Intel to make iPad chips (and make itself a commodity?)

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There've been a flurry of reports that have Intel taking over the job of making the chips that go into iPads and iPhones, most of which seem traceable back to this CNet report, which in turn casts the move as an effect of Intel buying Infineon, and this EE Times piece, which has Intel wooing Apple for this business. While Apple designs the ARM-based chips that go into its iOS devices itself, it contracts the job of actually manufacturing them to other companies; right now the main supplier is Samsung, and that relationship got more awkward when Apple sued Samsung over supposed patent infringements and then Samsung sued Apple back.

The short-term logic for Intel seems simple enough: Apple is selling millions of gadgets that don't make any money for Intel. Intel has a huge amount of chipmaking capacity, and could probably make A6 chips or whatever for Apple more cheaply than anybody else. Everybody wins! Except in the sense that the move would essentially be an admission of defeat on Intel's part when it comes to mobile. The chipsets inside Macs are Intel-designed; Apple went to Intel for these chips looking for the sort of leadership in chipmaking that, in their view, only Intel can provide. If Intel takes this job on, though, the power relation will be reversed: the company will simply be a manufacturer for whatever designs Apple hands over to them, and Apple could easily go elsewhere if it get a better deal.

Intel's mobility chief left earlier this year as a sign that its mobile strategy had failed, with Atom chips being boxed out of smartphones and tablets. But Intel takes on this job, they'll at least be making some money in that market -- but not on their terms.

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