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Steve Jobs: it's time we design our own iPhone and iPod chips

post #1 of 96
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The market potential for proprietary mobile processor designs from chip makers like Samsung Electronics and Intel Corp. were dealt a considerable blow earlier this week when Apple chief executive Steve Jobs revealed that his company will start designing its own breed of chips to power the next-generation of Multi-Touch devices that won't be available to rivals.

South Korea-based Samsung has long been central to Apple's handheld efforts (1, 2, 3), supplying the primary SoCs -- or system-on-chips -- for everything from the iPod nano to the iPhone. Meanwhile, Intel has been in the running to assert its Atom processors at heart of a larger iPhone-like Multi-Touch internet tablet that's also under development at the Cupertino-based electronics maker, and was at one time believed to have sealed the deal.

Unfortunately for the two industry heavyweights, Apple appears to have other plans to further innovation around its Multi-Touch platform that will reduce its reliance on chip designs conceived largely by third parties. In an interview following his keynote address at the Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, Jobs told the New York Times' John Markoff that his firm's recent $278 million acquisition of a small fabless semiconductor company called P.A. Semi was an investment in the future of its handheld products.

"PA Semi is going to do system-on-chips for iPhones and iPods," he said, ending speculation as to the precise motives behind the April buyout. The initial uncertainty stemmed from the fact that PA Semi was best know for chips based on IBM's Power technology, an architecture that Apple abandoned two years ago when it moved its Mac line of personal computers to Intel's architecture.

But as Jobs explained to the Wall Street Journal two months ago, Apple has always been integral in the design of chips used in iPhones and iPods even though they were developed by third parties like Samsung. It was to this end that the value in PA Semi emerged, not for its existing technologies but for its expertise in designing embedded processors to do almost anything the iPhone maker wants them to do.

For Apple, the advantages of bringing PA Semi in-house are many. In particular, it will afford the company to innovate in a way going forward that will differentiate its handheld products from a growing array of competitive devices that will be left to rely on technologies available to the broader industry. It will also allow the company, which is synonymous with secrecy, to keep a tighter lid on its intellectual property and future product plans.

Still, there's hope for chip makers like Samsung and Intel in that that Apple will still need to rely on a third party to manufacture the chips it develops on its own, given that PA Semi doesn't own a fabrication facility. It's also possible that the PA Semi team could build onto chip designs initially conceived by one of the semiconductor giants. That's of course assuming Jobs and Co. don't have an even bigger plan brewing to somehow serve as its own SoC manufacturer.
post #2 of 96
Well, PA Semi is/was fabless. Is there a reason that Samsung or Intel wouldn't be tapped to actually build the SoCs? TI may have been PA Semi's fab in the past (I think I read that somewhere) but only a few folks are going beyond 45nm and TI ain't one of them. TI itself will use foundry partners for 32nm and beyond.

Samsung and Intel are going past 45nm to 32nm and 28nm.
post #3 of 96
I can see the logic behind this move. Cram as much proprietary technology as possible into the iPhone so that it doesn't become another Razor.

Hope they can find someone to fab those chips. Not so sure Intel would be interested. I imagine they're a bit hurt that Atom won't get the chance to power future iPhones.
post #4 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by vinea View Post

Well, PA Semi is/was fabless. Is there a reason that Samsung or Intel wouldn't be tapped to actually build the SoCs? TI may have been PA Semi's fab in the past (I think I read that somewhere) but only a few folks are going beyond 45nm and TI ain't one of them. TI itself will use foundry partners for 32nm and beyond.

Samsung and Intel are going past 45nm to 32nm and 28nm.

I wonder how a 45nm RISC/ARM PA Semi custom chip would compare to a 32nm Atom. I know its a hypothetical question but someone at Apple surely has looked at this. I'm guessing that the RISC/ARM blows it away or Apple wouldn't be going this route.
post #5 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by backtomac View Post

I can see the logic behind this move. Cram as much proprietary technology as possible into the iPhone so that it doesn't become another Razor.

Hope they can find someone to fab those chips. Not so sure Intel would be interested. I imagine they're a bit hurt that Atom won't get the chance to power future iPhones.

Atom isn't even the right chip for that job.

There are several fab companies.
post #6 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by backtomac View Post

I can see the logic behind this move. Cram as much proprietary technology as possible into the iPhone so that it doesn't become another Razor.

