Sunday, January 31, 2010

Apple Silicon in Next iPhone?

Apple has been using ARM to power iPhones, but has been buying the chips from third parties like Samsung. (A reason Intel said Apple's ARM decision was a mistake.) Now that Apple has launched its Apple A4 system-on-a-chip in its new iPad (not yet shipping), the question about Apple's possible plan to use its PA Semi acquisition to supply its own silicon to its high-volume iPhone business has become much more serious.

Tantalizingly, Steve Jobs' post-iPad-launch discussion with Apple employees included a few tidbits:
  • Apple will update iPhone's OS (and the iPad's) aggressively, which will make it a hard target for Google to catch with Android
  • Apple views Google as intending to destroy iPhone, and Apple is committed to protecting iPhone
  • The next iPhone "is an A+" update
These related pieces of information suggest that (1) Apple is leveraging its control over its software to improve its competitive advantages, (2) Apple's migration to its own hardware may leverage existing margins and capability advantages to the detriment of either features competitors or price competitors, and (3) Apple's ability to leverage its intimate knowledge of self-designed hardware to offer users a high-value software experience will be increasing rather than decreasing with the improvement of future hardware and software. It also suggests the name of the SoC that will run the iPhone may be "A+" instead of "A4".

Given who Apple got with the PA Semi acquisition (Alpha? StrongARM? Yeah. That team's leader.), it's expected Apple will enjoy genuine advantage going forward. Apple has begun showing us how it will leverage that advantage with custom low-power silicon predicted earlier:
Before the year is out, Apple will have the most powerful, lowest-cost SOC in the industry. There's nothing that I can see from ARM licensees or Intel that could challenge the power-per-watt, the power-per-buck, the power-per-cubic-millimeter of size. Apple is going to have quite a performance, battery efficiency and cost advantage over the competition
-- Richard Doherty, quoted in cnet news
The future is here.

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