There has been much speculation about what led to the Apple/Qualcomm settlement at the eleventh hour.

Did Intel tell Apple it was unable to deliver 5G modems by 2020? Did Apple reach its own conclusion that Intel wasn’t up to the job? Or was there some other factor at play that mysteriously led Apple to have a change of heart about a massive lawsuit centred on Qualcomm’s business practices, despite a long history of vehemently objecting to them … ?

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I presented my own view at the time: that it was one of the former two, but either way the bottom line was that Intel was going to be unable to deliver, and that left Apple forced to settle with Qualcomm in order to have 5G iPhones in 2020.

Intel’s CEO would have us believe in the third possibility: that Apple and Qualcomm just happened to make up, and it was absolutely nothing to do with Intel’s inability to deliver. Bob Swan gave this one-sentence explanation in an interview with the WSJ:

In light of the announcement of Apple and Qualcomm, we assessed the prospects for us to make money while delivering this technology for smartphones and concluded at the time that we just didn’t see a path.

Accepting this explanation would require us to believe two things. First, that there is some unknown reason for Apple and Qualcomm to suddenly cosy up to each other after a bitter two-year fight. I’ve still seen no credible alternative explanation of what that reason might be.

Second, that a company the size of Intel responded to surprise news within a matter of hours, making a major strategic decision without even time to hold a board meeting.

I think I’ll stick to my view of the reason for the Apple/Qualcomm settlement, also backed by Bloomberg sources.

The company had bet on Intel Corp., but recently decided its would-be 5G supplier wasn’t up to the task. That led Apple back to Qualcomm — and spurred a sudden end to a long-running court fight over patents, component costs and royalties for one of the most critical parts of an iPhone.

Clearly Intel was unable to produce a 5G modem that met Apple’s quality standards by the 2020 deadline, and it was that fact that led to the settlement. Equally clearly, Intel wouldn’t want to admit this fact.

Intel did Apple a favor by keeping quiet about the two companies parting ways until Apple had settled with Qualcomm, and Apple is now returning the favor by keeping quiet as Intel issues a face-saving statement to cover an embarrassing failure.

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