What it is: Intel modem chips may be used in the next iPhone in addition to Qualcomm chips.
It’s no secret that Intel (along with Microsoft) missed the rapid shift to mobile computing defined by smartphones and tablets. As PC sales fall, Intel’s fortunes are also falling as fewer PCs sold mean fewer Intel processors sold.
Intel tried to break into the mobile market with low cost Atom processors, but the company recently decided to abandon these low-cost and low-powered x86 processors. That meant that Intel had no way to break into the mobile market by selling processors.
However, Intel also makes other types of chips including modems. For Apple to use Intel modem chips inside their iPhones is no big deal with consumers since they shouldn’t notice any difference. The use of Intel modems in the iPhone gives Apple multiple suppliers (Qualcomm and now Intel) to keep costs down and supplies high so the shortage of one supply can’t slow down production of the next iPhone.
More importantly, using Intel modems is a political win for Apple because Apple also uses Intel processors in the Macintosh. Intel has traditionally given all computer manufacturers early access to Intel processors so they can plan their next product line. Since Apple (and most of the PC industry) is highly dependent on Intel (with only weak rival AMD as a competitor), it only makes sense for Apple to use Intel mode s in the iPhone.
This keeps Intel profitable so they can continue developing processors while also giving Apple more leverage over Intel in return. With Apple giving Intel huge orders for Intel modems, Intel will likely continue cooperating with Apple with x86 processors as well.
The risk to Apple is that by using different parts, even if they perform identical functions, is that performance could differ. When some iPhones used used chips made by TSMC and others used identical chips made by Samsung, the TSMC chips performed slightly better.
More importantly from a software point of view, different parts increase the risk of unique bugs cropping up in one model over another. It shouldn’t happen but it does. kIF a product used identical parts, then troubleshooting a faulty part is much simpler. If a product uses different parts, then troubleshooting becomes more difficult.
When you buy the next iPhone, you likely won’t have a choice whether it uses an Intel or Qualcomm modem, but it shouldn’t matter anyway. What matters is that it works and hopefully the different components inside won’t make a difference because the best technology is transparent to the user in everyday use.