Could Samsung, reportedly the ousted manufacturer of processors for Apple, be able to control the Silicon Valley company by putting it on a rationed supply of NAND flash memory? How should Apple respond to the danger?
Observers of the electronics and computer industries are reporting again and again that Apple has thrown over its microprocessor manufacturing arrangement with Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. in favor of pure-play foundry supplier Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd.
There are few reliable sources for this, a comment in the Korea Times here, an unnamed supply chain source there, but the general opinion is that this move has been coming for a while and that TSMC has completed the tape out of Apple's A7 processor in 20-nm CMOS in time for volume production in early 2014 – or even in 2013.
This is not sudden. Back in 2011 Apple was reported to be trying to get on to TSMC's 28-nm CMOS manufacturing process but that move apparently hit problems that persuaded Apple and TSMC to aim at the next process generation. One rumor I heard at the time was that the problem may have been related to Samsung peripheral IP used within the A5 and A6 processors that Samsung was not about to hand over to TSMC for the sake of a departing customer's convenience.
It is the case that TSMC with its gate-last bulk CMOS logic process seems to be pulling out a technology lead over Samsung which has a gate-first 28-nm CMOS logic process that has origins in the IBM-inspired Common Platform Alliance. And the logic of Apple moving makes even more sense when one considers Apple and Samsung spent a couple of years in the world's law courts arguing about patents pertaining to tablet computers and smartphones.
However, Apple and Samsung are linked not just by competition in smartphones and
tablets and by a supply arrangement in processors. They are linked by a
common interest in non-volatile memory. So if Apple does go sole-source with TSMC for A7 processors, what would be the consequences for its memory supply, if any?
Sometimes it's shocking how intertwined the supply chain is. But this is far from the first time a situation like this has come up.
If I recall correctly, IBM abruptly stopped buying disks from one specific vendor (Shugart, maybe?) which had a devastating effect on the supplier. That's the position Samsung is in.
The reverse risk to Apple is just as real. Antitrust laws may prohibit restraint of trade, but there are a lot of ways of holding back without going clearly afoul of the regulations.
The real interesting part here is that both Apple and Samsung stand to lose big from any kind of a supply war.
Do you really think it makes sense for Apple to essentially fund their largest competitor?
I do not see them destroying their product pipeline, though perhaps a slight delay. It was going to have to happen eventually, why not now?
Sure there is interdependence in many industries, but I have to imagine for Apple it was almost becoming uncomfortable.
They are also not destroying their whole supply chain, simply realigning it. That actually is good for the whole industry as it means not only can Apple build competitive advantage, but by moving supply out of Samsung which one could argue has far too high a concentration of Smartphone dollars on the supply side if Apple sticks with them, it grows supply chain competitors which helps other smart phone companies have access to top technology.
at some point there has to be an advantage to not being a dick, the way Apple has been. a company that genuinely has superior products does not destroy their whole supply chain and product pipeline as a defense against follower competition. playing such a defense game is tantamount to admitting your offense (innovation) is failing.
At some point there has to be an advantage in having captive fabs, otherwise no one would ever build any new ones. Samsung will reap the advantages of being more vertically integrated. Apple can certainly buy enough NAND for its use, but will simply pay more. If they are smart they will have at least two vendors. This situation is where Tim Cook can earn his pay.