Over the months, Apple introduces new chips designed internally to take on central or more anecdotal tasks. Having become a giant of "chips", the company of Cupertino could take a new course and leave Intel, advance industrial sources.
The rumor is rolling like a distant thunder for several years now. You were already talking about it in 2012 and then in 2014. After tying its destiny to Intel in 2005, Apple would work more and more intensely to cut the bridges for its laptops.
The giant Cupertino would develop dedicated ARM chips to animate its MacBook, MacBook Air and Pro in a desire to continue the race towards machines that are always finer and more autonomous. The move to Intel processors was motivated by nothing less, the issue of thermal envelope, power consumption ratio, a more controlled roadmap and costs.
Industrial sources told the Nippon Nikkei daily that the California company is working on the development of central processors for laptops. Intel is therefore in the line of sight. It is even doubly so since these same sources say that Tim Cook's teams would currently develop modems for the iPhone, or at least chips capable of boosting the performance of modems purchased from other companies. Now, the Santa Clara firm is supplying some of these chips since Apple took some distance with Qualcomm.
Already a chip giant
If we can find technical arguments to oppose to powerful machines under chip ARM, the fact remains that since the purchase of PA Semiconductor in 2008, which results in the creation of the first home ARM CPU, the Apple A4, the Californian firm has become a monster of the design of chips of all kinds. The most recent highlight is the introduction of its first internally designed GPU in the heart of the A11 Bionic.
But in the meantime, there are the many less glorious and mediatized chips that have allowed Apple to control more and more closely the operation of its machines. Screen controllers, Bluetooth chips, fingerprint handlers, field depth sensors based on PrimeSense technology, etc.
Apple became so big that at the end of 2016, it was the fourth-largest chip designer worldwide, according to IC Insights, reports the Japanese daily Nikkei. Just ahead of Nvidia and behind Qualcomm, Broadcom and Mediatek. Companies that are ahead of this income ranking in part because Apple orders them every year for billions of dollars of chips.
This ranking may change, Apple recently signed an agreement to integrate the investment fund Bain Capital, which has just bet $ 17.7 billion for the acquisition of Toshiba's memory division.
The question of the future, the AI
Behind this chip race built in-house is the desire for absolute control over technology and performance. This integration of software and hardware is a deeply rooted culture at Apple.
Nevertheless, this strategy, which also makes it possible to distinguish itself from the competition that uses the same chips, takes on a new dimension. At the threshold of a long battle to integrate services artificial intelligence, it is essential for all actors to master the complete chain that goes from the hardware to the software through the connection.
This is also probably why Apple cut the bridges with Imagination, whose technologies were the basis of the design of the GPUs of the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. If the A11 Bionic integrates a neural network, it is currently mainly a chip dedicated to image processing. The real artificial intelligence engine of the new iPhone is the GPU. A chip that Apple has designed internally from A to Z and which is loaded with Core ML technology (based on Metal 2, the house graphic API as well), to ensure the functioning of artificial intelligence available to developers.
Intel is also investing in AI-ready chips, but the stakes are so great that Apple may actually have an interest in internalizing this strategic part of development and turning its back on the recent past of its Macs. A new transition that will not be without consequences for Intel and Apple. But at a time when Microsoft and Qualcomm are partnering to produce ARM notebook PCs under Windows 10, the step to take is no longer so insane.