Over on Italian IT website Bits 'n Chips, author Gian Maria Forni says that, according to his sources, PC processor giant Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) is "favoring Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) over Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)" when it comes to supply of its latest Skylake microprocessors.
He notes that Microsoft's recent Surface Book is more powerful than Apple's MacBook Air, which, like the Surface Book, is powered by a low-power Intel processor. The difference, though, is that Apple's MacBook Air, as well as its 13-inch MacBook Pro, are powered by silicon based on Intel's older Broadwell architecture while the Microsoft products use chips based on Intel's latest Skylake processor.
Although I can see why it might look on the surface as though Microsoft is getting "preferential treatment," I don't think this is actually the case. Here's why.
Understanding what Intel is shipping today and what Apple wants to buy
For its MacBook Air and MacBook Pro products, Apple buys Intel's very highest end low-power Core i5/i7 processors. In particular, it buys the processors with the highest-end graphics configurations.
In contrast, the only Microsoft product that will feature a low-power Skylake processor with Iris graphics (the highest-end configuration) is the built-to-order Surface Pro 4 with a Core i7 (which won't even become available until Nov. 20). Microsoft isn't likely to sell a whole lot of these systems; nowhere close to the kinds of volumes that Apple's MacBook Air/13-inch Retina MacBook Pro drive.
I suspect the reason Apple hasn't already updated its 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air systems to include Skylake processors is that Intel needs time, especially given its not-so-stellar yields on its 14-nanometer process, to build up enough chips to support a major product refresh.
Using this same line of reasoning, it's not hard to see why Apple hasn't upgraded its 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro to include Skylake processors even as rivals in the PC industry transition their respective 15-inch PCs to include Skylake processors.
All of the 15-inch PCs that are being upgraded to Skylake now are using quad-core Skylake processors with Intel's integrated GT2 graphics -- the lowest graphics configuration Intel offers. For its 15-inch MacBook Pro, Apple tends to use quad-core processors with Intel's highest-end graphics configuration.
The chips with the highest-end graphics configuration -- and in the case of Skylake, this will be GT4 configuration -- are much larger and thus are much more difficult to manufacture.
Intel PC chief Kirk Skaugen said Skylake processors with Iris Pro graphics (the GT4 configuration) will go into production this year, so I expect Intel to try to build up a bunch of these chips for Apple to support the launch of an updated 15-inch MacBook Pro at some point in the first half of 2016.
Apple's Macs are already selling just fine, what's the hurry?
In addition to the fact that Apple is probably a far more demanding customer in terms of product configuration than most, Apple's Macs are still selling really well. The company continues to gain share with these products against the traditional PC OEMs and I don't think Apple's success necessarily depends on it being first to adopt a processor with Intel's latest CPU architecture.
It's also worth noting that Apple just refreshed the MacBook Air/13-inch MacBook Pro earlier this year, so Apple may simply want to give these products a full year on the shelves before replacing them with something brand new.
Don't worry about the Intel/Apple relationship
I don't think Intel investors should worry too much about the relationship between Intel and Apple. Intel is building silicon that seems to meet the requirements of Apple's Macs, which I'm sure Apple appreciates, and Apple buys a rich mix of products and buys chips in solid volume quantities, to boot.
The Apple/Intel relationship, at least from my view, seems to be just fine.