06 June 2006

Why Intel needs Apple too

I have posted before how Apple's relationship with Intel is a win-win. Not just did Apple need Intel, Intel needed Apple. I've no doubt that Intel has been more successful with the Core processors than had Apple not made such a splash with them. That seems poised to continue with the announcement expected today of the Core 2 range - Conroe (desktop), Woodcrest (Server) and Merom (mobile).

As one example of how Intel benefits, this post at Ars Technica is a good one. The post is about a variant of the Intel Conroe processor. Yet the article mentions Apple 3 times in a 4 paragraph piece, with no other computer manufacturer mentioned. In the discussions following the article, reader Blue02 writes:
"I love how, nowadays, whenever sites have info on a new Intel chip we automatically link it to new Apple products. What happened to Dell et al?"

And I think this neatly encapsulates one of the key values to Intel of the relationship. What Apple does is generally more newsworthy, and for the most part any news is good news in this regard for Intel. But I think it does go deeper than just the newsworthiness.

Imagination of what an Intel chip can do is postulated around the web. Result: Intel gets associated (quite rightly) with innovation. When did that happen in recent memory? Innovation has typically been seen only coming from the hardware and the operating system. If the hardware has been commoditised, then where does that leave the chip inside it? Intel was never in the consumer's eye. If it did innovate, it needed the cooperation of the hardware manufacturers and Microsoft - usually on their terms and their agenda. With Apple, Intel really does see a partner that can help it drive it's own innovation through being closer to the user. So, the relationship with Apple has both a PR value (which was desperately needed) and a longer-term R&D feedback value.

I drafted this post yesterday, and today I noticed in Infoworld this quote from Anand Chandrasekher, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's sales and marketing group on the same subject:

"They push us to think about things that we may not always think about...We were hoping for that to happen and that certainly happened....Apple's view of how the computer market will evolve has influenced Intel's product roadmap. That impact will be felt over the long term, rather than showing up soon."

It is early days yet of course (and the honeymoon period of sweetness and light is still clearly going on strong), with just the first generation of Apple-Intel products. The proof of this will start to become evident in the next rounds of product introductions - with new form factors and new functionality. How much, for instance, will Apple work with Intel on Viiv? How much will Intel contribute to the design of new Apple products? Can these products be unique in terms of offering something that Intel has done that is not available on a Microsoft-based platform? Anand's comments certainly indicate we have much to look forward to.

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