According to Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) CEO Brian Krzanich, the company's next generation 14-nanometer processors — known as Broadwell — will be in systems during the holiday shopping season. While the company has a whole bevy of OEM partners likely interested in transitioning to these lower-power, higher-performing beauties, it is likely that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) will get first dibs on the initial run of Broadwell, giving it an edge over its PC competitors.
Apple's MacBook Air Needs an Update
While the rest of the Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows PC world has been moving to higher resolution displays and new chassis designs for their thin and light notebooks, Apple's MacBook Air has seen mostly under-the-hood changes over the years. Now, this hasn't harmed Apple's ability to take PC share from Windows-based devices, but the MacBook Air could benefit from a significant overhaul.
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In particular, the 1440x900 resolution of the current MacBook Air models is a bit on the low side and could certainly use an upgrade to a much higher resolution to match its contemporaries. But Apple has likely chosen to avoid this particular update for now as higher resolution panels typically draw more power (impacting battery life) than lower resolution ones. A lower power processor/platform would likely enable enough power savings to drive an improved display. It could also enable a fan-less design, similar to most tablets in the market today.
Apple Customers Likely to Be More Willing to Pay
While all PC OEMs will benefit from the improved processor, Apple likely has a pretty significant share of the high end of the notebook market (where performance and innovation is most appreciated). This means that its customers will be much more willing to pay for whatever innovations and improvements that Apple will bring out than the mainstream Windows PC crowd (which is probably focused more on price).
We saw this with last year's launch of Intel's Haswell processor. Haswell brought pretty dramatic power/performance benefits over the prior generation Ivy Bridge chips, but the traditional PC OEMs weren't as quick to adopt that platform as Apple was. That brings us to the next point: inventory management.
Apple's Inventory Management Is Likely Much Easier
Apple doesn't really have all that many MacBook models available, so inventory management is likely much simpler for Apple than it is for, say, ASUS or Acer, which have legions of SKUs and variations out in the market. Before a PC OEM is going to bring to market a new system built around a new platform (although technically Broadwell for Ultrabooks should be pin-compatible with Haswell), it needs to clear out as much of the prior generation inventory as possible.
Apple's continued Mac strength (as well as its relatively low PC volumes as it only addresses the very high end) makes it much easier for the company to have inventories of Haswell-based MacBook products to be nice and clear before it brings on Broadwell-based devices. The relative weakness in traditional Windows PCs means that there's still plenty of Ivy Bridge-based systems left in the channel, so to move so quickly from Haswell to Broadwell would become painful for many PC OEMs.
Apple is likely to be the first to adopt the next generation 14-nanometer Broadwell product in the refresh to its MacBook Air product line. Not only does this make sense from a historical perspective (Apple has been very aggressive in adopting Intel's latest low-power silicon), but it makes sense given the underlying competitive and business dynamics at play here.