Apple Relationship With Intel Reportedly Heading For Divorce


Apple is reportedly considering ditching Intel chips for its Mac portfolio in favour of its own, ARM-based processors

More bad news may be on the way for chip giant Intel, after reports suggest that Apple is considering dropping its chips from its Macintosh product portfolio.

Apple is considering switching away from using Intel chips in its iMac personal computers and MacBooks, in favour of an in-house option based on designs from Intel rival ARM Holdings, according to reports from Bloomberg, which quoted three people familiar with the company’s research, but who asked to remain anonymous because the plans are ‘confidential.’

Failure To Impress

The report states that Apple engineers are increasingly confident that the chip designs Apple is using in its iPad and iPhones will be powerful enough to use in desktop and laptops.

Apple began using Intel chips in its computers back in 2005, after it stopped using processors from Motorola and IBM, because the Intel chips offered faster speeds with less heat.

But Apple engineers have reportedly fallen out of love with Intel’s offerings, partly due to the power consumption of Intel’s chips, and partly because of the amount of space they take up. Apple wants low-power chips that must must also be thinner and lighter, in order to better tie in with its minimalist design philosophy.

The Bloomberg sources pointed to the MacBook Air, which has less room for the batteries needed to keep Intel’s powerful chips running all day. Matters came to a head apparently in late 2011 when Apple was developing the thinner version of the MacBook line that boasts the power hungry retina display. Intel failed to convince Apple it was serious about focusing on low-powered chips.

After that Apple executives reportedly met repeatedly with Intel to discuss the problem, and Apple then informed the chip giant it was “examining ways to use its own chips in the Mac line”.

Of course Intel did begin offering the low-powered Atom-based family and this did go some way to allaying Apple’s concerns. Intel’s apparent pledge to prioritise power conservation reportedly led some within Apple to conclude the company has a few years before it needs to make any change, if it makes a switch at all, Bloomberg’s source said.

Apple at the moment remains committed to using Intel chips in its computers and is therefore unlikely to switch in the next couple of years. But Bloomberg reported that some engineers say a shift to its own designs is “inevitable” as the features of mobile devices and PCs become more alike.

If this move does pan out, it will be a big blow for Intel’s hopes as it seeks to take the fight to British chip designer ARM Holdings.

Apple declined to comment to Bloomberg or us about the reports, while Intel referred Bloomberg’s questions on Apple’s plans to Apple.

ARM Rivalry

ARM is certainly eyeing a move into Intel’s traditional stomping ground, and is developing low powered chips for enterprise servers.

Intel meanwhile is struggling with a stagnating market for Windows PCs, as well as a tiny presence in the mobile space. And the fear is that Apple’s move may well result in other companies following suit.

“Apple is a trendsetter, and once they did their own chip many others may pursue a similar path,”  Sergis Mushell, an analyst at Gartner is quoted as saying. “If mobility is more important than functionality, then we will have a completely different environment than we are dealing with today.”

This is not the first time this rumour has surfaced, however. It was reported back in May 2011 that Apple officials had decided to use ARM chips within the next two to three years for its laptops and possibly desktops.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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