Rumor: Apple buys into chip fab, plans to build its own silicon

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014
Apple may move beyond designing silicon and actually build its own mobile chips, rather than relying entirely on third-party suppliers like Samsung or TSMC, a new rumor claims.

A6
Photo via iFixit.


Apple's alleged buy-in to an unnamed chip fabrication plant is not a "trivial" investment, a report published Friday by SemiAccurate claims. The full report remains hidden behind a $1,000-per-year paywall, but tags accompanying the story may reveal Apple's rumored mystery partner: United Microelectronics Corporation.

UMC is a Taiwan-based chipmaker that has been around since 1980 and currently trades on the New York Stock Exchange. The company's name has been connected to Apple rumors in the past, but none at the scale of building CPUs for the iPhone maker.

A few years ago, SemiAccurate was the source of one high-profile Apple-related rumor that failed to bear fruit. In 2011, the site claimed that Apple planned to transition its Mac lineup from Intel to ARM processors by early 2013, which never came to be.

However, the site did accurately predict that Apple would switch back to Nvidia graphics processors for its 2012 MacBook lineup. The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display launched last year with an Nvidia GeForce GT 650M, switching from the AMD Radeon HD 6750M GPU found in the late 2011 model.

Regarding Apple's custom ARM chips found in the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Apple TV, Samsung has been the sole builder of those processors for years. But as competition between Apple and Samsung has grown, rumors have suggested that Apple wishes to move away from its reliance on Samsung.

Longstanding rumors have pegged Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. as Apple's most likely chipmaking partner. Just last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that after years of talks, Apple had finally inked a deal with TSMC to build mobile chips beginning in 2014.

But if Friday's latest rumor is to be believed, Apple's chip supply diversification efforts have led the company to make a significant investment in a a chip fabrication company, going well beyond a manufacturing agreement.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 44
    robin huberrobin huber Posts: 3,234member
    Please, please, PLEASE do it. I have been asserting the wisdom of such a move on this forum for some time now and hope I'm finally shown to be not just a dreamer. Others have pointed out to me the difficulties, and I agree with them. But I hope Apple can find a way to overcome them and put its future more in its own hands. Chips will not go out of fashion, they will always need them no matter which product direction they go. Unless they shift gears and start selling mattresses. ;-)
  • Reply 2 of 44
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    Perhaps this is what big Bob Mansfield is working on. Cook did say they have ambitious plans in this space.
  • Reply 3 of 44
    cnocbuicnocbui Posts: 3,613member


    Wow, TSMC will be happy.  They haven't even managed to turn away from the table where they signed the latest agreement before there was a dagger between their shoulderblades - if true.

  • Reply 4 of 44
    ajbdtc826ajbdtc826 Posts: 190member
    I thought they bought that chip maker out in Isreal a few years ago, sounds to me they've been looking into this for some time now.
  • Reply 5 of 44
    FINALLY!!!
  • Reply 6 of 44
    gazoobeegazoobee Posts: 3,754member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post


    Wow, TSMC will be happy.  They haven't even managed to turn away from the table where they signed the latest agreement before there was a dagger between their shoulderblades - if true.



     


    You're really mischaracterising things here.  TSMC was courted for years, offered piles of cash, offered to be bought out etc., and only after a long, long time did they grudgingly agree to produce chips for Apple under terms that were actually good for Apple.  So in fact, they were actually offered the same deal years ago.  


     


    It's hardly a "dagger in the back" to hedge your bets with such a company by buying a much smaller chip fab plant as a "safety."   

  • Reply 7 of 44
    realisticrealistic Posts: 1,126member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post


    Wow, TSMC will be happy.  They haven't even managed to turn away from the table where they signed the latest agreement before there was a dagger between their shoulderblades - if true.



    It depends on what the agreements are for, multiple sources will always be better and more reliable than a single source. i am sure Apple will honor any and all agreements they negotiated and signed with TSMC and anyone else. Don't forget this is still just another unconfirmed rumor.

  • Reply 8 of 44
    jj.yuanjj.yuan Posts: 212member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AjbDtc826 View Post



    I thought they bought that chip maker out in Isreal a few years ago, sounds to me they've been looking into this for some time now.




    That was a chip design company, not a fab. They design the controller for use in SSD.

  • Reply 9 of 44
    flaneurflaneur Posts: 4,506member
    cnocbui wrote: »
    Wow, TSMC will be happy.  They haven't even managed to turn away from the table where they signed the latest agreement before there was a dagger between their shoulderblades - if true.

    More pub talk. Here we call it barroom talk. Could it be the Guinness?
  • Reply 10 of 44
    al_bundyal_bundy Posts: 1,525member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post


    Wow, TSMC will be happy.  They haven't even managed to turn away from the table where they signed the latest agreement before there was a dagger between their shoulderblades - if true.



    every company of apple's size has multiple suppliers


    even apple's current products use multiple suppliers for iphones, mac's, etc

  • Reply 11 of 44
    john.bjohn.b Posts: 2,716member


    The problem with Apple building their own chip fab factory is what would they do with cyclical excess capacity?  Samsung currently uses that to build Apple's A-series chips, among others.  I sincerely doubt Apple wants to have an Apple factory that makes chips for their Android competitors. (Not that Tim Cook doesn't already know this, of course, just throwing this out for AI crowd.)


