Intel’s pipe dream: Building a better chip than Apple to convince Tim Cook to switch back

Apple is nuking Intel chips in Macs out of orbit, and the chipmaker is obviously unhappy about it. But according to Intel’s optimistic CEO, the company will try to win back Apple’s business.


  • Intel hopes to build better chips than Apple silicon
  • Intel isn’t giving up hope that Macs will someday use its chips
  • That ship has already sailed: Apple is about to unleash more Macs running its own chips

A photo of Apple CEO Tim Cook set against a background slide with the words "Apple silicon" printed on it

Intel hopes to build a better chip than Apple silicon

Intel’s CEO Pat Gelsinger sat down with Axios to talk about the current state of business.

In the interview, the CEO expresses hope that the Mac system will switch back to using Intel chips someday, but he acknowledges it will probably be years before he gets that chance.

Apple decided they could do a better chip themselves than we could. And, you know, they did a pretty good job. So what I have to do is create a better chip than they can do themselves. I would hope to win back this piece of their business, as well as many other pieces of business, over time.

Catching up to Apple is a tall order — Apple’s current desktop chip dubbed “M1” that powers the new Mac mini, 13-inch MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iPad Pro and 24-inch iMac has been found to significantly outperform comparable Intel silicon.

In the meantime, I gotta make sure that our products are better than theirs, that my ecosystem is more open and vibrant than theirs, and we create more compelling reason for developers and users to land on Intel-based products. So I’m gonna fight hard to win Tim’s business in this area.

The problem with these transitions is that they take several years to complete. Plus, they only happen once in every decade or so. As a result, Intel is going to need to work very, very hard in order to convince Apple’s leadership to switch back to Intel silicon.

Intel’s huge mistake: Passing on the iPhone

Intel famously made a huge mistake by turning down an opportunity to provide the main iPhone chip. The management’s reasoning at the time was that the iPhone was never going to take off in a big way so Intel wouldn’t be able to justify the development costs.

In 2013, Vox interviewed then-CEO Paul Otellini about it:

We ended up not winning it or passing on it, depending on how you want to view it. And the world would have been a lot different if we’d done it. The thing you have to remember is that this was before the iPhone was introduced and no one knew what the iPhone would do.

But you should have taken that leap of faith nonetheless!

At the end of the day, there was a chip that they were interested in that they wanted to pay a certain price for and not a nickel more and that price was below our forecasted cost. I couldn’t see it. It wasn’t one of these things you can make up on volume. And in hindsight, the forecasted cost was wrong and the volume was 100x what anyone thought.

Otellini says he should have listened to what his gut was telling him.

The lesson I took away from that was, while we like to speak with data around here, so many times in my career I’ve ended up making decisions with my gut, and I should have followed my gut. My gut told me to say yes.

Despite the conciliatory tone of Gelsinger’s remarks, Intel is at the same time running attack ads that paint Apple loyalists and Mac users as the misinformed types unaware of a myriad of different PC devices, like 2-in-ones, hybrid tablets, convertible notebooks and so on.

In our view, those moves paint a picture of a company in crisis mode, a company trying to change the public perception about its semiconductor expertise by attacking its client that will soon stop buying its chips altogether. For one of such anti-Apple advertisements, Intel even hired the Mac vs. PC star Justin Long in a desperate attempt to woo Apple customers.