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?