a gleaming target for semiconductor firms. It makes the world's best selling tablet -- the iPad --
and controls a major chunk of the smartphone market with
And while Apple's personal computers -- iMacs and MacBooks -- still trail
industry giants Dell Inc. (DELL)
and Hewlett-Packard Company (HPQ)
in sales, in Q1 2011 they posted 9.6 percent growth, while competitors
overall saw a 10.7 percent sales decline. Apple currently sits in fourth
place in PC sales in the U.S.
I. Intel Feels Pressure to Try to Cling to MacBook Position
The world's biggest chipmaker, Intel Corp. (INTC), delivered
comments at the Reuters Global
Technology Summit in New York on Wednesday indicating that
making sure Apple continued to use its CPUs in their MacBooks was a critical
Intel is under pressure from two sides. On the x86 architecture side, it
faces a surging Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD)
whose power savvy Fusion GPU+CPU chips are seeing
strong pickup among other PC makers. Apple recently switched
many of its MacBooks from using NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA)
graphics cards to using AMD cards, so the pair already have a
To make matters worse, it also faces pressure from ARM. ARM Holdings plc
is preparing to next year launch a new design which will feature up to 16 cores, clocked at up to 2.5 GHz.
The chief advantage of ARM cores is that they're more efficient than rival x86
designs. For that reason, tablets and smartphones have almost exclusively used ARM where battery
life is of utmost importance.
Intel has a couple advantages. First, its current CPU architectures are
conducive for higher clock speeds than ARM, making them a better fit for high
performance laptops like the MacBook Pro line. Secondly, Intel enjoys a healthy lead in manufacturing processes, which
helps mitigate some of ARM's architectural power efficiency advantages and
AMD's GPU design advantages.
II. Could ARM Give Intel the Boot?
Intel senior vice president Tom Kilroy addressed the media commenting,
"We work very closely with them [Apple] and we're constantly looking down
the road at what we can be doing relative to future products. I'd go as far as
to say Apple helps shape our roadmap. Apple -- they push us hard."
But he refused to confirm that Intel, who makes around 80 percent of the
world's CPUs, has received any assurance from Apple of long term MacBook
Intel scored a win earlier this month when Google Inc. (GOOG) announced
that the first Chrome OS notebooks from Taiwan's
Acer Inc. (2353)
and South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. (005930) would feature Intel Atom chips.
However, Intel faces pressure on that front too. Many commenters,
including some here at DailyTech complained that the $350-$500
price range for the early "ChromeBooks" was too expensive -- they
were hoping for $200 designs. While part of the problem is the large
screens used, another obstacle is the Atom chip, which remains pricier than
lower clocked, but power-savvy ARM alternatives. Google may opt to
release ARM ChromeBooks in the near future, and when it does, they may be
cheaper than the Intel models.
The world's largest OS maker Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)
has already committed to support ARM with its
next version of Windows, a sign that the tide may be turning against Intel.
Intel has blasted the decision saying that the
Microsoft and ARM will be delivering customers a substandard experience.
In the face of uncertain times with Microsoft and Google, Intel clearly wants
to hang on to its Apple foothold. However, with Apple saying that its upcoming version of OS X, OS X "Lion"
(10.7) will be more "iOS-like", it is questionable whether it will be
able to dissuade Apple from launching ARM powered models.
Apple hasn't seemed overly concerned in the past about adopting slight slower
hardware to pursue its goals of attractive battery life and ultra-portable
design. And Apple is relentless in ever trying to expand its profit
margin. Thus the cheaper, more power efficient ARM designs may give Intel
significant grief over the next year in Apple offerings, much as they are doing
with Windows PCs.
That's concerning as Intel has had virtually no success, thus far, in trying to
counter-attack ARM's holding in the tablet and smartphone sector.