How far back does your knowledge of Apple’s chip problems go? Way, way back in the day, Apple chose a then powerful Motorola design to compete with the personal computers running CP/M and DOS. The Apple II and the Mac did well. For awhile.
As the years progressed, Intel’s CPUs improved and Apple felt the performance pain and went into a partnership with IBM and Motorola to design and build a series of CPUs– the PowerPC consortium– to compete with PCs that ran Intel Inside. Years later, as the AIM alliance waned thanks to low sales volume, Apple switched the Mac to Intel. That ended the company’s chip problems, right?
iPhone Chips Redux
Today, the Mac is all Intel Inside and that means Apple is beholden to Intel’s product schedule just like every other PC manufacturer. But at least the Mac is on a level playing field. What about the iPhone?
Years ago Steve Jobs recognized that Apple should not be beholden to component makers and Apple bought it’s own chip design firm. From that purchase came the A-series CPUs that run in the iPhone and iPad; chips that get kudos for running rings around the mobile competition these days.
Problem solved, right? Apple can’t be beat by PC makers on the Mac, and the iPhone goes its own way a performance winner. Except for one thing. Qualcomm, the company that makes a competitor to Apple’s A-series CPUs, and the same company that sells modem chips to almost every mobile device maker. Including Apple.
For Apple, it’s the 1980s and 1990s all over again. The iPhone maker needs Qualcomm’s modem chips thanks to the company’s lead in CDMA and LTE. Both are locked in a billion dollar lawsuit thanks to monopoly pricing that makes such chipsets more expensive– for Apple– than they should be. Apple can’t design its own modem chipsets– yet– so enter chip giant Intel which can. And does.
As of now, Intel is ramping up production of the new XMM7650 modem chipset to take on Qualcomm’s X16 as the major players in gigabit LTE devices. Guess which chipset Apple plans to use? Qualcomm? Or, Intel? Apple and Intel could be another good marriage. Apple needs a different source for modem chipsets beyond Qualcomm. Intel needs somebody, anybody, to buy some of its mobile chips and Apple buys a few hundred million each year.
If this works out well for Apple and Intel, Qualcomm’s sales could experience a heady drop later in 2017 and 2018, while Intel gets a much needed bump from an unexpected source. Apple.
Yet, this situation smacks of the Motorola and IBM alliance from the 1980s. It went sour for Apple, which explains why the company bought a chip design company which makes chipsets for iPhone, iPad, Beats headphones, and the new AirPods. Apple wants and needs to design its own chips. For the foreseeable future, Apple’s alliance with Intel may prove even more beneficial for the iPhone than it did for the Mac.
Apple remains in the same position its been in since the company’s beginning.