Intel is forced to make compromises. Not only was 2013 a third consecutive year of troubled sales across most departments handled by the chip-maker, but the company predicts 2014 will be another year of stalled growth in the integrated circuit (IC) market. Meanwhile, analysts say IC will remain a perspective field, which could expand its sales volume by 7% this year. In January, the chip maker said that it will postpone equipping its newly built Fab 42 facility in Chandler, Arizona. This cutting-edge factory, worth $5 billion, was intended to produce up to 40,000 300mm chip wafers monthly. It was going to be the first to utilize a 14nm production process, and set to escalate to 10nm once 14nm production ramped up. Yet, it appears it won't open anytime soon...
...unless Intel does as analytics company IC Insights suggests, and lend it to a competing company - possibly Apple. After its relationship with Samsung went sour, the iPhone maker made moves to distance itself from the Korean company. Eventually, it wants to completely sever its manufacturing and business ties with it. Yet, in 2013, Sammy remained Apple's leading silicon supplier, producing up to $3.4 billion worth of chips for Cupertino. Meanwhile, Apple's other CPU contractors, TSMC (Taiwan) and Globalfoundries (Singapore), are unable to fully meet demand. TSMC, in particular, is unwilling to dedicate an entire facility to a single client, no-matter that it's Apple knocking on its doors.
IC Insights believes Intel is in a comfortable, and vulnerable enough position to consider commissioning a whole factory, outfitted with the latest and greatest in chip-making technology, to a huge client. According to the analysts, Intel is "approximately one year ahead of both Samsung and TSMC in terms of IC process technology". This is a circumstance that could see Apple gaining "significant performance advantage" and Intel making a tidy profit, if the two were to strike a deal.
As powerful as it is, Intel hasn't been able to establish itself in the crucial mobile chipset market. Meanwhile, shipments of personal computers have been steadily falling since 2010. Furthermore, the competition (AMD) has been taking advantage of ARM-based processors to dismount the company's dominance in the server segment. Intel is pressured into taking desperate measures, such as paying tablet manufacturers the difference between its newest Atom-based Bay Trail CPU and an ARM processor, should the manufacturer choose to opt for the former. This strategy could cost the chipset maker an estimated $500 million through 2014.
Intel and Apple haven't commented on a possible deal.