Over the weekend a Korean publication posted a report claiming that Samsung Electronics has joined forces with GlobalFoundries of the United States, the world's second largest foundry, to produce mobile application processors (APs) for Apple's iPhone 7. Report Updated 8:50 AM PST
The Korean company announced on April 17 that it formed an alliance with the Santa Clara (Calif.)-based company to provide its 14-nanometer FinFET technology. FinFET is a technology that makes semiconductors in a three-dimensional manner.
The product made by using the 14-nm FinFET technology can save electricity consumption up to 35 percent and improve performance by more than 20 percent compared to those using 20-nm flat chips.
This agreement was materialized as the interests of Samsung Electronics, GlobalFoundries and Apple were met.
Samsung Electronics, which has produced all of Apple APs as a foundry, has lost some of its business (20-nm APs) to Taiwan's TSMC, the No. 1 foundry in the world.
To retake the orders for Apple's iPhone 7 APs, Samsung has developed the 14-nm FinFET process. After completing the development of the process, the company has enlisted GlobalFoundries and succeeded in clinching the order for manufacturing of APs for Apple iPhone 7.
TSMC who is currently ramping up supply for 20nm chips for the iPhone 6 was in the race for Apple's A9 processor business. In late March we reported that "TSMC (Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) is likely to add two more advanced processes to its 16nm process portfolio in order to compete with the 14nm nodes to be released by Intel and Samsung Electronics. TSMC is going all out to compete for Apple's A9 processor business."
Whether the latest Korean report is accurate or is simply Samsung propaganda is unknown at this time. However, the tie up with US based GlobalFoundries might have indeed sealed the deal.
Just when you think that Apple is finally moving away from using Samsung as a supplier to inflict maximum pain on their business, Apple sticks to business and goes with the best technology for each generation of the iDevices regardless of politics. Apple dumped Samsung for their A8 processor. Yet if this latest Korean report is true, then Samsung may have successfully wrestled back Apple's business away from TSMC. Will we hear contrary news from TSMC in the months ahead? Only time will tell.
Update 7:50 am PST
In a second related report from CTIMES they note that the cooperation between Samsung and GlobalFoundries is considered a big challenge for TSMC. Some analysts believe that TSMC will be severely affected. In this regard, Sun Yu-wen, TSMC IR Officer said that TSMC would not comment on other companies, but TSMC’s technology and Samsung is completely different, while she stressed that no customers would like to buy a product with bad quality. You don’t have to be afraid of competition, if you have excellent capability, according to Yu-wen.
The report further added that other analysts still believe that it'll be hard to sack TSMC’s business. A competitor would need to provide advanced process foundry services, collaborate with customer in technology development and manufacturing aspects seamlessly, and also be able to meet customer requirements for timeliness. It will be very challenging.
The CTIMES report confirms a Samsung-GlobalFoundries alliance, but didn't confirm Samsung landing an Apple contract. Considering that the CTIMES report came out a day or two after the initial report on the Samsung deal, it's interesting to note that TSMC wasn't directly questioned about losing a contract to Samsung for the A9 processor. That would have been a normal question that would have been raised. So is Samsung playing a PR game here to help analysts assess their next quarter financials favorably? While only time will tell, it's beginning to look like a PR game. So hang on, this story may not be over just yet.