Speculation that Samsung, TSMC, and GlobalFoundries could all supply Apple with its next-generation processors suggests that a wafer fab in the US and a willingness to guarantee preferential access may be key factors in negotiations.
LONDON — There is speculation that negotiations around the supply of processors to Apple now include GlobalFoundries Inc.
Apple does not enter into discussion about its suppliers, and Apple's suppliers do not discuss their relationships with Apple for fear of becoming ex-suppliers. However, EE Times has long held the view that Apple could go multisource for its processor silicon. (See Samsung, TSMC and the A6: not OR but AND?)
Over the last couple of years the conventional wisdom has been that Apple -- wary of depending on a handset rival for its silicon -- has been trying to move away from Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. as its sole source of application processors and towards the world's leading foundry, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. based in Hsinchu, Taiwan.
While TSMC is reported to have picked up a three-year contract covering 20-nm planar CMOS and 16- and 10-nm FinFET production for Apple, the latest rumors reckon Samsung will continue to manufacture for Apple for some time and that GlobalFoundries has either won Apple business or is at least in discussions.
An ability to manufacture at the leading-edge in the United States, together with a willingness to provide preferential access to capacity during times of shortage could provide a compelling argument in favor of GlobalFoundries. And there are several pieces of evidence that back up this idea.
The first is that Apple has been trying to transition its manufacturing to TSMC for several years. It is hard to see what was holding up the move to a foundry that had proved adept at producing leading-edge silicon, although there were ideas that the transfer of peripheral IP from Samsung to TSMC was a problem. However, if it was a problem I suspect it was more of a business than a technical nature.
A bigger sticking point that may now be emerging is that Apple could be looking for guarantees of preferential access in times of high demand and short supply, such as occurred at TSMC during 2012.
The second piece of evidence is the existence of a TSMC plan to build a leading-edge wafer fab in the US, possibly in New York State and next-door to GlobalFoundries. TSMC admitted that it was considering locating a wafer fab in the US, but CEO Morris Chang poured cold water on the idea in April, saying that there had been no decision and reiterating the argument that concentrating manufacturing in Taiwan held advantages for TSMC.