2005: Steve Jobs Shakes Hands with Paul Otellini: x86 Now Inside Apple
For many years Apple relied its Macs on not-so-popular PowerPC architecture chips made by IBM and Freescale/Motorola. Even though there was some kind of competition between IBM and Motorola, it did not yield into frequent product updates, massive performance improvements or maximized volume availability. As a result, Apple needed to find a new chip partner and Intel was a perfect fit.
“Our goal is to provide our customers with the best personal computers in the world, and looking ahead Intel has the strongest processor roadmap by far. It's been ten years since our transition to the PowerPC, and we think Intel's technology will help us create the best personal computers for the next ten years,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO back then.
Although PowerPC chips made by Freescale/Motorola and IBM powered Apple Macintosh systems for about a decade, their performance by the early 2000s was clearly lower compared to AMD Athlon 64 or Intel Pentium 4. Moreover, the absence of frequent product refreshes slowed down Apple's product refreshes, something very critical in the rapidly changing world. Finally, neither IBM nor Motorola had a product lineup that would include everything from smartphones to tablets to notebooks to desktops to high-end workstations. Not that Intel has a lineup like this now, but it did have a clear roadmap back in the years and is on track to address every market possible with its low-power or high-performance central processing units.
Paul Otellini in "bunny" suit handles a wafer with Intel microprocessors to Steve Jobs. Photo by clubic.com
So Apple plotted transition to x86 starting from the very first versions of the Mac OS X back in 2001. The operating system itself could work on both PowerPC microprocessors as well as on Intel x86 chips. An issue for Apple and Steve Jobs personally was the price: the company would like to make an exclusive deal with Intel in exchange for discounts. Finally, the deal was reached in 2005.
"Apple and Intel, together at last,” flashed on the big screen while Steve Jobs and Paul Otellini hugged.
Apple received astounding amount of benefits by collaborating with Intel: Intel can offer higher supply quantities; Intel can offer more rapid performance growth with its chips; product design flexibility due to Intel’s broad product portfolio; Product price flexibility due to Intel’s broad product portfolio as well as low building costs thanks to standard components. Apple and Intel can now collaborate on leading-edge technologies, for example, this year they rolled out Thunderbolt and more leading-edge technologies to come. Finally, at present nobody can claim that Apple's systems offer lower performance compared to Windows-based PCs as they are based on the same microprocessors. Apple's current market share is still rather negligible 5.5% worldwide, but it is a couple of universes ahead of where it was back in the mid-2000s.
What is even more interesting is that Apple is looking forward unification of Mac OS and iOS in several years from now. As a result, it will have to either keep ARM inside mobile devices and x86 inside more powerful machines, or unify operation of applications on both ARM and x86 architectures, causing another major tectonic shift for its industry.