Apple to move ARM SoC production away from Samsung in 2012

Samsung logoApple's increasingly tenuous relationship with Samsung as a component supplier for its mobile devices could end next year, according to numerous sources inside the semiconductor industry. The company will likely tap contract fab Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company to build its next-generation ARM SoCs, currently dubbed "A6," sometime in 2012.

Rumors of a partnership between Apple and TSMC began in early 2011, prior to Apple's introduction of the iPad 2 and its A5 processor. Those rumors were later corroborated by sources for EE Times, which suggested Apple was working with TSMC to move its mobile processors to the foundry's 28nm process. It was later revealed that manufacturing partner Samsung, which produced the A4 processors in the iPhone 4 and original iPad, was still producing the A5 processors for Apple's next-generation products.

But all of that was before Apple launched a massive legal attack against Samsung for allegedly copying the look and design of Apple's iPhone and iPad for its Galaxy S smartphones and Galaxy Tab tablets. While Apple continues to source components from Samsung for its mobile devices under contracts that were likely signed more than a year ago, Apple presented a huge pile of evidence that Samsung was attempting to copy at least some of the secret sauce that made its iPhone and iPad so successful. So Apple very likely sees moving production to a non-competitor as a strategic business move.

Dan Heyler, a semiconductor analyst with Merrill Lynch in Taipei, told the China-based Commercial Times newspaper on Friday that TSMC will most likely be producing "A6" processors for Apple, a next-generation ARM-based design, in 2012. That jibes with what Ars has heard from a plugged-in source—that the chatter on the foundry grapevine about an impending Apple/TSMC deal is growing deafening.

Apple is currently having Samsung produce A5 processors on a 45nm process. TSMC is producing mobile SoCs for other smartphone and tablet makers on a 40nm process, though as we mentioned Apple has reportedly been working with TSMC to move to a 28nm process. That may offer Apple a slight competitive advantage, at least until its competitors migrate to the same process. For this reason, it seems more likely that Apple is making the change to cut some, if not all, Samsung-made components out of its supply chain.

There's still the remote possibility that Apple could move to Intel if it can find a workable deal to combine its low-power ARM designs with Intel's new 22nm three-dimensional transistor process. In the meantime, however, Apple has few choices out there to fab its mobile SoCs, and "not Samsung" seems like a smart option at this point in time.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Apple, CPUs, Samsung, TSMC

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