Hope they can find someone to fab those chips. Not so sure Intel would be interested. I imagine they're a bit hurt that Atom won't get the chance to power future iPhones.

If the price was right, I'm sure both Intel and Samsung would manufacture the Apple-designed chips.

Money talks, BS walks.
post #7 of 96
Awesome now hopefully they PA Semi will be the first to release a Cortex-A9 quad core system on a chip. Apple originally designed this architecture with Acorn and part owned ARM, but sold them progressively off to get them through their rough patch.

The Cortex-A9 gives today's desktop levels of performance in the 250mW class... Amazing.

"The ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore multicore processor and ARM Cortex-A9 single core processor deliver up to 8000 DMIPS performance within a 250 mW power budget."

Or dual core for 125mW peak power... These are incredible processors.

In fact it gives the same performance as the PA Semi PWRficient processor using 1/100th the active power consumption of this "power efficient" processor!

ARM has finished this outstanding core a while ago and is waiting for licensees to put it in their systems-on-a-chip. Hopefully licensees like Apple.
post #8 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffDM View Post

Atom isn't even the right chip for that job.

Not in its current iteration. However when its fab moves to 32nm everything I've read suggests that Intel will push hard for its adoption in smart phones.

I'm not sure Intel will want to fab a chip that competes with one of their products even though it would only be used by Apple.
post #9 of 96
Quote:
I imagine they're a bit hurt that Atom won't get the chance to power future iPhones.

Yeah, Intel missed the chance to say their processor operate one of the best smart phone in the world.

I wonder if moving developing chips for the iPhone and iPods is the right move?. Yeah, Apple would be able to take better control of their product but how about the advancement of the chip? I mean, Intel is crushing AMD cause Intel has volume which allows them to release ridiculous advance chips at a short time. I just dont get it, someone, enlighten me!!!.

Oh yeah, anyway maybe Apple is interested in PA Semi cause of its low power high performance processors?
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post #10 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by backtomac View Post

Not in its current iteration. However when its fab moves to 32nm everything I've read suggests that Intel will push hard for its adoption in smart phones.

I'm not sure Intel will want to fab a chip that competes with one of their products even though it would only be used by Apple.

Atom at 32nm won't even touch an ARM Cortex-A8 let alone a Cortex-A9

Atom is in-order, A9 is out-of-order.

Think of an A9 at 32nm... Hmmm
post #11 of 96
Making your own chip is one way to differentiate yourself from the competition, but it all comes down to who has the talent. If Intel keep vacuuming up the best talent then the only way Apple will differentiate themselves is in a negative way. Of course they must think this company they just bought has the potential to out-do Intel, in this one specialized field at least.
post #12 of 96
HOLY SCHMOLY!
I guess SJ is feel'n well after all
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post #13 of 96
That could be good, but does it also mean that Apple is going to move away from further compatibility with other devices out there?
post #14 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by wheelhot View Post

Yeah, Intel missed the chance to say their processor operate one of the best smart phone in the world.

I wonder if moving developing chips for the iPhone and iPods is the right move?. Yeah, Apple would be able to take better control of their product but how about the advancement of the chip? I mean, Intel is crushing AMD cause Intel has volume which allows them to release ridiculous advance chips at a short time. I just dont get it, someone, enlighten me!!!.

Oh yeah, anyway maybe Apple is interested in PA Semi cause of its low power high performance processors?

The problem has been that in the past Apple would release an iPod and within weeks competitors would start selling iPod knock-offs with 80% of the features and 20% of the polish of Apple's product. Because the iPhones were originally made with off the shelf components, this was easy to do. Apple's iPods and iPhones have increased dramatically in complexity and it isn't quite as easy for competitors to duplicate it's efforts. However, iPhone clones are showing up multi-touch screens already.

Apple needs to design their products with custom chips that no one else has access to. This will make it harder to duplicate their features.
post #15 of 96
Here is the brave Apple again, repeating old history with old mistakes. Will they never learn that software and not hardware is what they must make? Hint: read Microsoft.
post #16 of 96
How long down the road will it be before any Apple / PA Semi designed chips show up in an iPhone or other device, but mainly iPhone? The next generation iPhone??

