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Apple has broken up with Intel—but Intel wants to get back together

Apple's Unleashed 2021 event at Apple Park in Cupertino
Reuters/Apple Inc/Handout
The happier ex.
  • Ananya Bhattacharya
By Ananya Bhattacharya

Tech reporter

Published Last updated

For the first time in 15 years, Apple’s MacBook Pro laptop will feature the company’s own homegrown processors instead of ones made by Intel, effectively ending its partnership with the chip maker.

Apple, which already uses its own operating system, has always wanted to take the hardware narrative in its own hands. Not only does a self-designed chip reduce expenses in a more tight-knit ecosystem, it also helps the company better control its product plans and timing. And making laptop processors was the natural next step considering Apple has been building its own chips for iPhones, iPads, and Apple watches since 2010.

What’s more,  Apple’s technology already has a leg up on its partner-turned-competitor. The new laptop offers better speed, power, and battery life than its predecessors and Apple has also been able to create a more efficient chip by making more transistors fit in the same space. The new Macs use five-nanometer transistors, whereas Intel is still shipping chips with 10-nanometer transistors.

While Apple’s evolution from Intel chips to Apple silicon isn’t complete yet—desktop machines like Mac mini, iMac, and Mac Pro, all still have Intel processors—Apple CEO Tim Cook wants to change that by next year.

Intel won’t go down without a fight though. Apple “did a pretty good job” with its chip, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger acknowledged in an interview with Axios on Oct. 17, but he added that, “I’m going to fight hard to win Tim’s business in this area.”

Is Intel Apple’s toxic ex?

Ever since a December 2020 Bloomberg report said Apple would entirely part ways with Intel by the end of 2022—a move that was a long time coming—the latter has been taking blatant potshots at its former partner.

Earlier this year, Intel cast Justin Long—the “I’m a Mac” actor from Apple’s commercials from the early 2000s—in a series of ads mocking M1 macs to show the superiority of PCs with Intel chips. This followed slide decks, a custom “PC vs. Mac” website, and YouTube campaigns highlighting all the things the MacBook doesn’t offer, including standard USB ports, touchscreen, and working with two external displays. It’s also been tweeting about how PCs are the best choice for scientists and gamers.

“The truth is that loyal Mac users may have unknowingly made trade-offs when it comes to their computers. Once we shed light on those trade-offs, that’s when the real magic happens, and the choice is clear,” its official website says.

However, Mac aficionados see it as a desperate cry after a divorce Intel hasn’t fully accepted. In fact, one of its recent attempts to ridicule Apple’s devices on Oct. 14—when it tweeted asking for “Confessions of former Mac users. What made you #GoPC?”—backfired with several netizens labelling the campaign “petty” and “cringe.” 

“Intel was what made go Mac 14 years ago. Apple silicon is what keeps me on the Mac today,” one tweeted. “Spend your energy on getting good products out for a good price, not cringy campaigns.”

Can Apple and Intel get back together?

Apple seems committed to flying solo when designing its chips but there is one arena where Intel could still win over the Silicon Valley behemoth: The production of Apple’s own chips.

In July, Intel kickstarted foundry services—chip manufacturing services for third-party player—with big name clients Qualcomm and Amazon. With the announcement, it stepped into the territory of companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and South Korea’s Samsung. Intel wants to provide a US- and Europe-based alternative for chip manufacturing, and it’s investing $20 billionon two Arizona plants.

Apple, which currently only partners with TSMC, could use Intel’s chip-manufacturing facilities, Gelsinger said. It would help the company diversify its supply chain and possibly save some money since TSMC is looking to raise prices by 10% to 20%. But then, Intel will have to win Apple’s business, and given their recent history, that’s no guarantee.

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