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Intel May Have Just Grabbed a Spot in the iPhone 7

By Chris Neiger - Apr 26, 2016 at 1:00PM

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Comments from Qualcomm's CEO indicate a major change for Apple.

Last week, Qualcomm (QCOM 0.40%) CEO Steve Mollenkopf threw more fuel on the fire that Intel (INTC 0.84%) would be a major modem supplier for Apple's (AAPL 4.01%) iPhone 7. 

On the company's earnings call, Mollenkopf responded to a few questions from analysts about second-sourcing of modems for a major customer, saying, "We are assuming for planning purposes that that is the case." 

Now, that's clearly not a definitive statement that Intel is winning some of Apple's modem chip business, but the quote was made in reference to a "major customer" of Qualcomm's. With previous rumors circling around Intel gaining a spot in next iPhone -- and Qualcomm making such a big admission of losing business -- it certainly indicates Intel might indeed have taken some iPhone business. 

How this plays out for Qualcomm
If this does prove true, it would a big loss for Qualcomm's modem chip business, not just in potential revenue, but also because the company's been a longtime leader in the mobile modem business. Some analysts have said Qualcomm could lose up to 4% of its revenue if it lost the modem spot in Apple's next iPhone.

Mollenkopf said on the call that Qualcomm has been planning for the possible loss of business and made adjustments when the company did its most recent restructuring. He tried to assuage any fears that losing business from a major customer would hurt the company's overall business, and said Qualcomm was still confident in its position in the modem market.

How this plays out for Intel 
Gaining some of Apple's business would clearly be a huge deal for Intel, which has never found a meaningful position in the mobile market. 

CLSA Securities said in an investor note last month that Intel could win 30% to 40% of Apple's cellular modem business for the next iPhone and could end up bringing in $1 billion in revenue. 

It would a (small) bright spot for the chipmaker in light of the company's recent 12,000-person layoff. Intel's trying to better position itself in growth markets (i.e., not PCs) and an Apple iPhone win would certainly help the company with that strategy. 

Still an unknown
While it's looking more and more like Intel may finally get a place inside the iPhone, remember that there's typically a handful of iPhone rumors involving Intel each year. We won't know for sure what Apple's decided until the next phone debuts, likely this fall, and the teardowns begin.

There's also no guarantee that Intel will grab a significant share of the iPhone's modem business, either. Apple is fond of sourcing components from different companies, and it could be doing the same here. Apple might give Intel a small portion of the business in order to negotiate lower modem prices for its phone, and to test Intel's chips in the wild. 

I think these rumors have a bit more validity to them than others in the past, considering both Qualcomm's comments and Intel's pivot to more lucrative businesses. But we'll have to wait for a complete iPhone teardown in the fall to be sure. 

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Stocks Mentioned

Apple Inc. Stock Quote
Apple Inc.
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Intel Corporation Stock Quote
Intel Corporation
INTC
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QUALCOMM Incorporated Stock Quote
QUALCOMM Incorporated
QCOM
$132.12 (0.40%) $0.52

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