Future iPhones could feature Intel Inside, but Apple is not switching from its in-house ARM designs nor is Intel returning to the ARM ecosystem; rather, the company is reportedly working hard to gain the first major design win for its modem chip business unit.
That Intel missed the boat on the rise of the smartphone is not news. While the company had produced a family of low-power ARM chips, it had long left the market to concentrate on x86 when the smartphone revolution kicked into high gear. Back in 2013, at the time new chief executive Brian Krzanich admitted its delayed entry into the market
had cost the company dearly, but uptake for its Atom processors and modem chips has been nearly non-existent: in the third quarter of 2014, Intel's mobile arm made a $1 billion loss on just $1 million in revenue - down from a $353 million revenue a year earlier. The problem became so bad that Intel absorbed the mobile arm into its PC Client group
in November 2014 to hide the mounting losses.
Now, the company could have its first major win - and as clients go, this one doesn't come any bigger. According to sources speaking to VentureBeat
, Intel has 1,000 engineers working to tweak its latest 7360 Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G modem chip to Apple's requirements, and the Cupertino-based company will start using the part in the iPhone models launching next year.
For Intel, it's a coup - but it's not a total victory. Much like its processors, which now come from two separate companies to lesson its reliance on a single vendor, Apple is looking to split the risk: it will continue to source modem parts from Qualcomm, its current single-source vendor, using them for approximately half its needs and Intel for the other half. Given the number of iPhones and LTE-capable iPads Apple shifts, though, it would spell a major win for Intel in the mobile arena.
Bigger news, again attributed to unnamed sources, is that Intel may even be getting back into the ARM game again - at least at one remove. VentureBeat also reports that Apple is looking to design a heavily-integrated system-on-chip (SoC) part which would combine both ARM CPU and LTE modem - and that it would be looking to Intel to build it. The company would not, however, have much of a say in its design: it would simply be used, like long-term chip partner Samsung, as a manufacturing partner for building the actual silicon.
Neither Apple nor Intel have commented on the sources' claims.