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Intel talking to Apple about mobile chips, but Apple probably isn’t listening

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The big buzz out of CES on Thursday is that Intel (s intc) has been “talking” to Apple,(s aapl) among other manufacturers, about using its new line of Medfield chips in upcoming mobile devices. But the discussions are clearly very preliminary, judging by Intel VP Dave Whalen’s comments (via Telegraph), and I would argue they are more about Intel’s making overtures than Apple’s responding.

Whalen said that the company has been “talking to everybody” about Medfield and that the company first “took a conscious decision to focus on Android,” since “at the moment [Intel’s] customers are asking for Android” but that iOS remains a consideration as it continues to grow. But Apple has little reason to want to open its arms to Intel’s mobile processors and plenty of reason to keep them closed, in fact.

It’s not that Intel’s efforts aren’t praiseworthy: The company needs a strong mobile platform, and Medfield looks strong. It’s an SoC that seems like it can hold its own with ARM’s (s armh) latest, and there is even good reason to believe it will have a strong foothold in the Android market a year from now, not the least of which is Motorola’s endorsement of the platform.

But don’t expect to see Apple’s mobile devices rush to embrace x86 architecture anytime soon. Cupertino has done a lot to make sure that it maintains total control over its chip designs, which are based on licensed ARM architecture. It has acquired two chip-making firms and no doubt worked out extensive, high-volume fabrication contracts with chip-making partners like Samsung to ensure that it can deliver an SoC that is carefully tailored to work with its mobile software and hardware. That affords it advantages when it comes to system performance, power consumption and more; so much of an advantage, in fact, that an analyst recently said Apple had a leg up on Intel when it came to mobile chips.

Apple may have switched to Intel from PowerPC, a tech it helped create, for its Mac line of computers, but the mobile market is not the PC market. Intel still has plenty to prove when it comes to its ability to operate in the realm of smartphones and tablets, and for now, Apple has invested years of development time and huge amounts of money in making ARM-based designs that perfectly suit its software and hardware.

Apple’s recent acquisition of Anobit shows that it wants more, not less control over its product components. That desire for control combined with Whalen’s caginess when talking about Apple specifically lead me to believe it will still be a long time (if ever) before we see Intel architecture in an iOS device.

4 Responses to “Intel talking to Apple about mobile chips, but Apple probably isn’t listening”

  1. The bottom line is that intel would have to offer a quantum performance or pricing advantage – otherwise intel dictates the chip roadmap – apple wants to avoid for the reason others might get the same chip earlier … So yes, unlikely for apple to switch … Certainly inthe nextb2-3 years …

  2. As always, it may turn out that the competitive element will be the one that forces Apple to go to Intel mobile processors. From everything I read, Intel will have a 3 to 4 year lead in process technology. If when Intel starts shipping 22nm and 14nm processors and the foundries remain at 28nm, the power/performance differentiation of the processors will be evident. Guess what will Apple have to do? Of course, we just have to wait and see how the future unfolds…

    • I’ll believe that when I see it. Still, Apple’s approach has been about using the best technology available (according to their own metric), and about avoiding the kind of pigheaded blindness that leaves them dependent on another company which fails to deliver for its own reasons. Intel’s Ultrabook initiative shows that they don’t make a particularly good strategic partner for a market leader.