Back in June, Intel mobile exec Navin Shenoy told Engadget that despite cancelling its mobile-focused SoFIA chip, the company is "not done experimenting and looking for opportunities to do something different" and some evidence of that is now available. The iPhone 7 just launched, so naturally the teardown artists at Chipworks pulled a US-bound A1778 model apart only to find an Intel-built modem, RF transceiver and power management chips inside. This confirms an earlier Bloomberg rumor that Intel would replace Qualcomm in some versions of the phone (iFixit found a Qualcomm modem in the iPhone 7 Plus it took apart).
The modem, we think, is going to be crucial; 4G and 5G modems are going to get increasingly complex, and there's going to be fewer and fewer companies in the world that can do it. You've seen companies like Broadcom, Marvell and NVIDIA get out of the modem. We're to the point now where it's a very scarce asset, and an increasingly valuable one.
More importantly, grabbing a deal for the modem could be just the start of Intel's refocused mobile ambitions. Last month the company revealed it has obtained a license to manufacture ARM chips, so if all goes well it could eventually replace the processor space currently dominated by companies like Qualcomm and Samsung.
LG is already preparing to build a "world-class mobile platform" using Intel's 10nm tech, while VR and AI-processing could be other opportunities. It's been over a decade since Apple switched to Intel's x86 hardware for its computers, and now there's at least the possibility of a similar team-up for mobile devices in the future.