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Intel could release Light Peak technology in first half of 2011, Apple to follow

Intel's Light Peak optical cabling technology is on track to make its first appearance in products in early 2011, with Apple expected to follow soon after, according to a new report.

Apple expressed a very strong interest in Light Peak after Intel approached them with it several years ago. According to an Engadget report from September 2009, Apple Chief Steve Jobs and Intel CEO Paul Otellini allegedly fleshed out the Light Peak standard after Apple intimated that it was looking into optical signaling as a single port solution.

Light Peak is a high-speed optical cable technology with bandwidth of 10Gbps, with the possibility of scaling up to 100Gbps in the future. A full-length Blu-Ray movie could transfer over Light Peak in less than 30 seconds, Intel states on its website. The company "expects to see Light Peak in PCs and peripherals in 2011."

In a new report from CNET, industry sources claim that Light Peak will make its debut in the first half of 2011, and "likely earlier in the year than later." Apple, which is described as an "innovating force in the industry," is expected to incorporate Light Peak quickly after its release.

Early versions of the technology have already been tested on Macs. In 2009, "an Intel demonstration at its developer conference used a machine running Apple's Mac OS X," wrote author Brooke Crothers.

Optical cabling would provide Apple an alternative to USB 3.0. Though the Cupertino, Calif., company was rumored to be adding USB 3.0 to its Mac Pro and iMac desktops this summer, the updates failed to materialize. Apple has had the USB 3.0 specification for almost a year and a half. Intel has also resisted adopting USB 3.0, holding off on supporting the standard in its chipsets, despite one Intel spokesperson assuring that Intel remains "absolutely committed to USB 3.0 and beyond that."

Apple has a history of innovating connectors and ports, often 'leading the pack' ahead of other companies. In 1998, Apple introduced the iMac G3 as the first computer to abandon older legacy ports and adopt the new USB port as standard. Other PC makers soon followed suit, with USB eventually becoming the de facto standard for peripherals.

However, Apple's innovations aren't always adopted by the mainstream. For years, Apple pushed its FireWire standard, but saw adoption in mostly niche markets.

A continued Apple/Intel partnership for Light Peak would make mainstream adoption of the technology highly likely. Intel has the reach needed to drive costs down, and Apple is willing to take risks with new standards. Intel may also be looking to work with Apple to develop a mobile version of Light Peak, which would help it break into the mobile space, where Intel's Atom processors have struggled for years.

The partnership may be at risk, though, given the on-again, off-again partner-turned-rival relationship that the two companies have shared as of late. Intel's Otellini recently went on record criticizing the Apple TV set top box as "a step backward" when compared to the rival Google TV platform, which Intel is partnering with Google on. Otellini sent an email to employees last month, detailing the "marathon" that Intel plans to run in order to catch up to Apple in the tablet and smartphone markets.