Intel's direction has actually been far more convoluted than Apple's. Intel bet the company's future on a new processor architecture in an effort to move away from the legacy of x86, but the IA-64 Itanium turned out to be a monumental failure. Not only did Itanium development fizzle after being paraded around as the industry darling for years, but the hype around Itanium derailed two other giants of the scant few available, highly regarded processor architecture families. The blazing fast DEC Alpha, which Compaq acquired from DEC and promptly threw in the trash to support Itanium, and HP's own PA-RISC, which was similarly sacrificed to Itanium. All that carnage left Apple with few options for porting OS X, with the only obvious choices being the PowerPC and Intel's x86.
Even more embarrassing for Intel was the competition from AMD. While Intel was striving to replace the 32-bit x86 with a far more advanced and ambitious 64-bit Itanium, AMD simply extended the x86 to support 64-bit processing. AMD's success required Intel to humiliatingly follow the lead of its smaller competitor in releasing the same x86-64 extensions. With Intel officially embarrassed on the low-end by AMD and on the high-end by their own failure with Itanium, and with the further insult of Microsoft's decision to move from Intel to PowerPC in their next XBox game console, Intel needed something exciting to do beyond churning out the same old chips that the dreary PC industry put to limited use.
Intel's innovative efforts to move in new directions with firmware, chip-sets, interfaces and processors have been consistently resisted by the clone PC makers, and the demand for faster processors is not being exploited by the majority of PC boxes that frequently do little more than run Office and send email.
Enter Apple, who after a decade of partnership with IBM and Motorola, found themselves increasingly at odds with the direction of PowerPC. Apple's partners have found new markets for PowerPC chips, but they don't line up well with Apple's needs for desktop power and laptop efficiency. Since Apple reserved Mac OS X's capability to run on x86, the company and Intel found a common need for each other. Apple can showcase Intel hardware technologies and spur innovations that the industry will eventually copy.
This played out earlier when Intel introduced USB, back in 1995, to solve a variety of problems present with PCs. But PC makers were slow to adopt USB; in fact, it was going nowhere until Apple introduced the iMac, which triggered an explosion of USB peripherals. A decade later, PC makers still put legacy ports on PC, and have just recently started bundling PCs with USB keyboards and mice rather than the old, problematic PS/2 connectors.
Without a functional showcase for Intel's innovations in hardware, the company faces an slow erosion of mindshare and a loss of its leadership position in directing new trends in hardware. If all Intel were left with was making the same x86 chips ad nauseam, it would eventually lose markets to work alike clone producers. Intel has to innovate to survive.
Part VII > Tears of a Clone