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Top Intel exec: Apple 'helps shape our road map'

Intel's senior vice president of sales and marketing also acknowledges that Apple continues to push the chipmaker "hard."

The Apple-Intel partnership started in 2005.
The Apple-Intel partnership started in 2005.

Apple apparently plays a more significant role in Intel's long-term strategy than one might guess.

"We work very closely with them, and we're constantly looking down the road at what we can be doing relative to future products. I'd go as far as to say Apple helps shape our road map," Tom Kilroy, Intel's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a Reuters interview published yesterday.

Intel's love affair with Apple started in 2005 when the company announced it would ditch IBM's PowerPC processors in favor of Intel's x86 offering. Currently, Intel processors run in every single Mac, ranging from its MacBook Air to its Mac Pro.

However, recent rumblings suggest Apple may consider switching its MacBook line to ARM architecture, which is currently running on its iPhone and iPad. Earlier this month, tech news site SemiAccurate cited sources who said that Apple's decision to bring ARM to its MacBooks and MacBook Pros is a "done deal." The sources said that Apple is planning to transition its computers to ARM in two or three years.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini isn't so quick to agree. Speaking earlier this week at his company's investor meeting in Santa Clara, Calif., Otellini made it abundantly clear that Apple is performing well with Intel's help. And that alone could sustain their relationship.

Apple's "growth in Macs has quadrupled since they shifted to Intel. Their market share has quadrupled since they shifted to Intel. And that value proposition has served them very well," Otellini said this week. "I don't see their Mac line moving in any different direction anytime soon."

But some analysts disagree. Speaking to CNET earlier this month, Linley Group analyst Joseph Byrne said it may be inevitable that Apple moves away from Intel CPUs.

"Apple likes vertical integration, has proven ability to migrate software among instruction sets, and can derive adequate performance from non-Intel CPUs," Byrne told CNET. "Thus, I think it's only a matter of time before we see Apple computers with keyboards using ARM CPUs."

Until then, Intel can't expect Apple to let up. The company is notoriously demanding of its suppliers. And until Apple makes a decision to go one way or another, Intel can expect Apple to keep the pressure on.

"Apple--they push us hard," Kilroy told Reuters.