the tale of apple’s foundry

Just the other day there was more chatter about who will fabricate Apple’s forthcoming A9. I guess now the majority of A9 production will go to TSMC.

It is not just the blogs that are in on the conversation; Barron’s published a similar note on the same day. A couple of weeks ago there were “reports” that Apple would be moving a very specific 75% of the A9 production to Samsung. I guess that is now old.

Who is Apple’s foundry? Is it TSMC? Is it Samsung? How about Intel? Have I missed anyone?

Apple is a so-called fabless semiconductor designer i.e. they design, but do not manufacture their own products. This is quite common in the modern semiconductor industry, as the rather expensive task of manufacturing ICs has been consolidated down to a few entities. We know that Samsung was the foundry for the A4-A7 generations. TSMC became the foundry with the arrival of the A8 and A8X.

Many articles have been written over the last four years, including in the financial media, calling for a move to this or that foundry.  To this day, there are articles opining that Apple would be best served by moving its business to Intel and their FinFET process. Yes, it is true that Intel has the most advanced process in production, but, again, do we need to spend so much energy on this topic?  For sure it is an interesting bit of information for the industry or investors in a foundry, but is it really relevant to Apple investors or the broader public. How relevant is this information to the average Apple watcher? Is it going to determine or change all that much?

I will explore these concepts in future posts. On the road to this discussion I will have to first demarcate between the design and manufacture (process) of an integrated circuit. I will then argue that it is the design that is the most relevant here.