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Analyst says Intel lags behind Apple in mobile chips

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Apple (s aapl) has a serious advantage over an unusual competitor in a market with lots of future potential, according to Piper Jaffray senior analyst Gus Richard in a research note (via CNET) published this week. Richard says that Apple’s know-how and direction in mobile chips trumps that of Intel’s, (s intc) despite the latter company’s focus on processors.

Richard mainly compares the two companies to illustrate different approaches to chip making. Intel creates general-use chips that can be plugged into a wide range of devices and focuses on beefing up processing power exponentially. Apple, on the other hand, creates system-on-a-chip (SoC) solutions that are tailor-made for specific uses; the A5 that powers the iPhone 4S and iPad is a perfect example.

Since Apple’s chips are designed specifically for a limited set of hardware, their development is streamlined, according to Richard, and includes perks like “longer battery life, instant on and a fast connection” that require “lower power” and therefore appear to outperform more-powerful processors from the likes of Intel, at least in consumer eyes.

Intel has plans to create SoC designs, however; its Haswell chip, planned for 2013, will embrace an approach more akin to Apple’s, designed for laptops and tablets. Intel is also a chip foundry, while Apple is not. That gives it more of a leg up when it comes to actually getting its chips made, since it isn’t subject to outside market forces like Apple’s legal problems with Samsung.

Even still, Intel may be more in competition with Apple than it might appear at first glance. Apple, of course, will in no way become a chip maker for outside companies and probably will never license its chip designs for use by competitors. But if it makes faster progress with creating hardware-specific SoC processors that provide the benefits listed above (low power consumption, faster boot and better battery life) while also allowing for the kind of performance consumers are looking for in a notebook, we could see Apple shift to in-house designs for future notebooks. It’s something the company is reported to have already actively tested, after all.

Intel is taking lots of steps to improve its mobile presence, including plans to integrate NFC capabilities into its chipsets. But Richard makes at least one good point with his comparison. Apple isn’t waiting around to see how things shake out, especially when it comes to mobile devices, and it has instead been at the forefront of a new mobile processing design charge.

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