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5 Signs Apple Wants To Make More Of Its Own Chips

The company’s hire of an architect from chip design firm Arm is just the latest indicator that Apple is seeking to bring more processor development in-house.

Apple has a long history of designing chips for its devices, and numerous signs suggest those aspirations are growing for the Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant.

Reports suggest that Apple-designed processors could be in the works for the company's Mac lineup, while Apple-made modems could also be coming to the iPhone and iPad portfolios (which the company already supplies with its own processors, the A-series chips).

[Related: Analyst: Apple May Still Want Intel's Mobile Modem Business]

If Apple could bring more components under its own control, that would help put the company more in charge of its product plans and timing, said one executive at a solution provider partner of Apple, who asked to not be identified.

"With the consistent rumors that Macs will soon also be dropping Intel CPUs and switching to Apple's own CPU/GPUs, it could place some large pressure on Intel," the executive said. "The previous PowerPC to Intel x86 CPU change 10-plus years ago was painful, but today we are already seeing Windows 10 on Arm CPUs in x86 emulation, so why not macOS on Arm?"

An Intel representative declined to comment when reached by CRN Thursday.

What follows are five signs that Apple is looking to make more of its own chips.

Ditching Intel?

Reports have suggested for more than a year that Apple has been working to develop its own processors for its Mac lineup, which would displace Intel processors. In February, Axios reported hearing both from Intel officials and developers that "they expect such a move as soon as next year." The same month, Bloomberg repeated an earlier report saying that Apple is planning to begin "transitioning some Macs to its own chips as early as 2020."

Apple has accounted for roughly 5 percent of Intel's annual revenue, according to a previous Bloomberg analysis. Apple started using Intel processors for the Mac line in 2006 in a move away from PowerPC processors.

Talent Hire From Arm

Apple leverages microprocessor designs from Arm in its A-series processors for iPhone and iPad, and reports have suggested that Apple-designed Mac processors would be based on Arm technologies, as well. Now, Apple has hired an Arm veteran, potentially as part of the Mac chip design aspirations at the company.

Since May, Mike Filippo has been working at Apple as an architect, following nearly a decade at Arm, according to his LinkedIn profile, which was reported on by Bloomberg. Filippo had served as lead CPU architect and lead system architect at Arm, where he had worked since 2009, and before that he had served as chief CPU/system architect at Intel, according to the LinkedIn profile.

Modem Development

In December, The Information reported on a job listing by Apple seeking a cellular modem systems architect—while also citing a source who confirmed that the company has an "active project to build its own cellular modem chip."

The reported indicated that it could take three years before the modem was ready to ship in new iPhones.

More Modem Moves

According to a Reuters report in February, Apple has taken the additional step of shifting modem engineering from its supply chain unit—focused on component integration from external suppliers—into its own hardware division.

Apple has moved modem engineering under the direction of its senior vice president of hardware technologies, Johny Srouji, Reuters reported.

As Apple's website says, Srouji is focused on Apple's development of hardware components including custom chips. He has been with Apple since 2008, when he joined to head up development of Apple's first in-house processor, the A4, his biography on Apple.com reads.

Acquisition From Intel?

Earlier this month, a report in The Information said that Intel is considering "selling its struggling modem business in pieces," with the German modem operations potentially going to Apple.

Intel's modem division is centered in Germany, and an acquisition of the unit by Apple could bring several hundred modem engineers to the company, The Information reported. In 2011, Intel completed its $1.4 billion acquisition of the wireless solutions business from German semiconductor firm Infineon.

"I believe that ultimately, Apple wants to develop its own modems to reduce its reliance on other companies, integrate into other devices and theoretically lower costs," said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, in a previous email to CRN.

Apple would likely be interested in a mobile modem deal with Intel even with its recent agreement with Qualcomm, Moorhead said.

Apple paid as much as $4.7 billion to Qualcomm as part of ending litigation and resuming business between the two companies in April. The deal has Apple and Qualcomm entering a six-year patent license agreement as well as a multiyear chipset supply agreement.

The disclosure of the deal prompted Intel to announce plans to pull out of the 5G modem business.

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