Apple, Intel, Nokia and those who are condemned to repeat history

EDIT 17-Apr-2019: This story took an ugly turn. Post updated at the end.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

–George Santayana, 1905 (The Life of Reason: The Phases of Human Progress, vol.1).

So what does this epic quote have to do with Apple, Intel and Nokia?


And everything.

You see, today I noted a news about Intel not being able to deliver 5G modem in time for Apple iPhones (and Apple being all-in with the modem delivery from Intel). The 5G iPhones might take two years from now to become reality.

This reminds me of the problem Nokia had in 2010-2011 with their Intel cooperation. From the story of Nokia MeeGo we know that in early 2010 Nokia had to choose the supplier for the 4G LTE modems for their future phones and the choice was between Qualcomm and Intel, of which Nokia ended up opting for Intel.
We also know now that Intel had hard time delivering their promises and the first LTE chipsets from Intel were announced in June 2013, meaning that the actual phones would have been available for the consumers in 2014 the earliest. (Incidentally 2014 schedule was what Nokia CEO Stephen Elop had found out according to Bloombeg 2011 article.)

We know the Nokia end result: Nokia decided to move from Intel/MeeGo co-operation to Microsoft/Windows Phone, got phones to market late 2012 (almost two years after the issue with Intel was identified), made their bet on wrong horse and sold their handset business.

Should we expect the same for Apple?
Probably not.
Intel can certainly screw up their schedule. They have done it in the past and (by the title of the post) they will do it again. But there are few crucial differences betwen the Nokia and Apple cases:
First of all: Nokia was in a hurry to get their MeeGo OS out when the market was already turning to an Android/iOS duopoly. Apple has ecosystem stand set, they cannot afford to delay 5G phones indefinitely, but their future is not lost due to a year of delay in 5G race.

Second of all Intel deal was not the sole reason of MeeGo getting axed. The fate of MeeGo inside Nokia and in the OS race was set by many other issues too, starting from company priorities to project management to developer interest to… A lot of things. So in that contrast Apple once again can take the hit (although it will show in their sales for sure).

But as (in my opinion) the most notable thing: Already during the reign of the previous CEO, Nokia had sold their in-house modem business and were therefore 100% dependant on Intel being able to deliver the 4G modem. After Nokia gave up on MeeGo (partially because the LTE supporting chipsets from Intel were delayed to unknown future) they moved to Windows Phone 7. For Verizon Wireless U.S. Nokia would have needed a Qualcomm SoC that would support CDMA and LTE, but such SoCs were all built on top of dual-core CPUs whereas Windows Phone 7 could only run on a single-core CPU. As Nokia did not have their own in-house modems, they had no product.

Whereas Apple?
Apple has their own modem business making the modems for future iPhones. Even if Intel would once again screw up their next generation modems, Apple can make phones with their own modem design, estimatedly starting from year 2021. So even if Intel fails again, Apple can still ship the phones. And that is something that Nokia was never able to do with Intel/MeeGo road.

EDIT 17-Apr-2019: During last 24 hours this story got quite and interesting follow-up:

First Apple announced it will drop all litigation with Qualcomm and settle their court case. This opens up the possibility for Apple to use Qualcomm 5G modems while their own in-house modems are being designed and ramped up.

Then Intel announced that it will drop 5G modem development altogether.

In the future we will have Apple that does its own modems to escape Qualcomm monopoly, Huawei who does the same and perhaps Samsung too. (I’m not 100% sure if MediaTek could do similar, TBH.) It is unclear whether Huawei or Samsung will sell those modems to others. Nevertheless: something Nokia could not have done.