Would Apple or Intel really make a play for ARM?
Apple is riding a wave of revenue success and technological leadership. The iPad has proven that the consumer is interested and willing to pay for a simple but efficient access to information and entertainment. So the competition is lining up for entry to or enhancement of handheld computing devices and these devices are not running Microsoft and they are not running on Intel processors. This leads me to ask just how important the processor is going to be.
Apple has set a new specification standard with the 1GHz A4 processor in the iPad. In response Intel has shifted focus to a new Atom processor, which is designed for devices such as smartphones, tablets and handheld gadgets. Qualcomm has a version of the Snapdragon dual core processors that compete with the A4 in mobile mode and kick in dual processing when plugged in. But what will it take to outperform Apple’s new processors? Apple is serious about maintaining their lead in this tech space, acquiring P.A. Semi in 2008 gave them one of the leading implementations of ARM design. That is ARM as in chip designer ARM Holdings out of the UK whose technology dates back to the Acorn Computer, often referred to as “UK’s Apple” that did not make it. But ARM is known for designing elegant, fast, energy efficient silicon that’s small enough to fit into gadgets. ARM is unique in that rather than build its own chips, it simply licenses blueprints to companies like Apple and many others.
So there have been some interesting rumors of late that Apple may try to buy ARM. Apple does appear to be concerned about controlling this processing advantage. Apple just acquired Intrinsity, the company that was greatly responsible for the lightning fast 1GHz A4 design that’s within the iPad. It appears Apple would like to eliminate any opportunity for a competitor to consult with Intrinsity for their own designs. But that may not be enough, acquiring ARM if allowed would be a significant strategic play for control of this critical processing design that dominates smartphones and the new tablet devices. So keep an eye out for this one, it would take some of Apple’s billions and it doesn’t make total business sense. But the excitement would be typical Apple fever pitched fueled by dozens of nervous tech companies, and probably a few regulators, wanting to stop such a purchase at all costs. Just the kind of limelight that Steve Jobs would love.
Update 7/15/10 – ARM Holdings continues to attack Intel’s dominance of the chip market.