In December there was still a glimmer of hope that TSMC would retain the bulk of Apple's iDevice chip business in 2015 due to GlobalFoundries 14nm tooling delays being reported. Then earlier this month re/code reported that Apple had chosen Samsung to be the supplier for their A9 processor based on 14nm FinFET process. On February 8 TSMC sued a former employee for giving Samsung trade secrets about their upcoming 14nm FinFET process which lead to Samsung leapfrogging TSMC and gaining Apple's business. Earlier in the month TSMC spoke about vying for Apple's A10 processor orders and tempting new technologies based on 10nm FinFET and another technology called integrated fan-out (InFO) wafer-level packaging (WLP) technology. Today Samsung is trying to undermine any hope for TSMC ever regaining their edge by announcing a major breakthrough.
On Monday Samsung Electronics unveiled the industry's first 10 nm semiconductor technologies, following the recent news that it started the mass production of mobile processor chips using 14-nanometer FinFET technology.
Samsung's semiconductor business president Kim Ki-nam delivered a keynote speech at the 2015 International Solid-State Circuit Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco titled "Silicon Semiconductor Technology and Solution in the Data-driven Era."
The ISSCC is one of the world's top 3 semiconductor societies where leading semiconductor experts around the world gather and publish research papers on circuit design every year.
President Kim, who is a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and a fellow member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), is in charge of the semiconductor business in Samsung Electronics.
Kim stated in his keynote address that "Thanks to the spread of various information technology devices, including the Internet of Things, we will usher in the data-driven era in the future. Through the innovation of silicon semiconductor technology, it is possible to improve the performance of semiconductor chips, which can process such data, and secure low-power solutions."
It was here where Samsung Electronics unveiled its next-generation semiconductor technologies, including 10-nanometer FinFET technologies. In the memory sector, it presented 10 nm DRAM elements and 3D V-NAND technologies. In the system semiconductor sector, it presented 10-nanometer FinFET technology, which is smaller and more advanced than the 14-nanometer FinFET technology.
In order to overcome the limitations of the planar structure in the previous 20 nm process, Samsung Electronics has developed a 3D FinFET structure for transistors when manufacturing mobile application processors.
Samsung Electronics is still the only semiconductor manufacturer that can produce 14-nm-scale products. How TSMC intends to counter Samsung's latest technological advances is still in the air. Until their new plant is up and running, TSMC is likely to keep their plans a well-guarded secret … even though that hasn't helped them thus far. Are there more trade-secret traitors still hiding at TSMC? Only time will tell.
For now, Samsung's 14nm processors and clear path to 10nm is likely what swayed Apple to make the shift back to Samsung. Then again, having Samsung and TSMC fighting for Apple's business is only going to help Apple's iDevices stay on the cutting edge for many years to come.