In 2005, Steve Jobs made a historic announcement: Apple would start using Intel processors in Macs instead of chips it designed itself.
It was a shock because Intel was the biggest chip maker for PCs that ran Windows, and Microsoft was Apple’s biggest rival at the time. (Now Apple and Google are enemies.)
But Apple was having trouble designing chips that could keep up with its ambitions for Macs and MacBooks, so it went with Intel. Macs have used Intel chips since 2006.
We’re almost 10 years into Apple’s partnership with Intel, and there’s increasing talk that Apple will be able to start making its own Mac chips again in a few years. Apple already creates its own chips for the iPhone and iPad based on designs from ARM and then has manufacturers like Samsung build them.
The theory goes that eventually Apple’s ARM chips will be powerful enough to run Macs and Apple won’t need Intel anymore. There are also rumblings that some of Intel’s new chips are coming out behind schedule, which means Apple has to wait on Intel before it can release innovative new products, like the new super-thin MacBook Air it’s cooking up.
In an interview with Business Insider Thursday, Intel’s CFO Stacy Smith brushed off those concerns. Smith said that Intel is so far ahead of the competition when it comes to PC processors that Apple (and just about every other PC maker) has no choice but to use Intel chips.
“Apple is a great partner of ours,” Smith said. “Like Intel they like bringing really cool stuff to the market …As long as we’re bringing great technology to the marketplace, we’re enabling them to do great Apple products.”
And it sounds like Apple will have to keep that partnership going for some time.
“Our leadership over the rest of the industry is extending,” Smith said. “We’re not delayed relative to the industry. We’re actually ahead of the industry.”
Basically, that means Apple needs to use Intel processors for now or risk losing a lot of performance in new Macs.
“For a customer like Apple you’d have to take a big step off performance to step off our architecture,” Smith said. “That is what in essence enables us to win across different customers.”