It's well known that Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) faced significant difficulty manufacturing its 14-nanometer Broadwell parts at acceptable yield rates. This led to a delay in the widespread availability of products based on its Broadwell architecture from the second half of 2014 to the early part of 2015.
On Intel's second-quarter earnings call, company executives admitted that its first products built on its upcoming 10-nanometer technology were delayed into the second half of 2017 from what was probably supposed to be a late 2016/early 2017 launch.
Furthermore, Intel disclosed that during the second half of 2016, it would be rolling out a new family of chips built on its 14-nanometer technology code-named Kaby Lake.
Here's what this means for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) MacBook line of PCs.
Far more consistency
Investors might recall that Apple's recent MacBook rollouts have been quite irregular. For example, Apple released its new Haswell-based MacBook Air models in June 2013, refreshed them with slightly faster versions of the same 2013 Haswell processors in mid-2014, and then came out with a more substantial update using Intel's new Broadwell chips in March 2015.
An even more extreme example would be Apple's 15-inch MacBook Pro, which Apple has now refreshed twice with older-generation Haswell processors, as Apple was probably unable to secure high-volume access to newer, better chips from Intel in time for the refresh in May.
This, frankly, is just a mess.
With Intel's new product launch schedule, the company plans to have Skylake in the second half of 2015, Kaby Lake in the second half of 2016, and Cannonlake in the second half of 2017. This is a far more predictable launch cadence, which should in turn allow Intel's PC customers to release systems at a more predictable rate.
In fact, during Intel's recent earnings call, CEO Brian Krzanich said the company has gotten feedback from its customers that amounts to "We really want you to be predictable."
Here's what I'm now expecting from Apple on the MacBook side of things
At this point, I am expecting Intel's future processor releases to occur in the second half of a given year. And, given that Apple sells premium systems, I'd expect it to be one of the first customers to adopt Intel's latest processor technologies.
This leads me to believe that, going forward, Apple will refresh its MacBooks during the second half of a given year.
I suspect that with Intel rolling out Skylake in the second half of the year, Apple will do a comprehensive refresh of its MacBook line. The "standard" MacBook should get an upgrade to the Skylake-based Core M, as this chip is likely to bring significant performance improvements to the thermally constrained device.
The MacBook Airs, too, have been long overdue for upgrades in industrial design and display resolution. New Skylake chips, particularly the 15-watt models with an on-package eDRAM cache, should allow Apple to crank up the resolution on these devices while maintaining fluid performance.
Finally, the MacBook Pro models could also use a boost. The 13-inch model saw an upgrade to the 14-nanometer Broadwell chip earlier this year, but to compete with other system vendors such as Dell and ASUS, I suspect Apple will want to upgrade that system again to Skylake as soon as feasible.
The 15-inch model has used Intel's relatively old Haswell processor for two years now, and the Skylake launch provides a solid reason for Apple to update the system. The move to Skylake should bring significant CPU efficiency improvements as a result of a big architecture jump and a move to Intel's new 14-nanometer manufacturing technology.
Skylake also brings a similarly large two-generation jump in graphics and media architecture, further boosting efficiency and performance for the models that do not use discrete graphics.