Appleâ€™s recent hiring spree of chip designers reveals the company may be about to exert even more control over the components that go into its products.
The company may go so far as manufacturing computer processors in-house, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cites only anonymous sources to bolster its claim that the internally designed chips will appear in products no sooner than 2010.
The publication also cites profiles on professional networking site LinkedIn, which lists more than 100 Apple employees with past expertise in chips at companies such as Intel, Samsung and Qualcomm.
These recruitments, coupled with Appleâ€™s 2008 acquisition of PA Semiconductor, serve as strong evidence that the company is moving toward chip design for its hardware, including iPhones and iPods and possibly Macs. Such a move would reduce Appleâ€™s dependence on Intel, which manufactures processors for current Mac computers, and Samsung, which provides an ARM-based microprocessor for the iPhone.
Apple has always kept a tight rein on its suppliers, going so far as acquiring them when necessary to ensure consistent access to critical components. Apple has enough clout that it was even able to negotiate with Intel â€” a far bigger company â€” to develop a smaller version of the Core 2 Duo processor for the MacBook Air.
By acquiring in-house semiconductor talent, Apple opens several options: It could more easily customize chips and chipsets from suppliers like Intel, giving Apple hardware unique features (and perhaps raising additional, hardware-based barriers to hackintosh clones â€” generic PCs running OS X). It could develop its own graphics processors for the iPhone and iPod touch, giving them more serious gaming chops. It could create more compact system-on-a-chip processors that would enable future iPhones (or iPhone-like devices) to be even smaller. Or, in the most ambitious case, it could develop its own CPUs.
In November, Wired.com also speculated that Apple was moving toward in-house chip manufacturing when the company hired former IBM executive Mark Papermaster. Papermaster was a key player in developing the PowerPC chips used in previous-generation Macs.
With control over processor production, Apple will be able to design exclusive features for its gadgets and better guard its secrets from rivals.
Though in-house chip manufacturing would enable Apple to tighten control over its products, technology strategist Michael Gartenberg said itâ€™s unlikely the corporation will produce its own processors for Mac computers. He explained the move would be risky for Apple, as it would cost billions of dollars, and it would be difficult to compete with Intel.
â€œPeople have lost fortunes competing with Intel,â€ Gartenberg said. â€œIt doesnâ€™t make sense [for Apple]. Youâ€™d have to get to a point where Intel simply wasnâ€™t able to meet Appleâ€™s needs in any shape or form.â€
Rather than producing computer chips, itâ€™s more likely Apple is hiring chip designers to produce custom chipset variants for future products, which could offer special audio and graphic enhancements exclusive to Apple gadgets, Gartenberg speculated. He added that chip experts can also loan advice on manufacturing and design processes to create smaller, thinner and lighter gadgets.
thanks to [wired]