Does anyone think Apple will put out an iPhone with this "inhouse" design chip as soon as it's developed and tested and is good to go for fabrication even if it's production run and stockpiling of inventory for eventual distribution does not match the iPhone's birthday. That is, will the next generation iPhone come out sooner (before the iPhone's "birthday") or later (wait for the iPhone anniversary to launch newer generation iPhone with Apple & PA Semi's newly designed chip?

I'm curious as to what others are thinking?

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post #17 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by zunx View Post

Here is the brave Apple again, repeating old history with old mistakes. Will they never learn that software and not hardware is what they must make? Hint: read Microsoft.

Sorry, but they're a successful software company BECAUSE they're also a hardware company. The 2 can't be separated.
MS is foundering because they DON'T control they hardware.
post #18 of 96
Proof that OS X will remain universal, rather than going Intel-only.
post #19 of 96
processors built specifically for grand central, instead of grand central built specifically for processors.
post #20 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by zunx View Post

Here is the brave Apple again, repeating old history with old mistakes. Will they never learn that software and not hardware is what they must make? Hint: read Microsoft.

Apple uses software to sell hardware. That's what fundamentally makes the iPhone, iPod, and Mac different from every other competitor out there. If you think it's because they make great hardware, then you're kidding yourself.

This is also the same reason why Apple and Microsoft aren't in this great competition everyone thinks they're in. Microsoft does make Mac software. They wouldn't do so if it were intruding on their business. It's as simple as that.
post #21 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by GQB View Post

Sorry, but they're a successful software company BECAUSE they're also a hardware company. The 2 can't be separated.
MS is foundering because they DON'T control they hardware.

I thought MS was foundering because of a management team that lacked innovative vision and newer software releases that must have "backward compatibility" incorporated in it?! Backward compatibility is that really a good thing or is it backward thinking and MS should just "cut the chord"!

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post #22 of 96
I'm quite the ignorant one in this subject (someone will step in to help me, I'm sure) but isn't PA Semi technology essentially PowerPC? There must be a motive for Apple doing these three things:

1) Move Macintosh OS X away from PowerPC (10.6)
2) Migrate iPhone/iPod toward OS X
3) Adopt PA Semi (PowerPC?) hardware technology in iPhone/iPod

Does this strike anyone else as a bit odd? I'm sure there must be many other elements that I don't see that are key to what Apple is doing.
post #23 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by retroneo View Post

Atom at 32nm won't even touch an ARM Cortex-A8 let alone a Cortex-A9

Atom is in-order, A9 is out-of-order.

Think of an A9 at 32nm... Hmmm

That's good to know. I suspect that if Apple fab their own chips for the iPhone they may be a node behind, so a comparison between a 45nm RISC and a 32nm Atom will be important.
post #24 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by fpsanders View Post

That could be good, but does it also mean that Apple is going to move away from further compatibility with other devices out there?

This would be a good thing IMO. Software compatibility is necessary, hardware compatibility leads to the lowest common denominator usually.

I would ignore the statement that PA Semi is going to be designing just for the mobile products also. Apple has always used custom chips on the MB of its computers and has already announced plans in the area of using built in hardware accelerators and decoders like for the H.264 standard etc.and I would expect them to continue.

Differentiation and customisation is what it's about and it will allow Apple to always be faster than any clone machine out there.
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post #25 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hudson1 View Post

I'm quite the ignorant one in this subject (someone will step in to help me, I'm sure) but isn't PA Semi technology essentially PowerPC? There must be a motive for Apple doing these three things:

1) Move Macintosh OS X away from PowerPC (10.6)
2) Migrate iPhone/iPod toward OS X
3) Adopt PA Semi (PowerPC?) hardware technology in iPhone/iPod

Does this strike anyone else as a bit odd? I'm sure there must be many other elements that I don't see that are key to what Apple is doing.

Ignore PA Semi's past largely.

What Apple wanted them for was there skill in creating low power 'System-On-A-Chip' chips. This is also what Samsung and most of the ARM licencees do also. They take the core of the ARM CPU and add on ancillary circuits to create a single chip that has the ARM core (or 2 perhaps), a memory controller, a GPU perhaps (eg PowerVR) and perhaps cache.

Sticking it all in one chip makes it more efficient.

