Apple, Intel Strengthen Partnership: Intel to Start Making Chips for iPhone, iPad?

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Another week, another Apple rumor.  Unlike most, however, this one doesn’t have anything to do with the next generation of iPhone, iPad, or Mac – not exactly. Last week, Intel announced that they were going to open up their production facilities to take orders for chips produced by 3rd parties. Intel still owns their fabrication facilities, unlike AMD, who spun theirs out to form GlobalFoundries a few years ago.

The move is thought to come at a time when Intel is more vulnerable than they have been in the last several years – the increased pressure on the company from the mobile sector has Intel finally investing in the sorts of chip technology that would allow them to compete in the smartphone and tablet space. 

Intel Apple CPU

Adding in chip production from other parties, however, gives Intel the necessary cash to fund those chip efforts, and to upgrade their production facilities. The company is currently pushing chips out along a 22nm manufacturing process, with the next node 14nm, currently scheduled to go live sometime in 2014. The 14nm line is considered to be particularly difficult, as the involved technologies are getting so small that fundamental physical effects, such as quantum tunnelling, are starting to make an impact on performance.

Those issues mean that this research is getting more expensive than ever, and Intel’s new partners could be the solution.

According to Reuters, one of those new partners could be Apple. Apple has recently started sampling new A6X production chips from manufacturer TSMC, thought to be an attempt to wean themselves from reliance upon Samsung’s component manufacturing. There has been substantial rivalry between the two companies in the past year, and the legal and financial friction is straining their component relationship, components that power all the mobile devices Apple makes (some displays, flash, CPUs, etc).

By moving to Intel, Apple could regain a competitive advantage by pushing their mobile chips onto a 14nm manufacturing process. It’s an attractive goal, and one that could keep the company catapulting over the competition in the mobile space. Intel, likewise, could use the opportunity to prove themselves as a dominant player in the mobile sphere, experience that the company could then leverage to sell its mobile-oriented line of Atom CPUs.

Samsung is also working on the next-generation, 14nm process for ARM chips; in the end, Apple may decide to keep its enemies closest.

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