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

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014
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.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 95
    vineavinea Posts: 5,585member
    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.
  • Reply 2 of 95
    backtomacbacktomac Posts: 4,579member
    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.
  • Reply 3 of 95
    backtomacbacktomac Posts: 4,579member
    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.
  • Reply 4 of 95
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    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.
  • Reply 5 of 95
    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.
  • Reply 6 of 95
    retroneoretroneo Posts: 240member
    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.
  • Reply 7 of 95
    backtomacbacktomac Posts: 4,579member
    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.
  • Reply 8 of 95
    wheelhotwheelhot Posts: 465member
    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?
  • Reply 9 of 95
    retroneoretroneo Posts: 240member
    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
  • Reply 10 of 95
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    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.
  • Reply 11 of 95
    bloggerblogbloggerblog Posts: 1,863member
    HOLY SCHMOLY!

    I guess SJ is feel'n well after all
  • Reply 12 of 95
    That could be good, but does it also mean that Apple is going to move away from further compatibility with other devices out there?
  • Reply 13 of 95
    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.
  • Reply 14 of 95
    zunxzunx Posts: 620member
    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.
  • Reply 15 of 95
    rot'napplerot'napple Posts: 1,839member
    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?
  • Reply 16 of 95
    gqbgqb Posts: 1,934member
    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.
  • Reply 17 of 95
    coolfactorcoolfactor Posts: 1,504member
    Proof that OS X will remain universal, rather than going Intel-only.
  • Reply 18 of 95
    desarcdesarc Posts: 642member
    processors built specifically for grand central, instead of grand central built specifically for processors.
  • Reply 19 of 95
    dagamer34dagamer34 Posts: 494member
    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.
  • Reply 20 of 95
    rot'napplerot'napple Posts: 1,839member
    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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