PA Semi aren't (at least I'd guess not) designing new ARM cores. That's what ARM do. They could perhaps but it seems unlikely given ARM's newest cores.
post #26 of 96
Im glad that Apple is doing this. They too nervous about Intel telling all the secrets!

Apple does need to make its own hardware and chips. But at the same time this will make it little bit more expensive to make. Intel's monopoly will not last for long. There need to be many chip makers that move the whole technology faster and faster, and so Apple is taking this shot.

Apple has very talented people and I am sure they will make great products in the future. Apple just wants to be independent and not rely on other hardware makers.
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post #27 of 96
PA Semi has expertise in the development of next generation, low power chips derived from previous chips. Their most famous one is the PWRficient line of PPC derivatives. PA Semi has not, and does not, develop chips from scratch. They take current designs and make them better -- both in capability and power efficiency. That is the capability Apple bought. That is the capability Apple will use. In the PPC example they (PA Semi) took the very power hungry IBM design (remember Apple's water cooled PowerMacs?) and came up with an even more capable, low power version. Clearly, Apple thinks they can do it again with other chips.

Which chip(s) will Apple have the PA Semi team evolve? Atom? Samsung's SOC? ARM? (Remember Apple once owned a very large piece of ARM. Maybe they still have certain rights to the designs. Who knows?)
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post #28 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by shadowself View Post

PA Semi has expertise in the development of next generation, low power chips derived from previous chips. Their most famous one is the PWRficient line of PPC derivatives. PA Semi has not, and does not, develop chips from scratch. They take current designs and make them better -- both in capability and power efficiency. That is the capability Apple bought. That is the capability Apple will use. In the PPC example they (PA Semi) took the very power hungry IBM design (remember Apple's water cooled PowerMacs?) and came up with an even more capable, low power version. Clearly, Apple thinks they can do it again with other chips.

Which chip(s) will Apple have the PA Semi team evolve? Atom? Samsung's SOC? ARM? (Remember Apple once owned a very large piece of ARM. Maybe they still have certain rights to the designs. Who knows?)

This is I guess what I don't understand. Since Apple is going all intel (perhaps with snow leopard), one would guess they would want an X86 foundation. That means a big fat licence fee to intel.

I'm sure Intel would much rather they use atom, but they will still make a bundle off the deal. First, for the licence fee and then for the fabs.
post #29 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

If there's a ray of hope for chip makers like Samsung and Intel, it's that Apple will still need to rely on a third party to manufacture the chips it develops on its own, given that PA Semi doesn't own a fabrication facility. That's of course assuming Jobs and Co. don't have a plan brewing to tackle that problem as well.

Meh. Fat chance Apple will go down that route. Fabrication plants are hugely expensive to build. And then you have to sink $1-2 Billion into them every few years to re-fit them for the next technology shrink. No, Apple will do what ARM does (very successfully) they'll design in-house, then outsource the fabrication work to someone who has enough volume through their fab plants to keep the costs down.
post #30 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by mh71 View Post

This is I guess what I don't understand. Since Apple is going all intel (perhaps with snow leopard), one would guess they would want an X86 foundation. That means a big fat licence fee to intel.

I'm sure Intel would much rather they use atom, but they will still make a bundle off the deal. First, for the licence fee and then for the fabs.

I think you're assuming that PA Semi can do custom x86 chip design. That is far from certain. They can do custom RISC design. That is their history. It is more likely that Apple plan to use custom RISC/ARM chips with customization given PA Semi history.

Also uncertain and perhaps unlikely is Intel's willingness to to fab custom chips for proprietary use. Have they done this before?
post #31 of 96
What could Apple possibly do on it's own that the larger chip makers couldn't duplicate? My problem now is that my brain might be too weak to understand what Apple has in mind. Ultra-low power processors is one possibility. Attempting to fit whole iPhone and iPod circuits on a single chip? Apple really seems to be trying to leave the smartphone industry in the dust. RIM keeps saying they have nothing to worry about from the iPhone. RIM's people must have balls of steel.
post #32 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by backtomac View Post

I'm not sure Intel will want to fab a chip that competes with one of their products even though it would only be used by Apple.

You might be right ... if Steve asks nicely, maybe IBM will do it
post #33 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

If there's a ray of hope for chip makers like Samsung and Intel, it's that Apple will still need to rely on a third party to manufacture the chips it develops on its own, given that PA Semi doesn't own a fabrication facility. That's of course assuming Jobs and Co. don't have a plan brewing to tackle that problem as well.




