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Reacting to Apple at CES 2012 part one: Intel's Ultrabooks

Wintel, Intel Macs now a frienemy free-for-all

Intel's previous attempts to get PC makers to successfully clone Apple's designs, such as its 2005 effort to copy the Mac mini, didn't pan out, but Apple subsequently adopted Intel's chips itself across its Mac lineup. As the third largest and fastest growing PC maker in the US, Apple is now a significant customer of Intel's x86 chips.

At the same time, Intel appears to be focused on finding and retaining other x86 chip customers, knowing full well that Apple will leave Intel behind the moment it gains access to more desirable processors. Apple did just that with the iPad, abandoning its initial plans to use Intel's Silverthorne (now Atom) chips after developing a more power efficient ARM chip of its own, the A4.

New generations of Apple's ARM-based processors are reportedly already threatening to steal away Intel's chip business in future MacBook Air models, while other ARM chip designers (principally Qualcomm) are gunning to keep Intel out of the smartphone and tablet business and, at the same time, expand into mobile PC netbooks and notebooks, a market dominated by Intel and predicated upon its x86 chip architecture.

Intel has responded with an Android "Medfield" smartphone reference design that could be mistaken for an iPhone 4. The company partnered with Google on Android last September to counter both Microsoft's lack of x86 support in Windows Phone 7 and its upcoming plans to support ARM-based PC and tablet devices with Windows 8.

Intel had previously partnered with Linux and then Nokia to hedge its "Wintel" partnership with Microsoft. Microsoft subsequently partnered with Nokia a year later and induced the company to abandon its Meego Linux partnership with Intel to focus on Microsoft's own Windows Phone platform.

On page 3 of 3: Ultrabooks are more than just a second-hand breath of Air