relationship. In the years since Apple switched from IBM PowerPC chips, the two companies have collaborated on ‘tailored-for-Apple’ x86 chip and motherboard designs. The two also collaborated on Intel’s super high-speed Thunderbolt I/O technology. While this may have been strained by Intel’s inability to have Apple integrate one of its low-power chips into shipping product, Apple’s fractured relationship with Samsung lends substantial credibility to a possible hook-up on mobile chip fabrication.