How about this:

They build a manufacturing plant in America and allows Americans to finally build the chips?

Crazy, I know.
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post #34 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by mh71 View Post

This is I guess what I don't understand. Since Apple is going all intel (perhaps with snow leopard), one would guess they would want an X86 foundation. That means a big fat licence fee to intel.

I'm sure Intel would much rather they use atom, but they will still make a bundle off the deal. First, for the licence fee and then for the fabs.

I don't see it myself. OSX presently runs on Intel, PPC and ARM, and internal versions have run on Intel for a long long time IIRC.

I would imagine the iPhone/iPod will run whichever core is best at the time, and they'd maintain OSX on several platforms internally. So, probably an ARM based SOC, but with additional (patented) custom circuitry to let the Apple gear do cool stuff that's prohibitively hard/costly to clone.

As for what that cool new stuff is, that's where the juicy speculation begins...

Cheers,

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post #35 of 96
PA Semi are not a fab plant. Apple bought them for their IP and their low power chip design. Apple already work with intel on designs/requirements for chips at present. (the iMac 3.06Ghz chip is custom for Apple.)

This gives Apple space to create their own chip designs and have them made by intel or whomever they wish. They will also be able to license the chip design onto intel or other manufacturers and even the US Army.

This is a wise move and will hardly dent their relationship with intel.
post #36 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Mozzarella View Post

Apple needs to design their products with custom chips that no one else has access to. This will make it harder to duplicate their features.

Duplicating features isn't that hard. Not having access to the same specific components means little, except for that last little bit of refinement which the competitors won't have anyway. Everything that differentiates the iPhone isn't directly about features anyway, it's the software and a good amount of fore-thought on how to make it easier to use them.
post #37 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by backtomac View Post

I think you're assuming that PA Semi can do custom x86 chip design. That is far from certain. They can do custom RISC design. That is their history. It is more likely that Apple plan to use custom RISC/ARM chips with customization given PA Semi history.

Also uncertain and perhaps unlikely is Intel's willingness to to fab custom chips for proprietary use. Have they done this before?

You're right that I don't much about what I'm saying. But considering how complex the iphone is getting together with the big push towards a unified/cleaner platform, I just think that they are eying up an x86 derivative.

As far as intel goes, I think they see the handwriting on the wall that they are going to have to be in bed with Steve for the next 10 years. Apple's market share is going way up, especially with laptops (and iMacs are just laptops too). It could be potentially devestating for them if Steve starts cheating on them with AMD. Imagine what a more power and heat efficient AMD would do with Intels other customers. I just think Intel will need to be more open minded about their relationship if Apple comes asking.
post #38 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by irnchriz View Post

PA Semi are not a fab plant. Apple bought them for their IP and their low power chip design. Apple already work with intel on designs/requirements for chips at present. (the iMac 3.06Ghz chip is custom for Apple.)

Is it really a custom chip, or is it just another power & speed grade?
post #39 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rot'nApple View Post

How long down the road will it be before any Apple / PA Semi designed chips show up in an iPhone or other device, but mainly iPhone? The next generation iPhone??

Impossible for outsiders to know. However, it's possible that PA was already designing for Apple, and that the efforts were going so well that Apple decided to buy PA.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rot'nApple View Post

Does anyone think Apple will put out an iPhone with this "inhouse" design chip as soon as it's developed and tested and is good to go for fabrication even if it's production run and stockpiling of inventory for eventual distribution does not match the iPhone's birthday. That is, will the next generation iPhone come out sooner (before the iPhone's "birthday") or later (wait for the iPhone anniversary to launch newer generation iPhone with Apple & PA Semi's newly designed chip?

I'm curious as to what others are thinking?

Apple is probably designing a family of iPhones, and their release dates will correspond to when they are ready, not a anniversary. In the case of the 3G iPhone, the key component appears to be the optimized 3G chips. I think that more was influential on the release data, not the anniversary.
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post #40 of 96
Quote:
Originally Posted by Constable Odo View Post

RIM keeps saying they have nothing to worry about from the iPhone. RIM's people must have balls of steel.

...and brains of mush. Steve, ever the maverick, is doing exactly what they need to do to totally "own" their products, from the ground up.

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