Apple ditches Samsung, moves A6 processor production to TSMC for iOS 6 devices?
Here’s another iPhone-related rumor for you, just in case you haven’t had enough speculation and fabrication over the past few weeks. Then again, this is how it always is when we’re approaching the announcement of a new iPhone. And since we’re apparently one or two months away from the new iPhone (or iPhones?), here we go.
Luckily, this particular rumor isn’t specifically about an iPhone, but has to do with Apple’s relationship with Samsung. Remember, if you will, that the two companies are currently involved in some litigation primarily over Apple’s claims that Samsung copied Apple’s designs.
Ars Technica has heard from several sources in the semiconductor business all saying the same thing – that Apple will turn to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (known as TSMC) to produce the processor that will be in next year’s Apple iPhone and iPad (most likely running iOS 6). This processor is known at the moment by its codename A6, but that may very well end up being its ‘commercial’ name as well, since this year’s iteration is called A5, and last year’s is A4. The A5 is inside the iPad 2 at the moment (and probably will make it to the next iPhone), and the A4 powers the original iPad, the iPhone 4, and the 4th generation iPod touch.
Anyway, the A4 and A5 are both manufactured by Samsung right now, and they have been since they were launched. So the speculation goes that Apple is now trying to get rid of Samsung as a supplier as fast as possible, in the light of the ‘copying’ that the Korean company has allegedly undertaken.
These aren’t five-year-olds, they’re multi-billion dollar corporations, so please don’t fall for the catchy article titles (notice how ours has a question mark?) and think that Apple is now so angry at Samsung that it would give up on the relationship no matter what.
Let’s dig in a bit. If this doesn’t have anything to do with the litigation, then what is it about? Well, from the same source linked above we find that Samsung is making Apple’s current processors using a 45nm process. The alleged talks between Samsung and TSMC were focused on a prospective 28nm process. So what if that’s the gist of it? What if Samsung simply isn’t able to have a 28nm process ready in time to make the A6 units for Apple? After all, 28nm isn’t the first process smaller than 45nm, so Samsung is more than one generation behind in those terms. At least it is right now.
According to an X-bit labs article from May, Samsung is ready to mass produce 28nm as well as 32nm chips. And while it looks like it will be able to push out the first such chips during 2011, nothing is set in stone yet. So maybe Samsung is facing some delays with these processes, and Apple is playing it safe shopping around for alternatives. Who knows? No one. No one knows for sure today, and that’s the point.
What we have today is a rumor that Apple will (perhaps) switch suppliers for a key component of its mobile products. Okay, but even if this turns out to be true, it doesn’t mean we know anything about Apple’s reasons here. Please understand that. Everything you read about why Apple may be doing this is pure speculation. Just like this post you’re reading right now is.
And even if Apple does stop buying processors from Samsung, those are hardly the only things that it sources there. We need to hear rumors about a lot more components than processors going from Samsung to another supplier before we start considering that this had anything to do with copying anything.
Which brings me to that. The Samsung Galaxy S II was launched about a year ago. If Apple saw it then (and it did) and thought ‘hmm, this looks very much like our trade dress… shouldn’t we sue?‘, why did it take one year to actually sue? Is Apple worried about its trade dress only when the products it claims copy its designs become successful? That’s a bit hypocritical, isn’t it?
I don’t know why Apple really sued Samsung, but I can tell you one thing: it probably has nothing to do with the way TouchWiz UI looks, or the way Samsung hardware looks. And since these are big companies that are otherwise in a very tight supplier-customer relationship, the first thought I had was that Apple’s move was a negotiation ploy. Something designed to scare Samsung into lowering prices for some of the countless components it sells to Apple. Or improve them in some other way at Samsung’s expense. Or give Apple more favorable terms in one or more of its contracts with Samsung. A negotiation tactic, if you will.
If the move to TSMC for processors turns out to be real, then I’m not so sure anymore. Yet I still can’t accept that the suit is only about what it claims to be. It’s too ridiculous to be so.