Apple iPhone call for talent as TSMC grabs Samsung's chip supply deal

Apple [AAPL] has introduced the iPhone 5 and is preparing to unwrap its iPad mini, but the company is also putting together the pieces for its next-generation mobile processors while plotting a course to dump arch rival Samsung from its supply chain.


Moving along

The latest recruitment ad gives us a small glimpse as to the company’s future plans. The company is seeking a lead engineer to develop system-on-chip processors, with the ideal candidate being a person “at the center of a chip design effort interfacing with all disciplines.”

It’s a “unique and highly visible” role for a candidate with ten or more years of experience in SoC design and an understanding of the nuances of performance and power modeling, processors, graphics and memory systems. 

In other words, their job will be to help design a chip that’s custom-made for the best possible performance and best possible power efficiency for use with Apple’s iOS inside its mobile systems. That’s one possibility. 

Apple’s A6 chip is just a beginning. The company seems on course to manufacture a new CPU design every couple of years. Based on ARM instructions the next-generation chip is set to debut in 2014, meaning the company will be in search of talent to tweak its existing processor.

Apple has spent at least half a billion dollars on chip development expertise so far, acquiring PA Semi and Intrinsity. It also owns a slice of other relevant firms, such as Imagination Technology.

“Now that it has completed its first CPU design, Apple is not likely to stop there. To keep pace with competitors using ARM’s own cores, the company will have to crank out a new CPU design every couple of years. We believe Apple is already working on a next-generation CPU, which will likely implement the 64-bit ARMv8 instruction set. This new CPU probably won’t debut until 2014, so for its 2013 products, Apple will have to rely on the same CPU design, perhaps in a quad-core configuration and with a higher-performance GPU,” said Linley Group chief, Linley Gwennap.

So long, Samsung

It seems unlikely Samsung will manufacture future Apple chips. The company has been seeking out a new partner for this tasks since Steve Jobs first approached its Korean partner to ask it to stop copying iProduct designs. History will show Samsung refused to honor this request, forcing Apple into legal action against it which the copy cat company then attempted to define as Cupertino throwing the first punch. That’s the business equivalent of the man in a bar who continues to chat up your girlfriend when warned, and then accuses you of assault if you try to stop them. 

It appears TSMC has finally got itself into position to begin manufacturing processors for Apple’s devices. Multiple reports have claimed it intended doing so for the current iPhone, but a Focus Taiwan news story suggests it’s preparing to do so in future. TSMC will spend more on facility investment next year than Samsung.

“Market sources said earlier this year that TSMC's 2013 capital expenditure will increase from US$8.3 billion to US$10 billion in 2013.”

Why? I’m suggesting the company is preparing to put together a chip production line dedicated to the creation of Apple’s new family of processors, most likely as part of a multi-year agreement and a high degree of secrecy. 

The biggest losers as a result of Samsung’s inability to reach a settlement to its dispute with Apple will be those American workers at its Texas Apple chip manufacturing plant.

Beyond the iDevice

Apple’s chip ambitions may go further than iPads, iPhones and the iPod touch. 

Apple has also deliberated over moving away from Intel chips in the Macintosh, say two people familiar with these discussions,” wrote Businessweek yesterday.

Apple has previously dismissed touch input for Macs, saying the position of the display is inappropriate, however critics of its iSeries mobile devices like to say they aren’t suitable for the full gamut of creative work. This begs the question: how attractive would a fully-implemented Mac OS X-cum-iOS tablet system be as a high-end device?

The Mac rumor mill is buzzing on news of a ModBook, a touch-enabled tablet device based on a MacBook Pro. Could the company’s long-term ambitions include creation of a new Macintosh line based on its own lower-power but high performance processors?

I think it’s possible. What about you?

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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