The elephant in the room here is Apple ( AAPL), now the world's biggest buyer of CPUs, and a longtime customer of Samsung and Qualcomm ( QCOM). Intel's future now depends on getting deeper into Apple's pockets. Apple has gotten so big that papers like The Guardian have speculated it could just buy out Intel. That's not going to happen. But two things are needed to get the Apple account -- an ability to negotiate deals and a willingness to talk software. Krzanich may run a great factory, but he lacks both of those skills. James has them.
I heard TheStreet's Jim Cramer on the TV recently saying that Intel made a huge mistake in buying McAfee, the security software outfit James now runs, and not buying ARM Holdings ( ARMH), whose low-power chip designs are now licensed to a host of Intel's fabless competitors, including Apple and Samsung. I doubt James even now has the power to do an ARM deal, but given how few companies there are now that run their own CPU fabs -- there are four -- chances are Intel has already produced ARM designs for someone, and could easily do it for someone else. If, that is, Apple were given the same autonomy in design that Samsung gives it, along with the full software resources of a company Intel's size. I've written before that Intel should be broken up, along hardware-software lines. Functionally, this succession does that. The question is whether James can take advantage of it, managing Krzanich, managing this change, managing Apple, and transforming Intel from a PC chip company selling to OEMs into a provider of chip-based solutions to customers' problems. At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL. Follow @DanaBlankenhornThis article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.