     


    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AjbDtc826 View Post



    I thought they bought that chip maker out in Isreal a few years ago, sounds to me they've been looking into this for some time now.


     


    TBH, I thought that's what the P.A. Semi acquisition was all about five years ago.


     


    Quote:

    Originally Posted by cnocbui View Post


    Wow, TSMC will be happy.  They haven't even managed to turn away from the table where they signed the latest agreement before there was a dagger between their shoulderblades - if true.



     


    As much as TSMC played hard to get, it's probably smart for Apple not to put all their chips in that basket.

  • Reply 12 of 44
    whodawhoda Posts: 29member
    First and foremost, I'd be suspicious of anything behind a $1000 a year paywall. They are obviously going to say anything that might get people to pay up. But I think we've all seen this coming for a while. They keep buying design shops, and they have hired an entire team from AMD, and they kept old Bobby around for a reason. I'm guessing something like this takes a lot of time to get up and running, so TSMC is probably just a short term solution, while building their own chips is eventually the goal. I think they should just buy up their supply chain, and bring it all in house!
  • Reply 13 of 44
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,692member
    Last I knew UMC was far from a technology leader. As such I don't see the point for Apple which needs bleeding edge process technologies.
  • Reply 14 of 44
    aaronjaaronj Posts: 1,595member


    I don't buy this for a second.  I don't see how this would be to be Apple's advantage, at all.  It seems like getting involved in something that doesn't really suit them.


     


    What am I missing?

  • Reply 15 of 44
    drblankdrblank Posts: 3,383member


    Heck, Apple has more than enough money to do it.  It typically costs a few billion for the plant/equipment.  Now all they have to do is buy Sharp and keep the IGZO panel technology to themselves.

  • Reply 16 of 44
    quadra 610quadra 610 Posts: 6,743member
    Apple certainly has the resources and the market power to go it alone.
  • Reply 17 of 44
    theothergeofftheothergeoff Posts: 2,081member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Quadra 610 View Post



    Apple certainly has the resources and the market power to go it alone.


    the do but they won't


     


    If anything, they will own the initial production of the AXx line of chips and custom ASICs needed for the next phone/pod/pad/mac,  using the virtual fab designs to keep the design in house, then make their initial runs in house as well.   Once established, they will push the proven etches and design to the market of fab facilities for volume and longevity.


     


    This has 2 distinct advantages... One, all the initial proofing of chips is done under tight controls... no leaking of chip designs (ala Samsung) early in the process, 2nd, this allows Apple to drive the design independent of what the fabs are able to build at the time they bid it out... they can buy state of the art processes and prove the concept, and then drive the proven solution to the 3rd parties at less risk (which means lower cost... I mean if TMSC was asked to do something they never done before, they'll say XXbillion and we'll be ready in YYmonths, +/- 10%.  Apple can now say... 80% of that, and +/- 2%, because we are giving you proven etches and processes).   


     


     


    I see a pattern of designing and building out a couple million chips in house, and then negotiating hard what, 6 months prior to launch of a new product with new chips in it, saying we're giving you everything, except the design then 2 months prior, the chip designs are shipped for volume launch  (the 1 month after main launch), which at that point the Apple chip foundry starts tooling up for the new chip cycle.


     


    This likely cuts 6 months exposure of IP, and keeps the Samsungs and Qualcomms of the world in the dark until product launch, then they play catch up.   It also allows Apple to design chips independent of what the chip fabs can currently make (or plan to make), and then avoid the 'that's a nice design, but can you do it using our process, because we don't know how to do what you want to do" compromises)


     


    Or it can all be a rumor.

  • Reply 18 of 44
    mdriftmeyermdriftmeyer Posts: 7,213member
    I'd prefer Apple invest in Global Foundries and follow IBM's lead on that one. The $20 Billion going into Malta complex includes 2 new additional Fabs.
  • Reply 19 of 44
    pdq2pdq2 Posts: 270member


    I would _love_ for this rumor to be true, on two levels. First, For a long time (Microsoft, Adobe, Google, Samsung...) Apple's partners have shown a remarkable propensity toward stabbing Apple in the back, and that would be (anatomically) more challenging if Apple owned the fab and had to stab it's own back for a change.


     


    Secondly, it would shut up obnoxious fandroids that say Apple never invented anything, because they just assemble other company's parts....but then, now that I think about it, obnoxious fandroids are impossible to shut up, and they would just whine about something else.


     


    Changing hats, the Apple stockholder in me thinks this is not a great idea. Cutting edge chip fabrication is not the domain of dabblers. AIM didn't keep up very well with Intel back in the day. All things considered, I think Apple would be best served by taking the best that that already-competitive market can produce...and that approach also has the advantage of being cheaper and not diluting focus at the mothership.

  • Reply 20 of 44
    richard getzrichard getz Posts: 1,142member
    I have been saying this for months and I am glad to hear they might be. This will give them an advantage not seen before. The ability to produce processors away from competitors view so they are first to market with advanced technology. If done correctly, this alone could put the iOS devices 2-3 years ahead of competition.

    Apple can start small here but doing most of the design work and small runs to work out issues and then move mass production to one of the bigger fabs. This allows that 1-2 year design process to be fully vetted before competition could even have the chance to see it.
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