Is Intel attacking Apple with Ultrabook subsidies from behind a veil?

The war that Intel declared against Apple just became public. Will the notoriously anti-competitive gorilla get flattened by the $500B elephant?

It looks like the war that Intel declared against Apple (possibly as retaliation for testing AMD processors in the MacBook Air in 2010) has just become public. A few weeks ago, I noted an unusual move by ASUS, one of Intel's Ultraclone makers, to erase evidence of its competition with the MacBook Air from a Intel/ASUS co-branded webpage.

Fruit brand

In the screenshot (above) from October 2011, ASUS identified the competitor to its Zenbook Ultrabook as a "Fruit Brand" (middle laptop) only to abruptly change the wording to "Top seller with Windows 7" on the current Zenbook product page (below).

Top seller with Windows 7

Taiwan Semiconductor's chairman Morris Chang spoke in metaphors about Intel's Ultrabook war on the MacBook Air in a recent speech. Chang said that Intel is competing directly with TSMC's customers while "standing behind a veil."

Secretive Apple and AMD both happen to be big TSMC customers, and both are noticeably absent from Chang's speech.

Given that Intel is paying subsidies to all non-Apple computer manufacturers to make artificially-underpriced MacBook Air clones, (strangely reminiscent of the same anticompetitive rebate scheme that got Intel into antitrust trouble in the first place), could Chang have been referring to Intel and Apple, when he said that Intel is attacking TSMC's customers from "behind a veil?"

With TSMC's Chang now pledging his support to "stand behind" its customers on the battlefield against Intel, Intel paying the non-Apple computer manufacturers to make Apple sauce out of Apple, and Apple now publicly asking Petragon to stop making MacBook Air clones, it looks like the war is on.

The hair and fur are just starting to fly. Intel is using age-old anticompetitive tactics of paying all the manufacturers to put a defiant manufacturer at a disadvantage, but the anti-competitive gorilla might just get flattened by Apple - which is now a $500 billion elephant.

Intel's Bill Calder responds:

Bottom line: This thing about ultrabook ‘subsidies’ has no basis in fact. Intel is not providing any type of subsidy on ultrabooks and we have a longstanding, excellent relationship with Apple.  As a normal course of business, Intel does provide co-marketing funds to our customers.  These funds are not “subsidies”, nor are they anti-competitive.   Furthermore, our $300m Ultrabook Fund is focused solely on infrastructure investments to drive down component costs, and none of those funds go directly to OEMs or ODMs. Any funds provided to computer manufacturers related to Ultrabooks™ are solely intended to raise consumer awareness and stimulate demand for this exciting category of products.