Apple iPhone deluge continues

novità-apple-2013It appears that Apple is set to release three more iPhones in the second half of this year.

Informed sources have leaked details of the models to Taiwanese wire Digitimes.

It reports that the phones will be the iPhone 6S, the iPhone 6S Plus and a four inch device currently codenamed the iPhone 6C.

Each of the phones will use Corning Gorilla Glass come with LTPS panels and while the 6S series will use Apple’s A9 chips, the 6C will use A8 microprocessors.  They’ll all be kitted out with NFC as well as fingerprint scanners.

Digitimes also reports that Taiwanese firms Wistron, Foxconn and Pegatron will manufacture the handsets.

Meanwhile the same wire reports that chip foundry TSMC will fabricate the chips for the 6S and 6C.

Intel loses the plot – analysts

Intel-logoA financial analyst said that an announcement made by Samsung at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona has thrown into sharp relief Intel’s inability to capture market share.

Mark Hibben, at Seeking Alpha, said that while the CEO of Intel, Brian Krzanich, delivered a keynote at MWC, Samsung’s announcement of the Galaxy S6 phone shows that the California company is way behind in its egregious goals.

Hibben said that Samsung is targeting Apple’s iPhone 6, “making it clear that Apple and Samsung completely dominate the mobile device world, leaving Intel with only aspirations”.

The Galaxy S6 smartphone uses a Samsung 64-bit processor, using the company’s 14 nanometre FinFET process.

He said this shows that ARM has leaped into the process lead over Intel, which only has its SoFIA on a 28 nanometre TSMC process, said Hibben. That, he thinks, makes Intel two generations behind process tech for smartphones.

He said companies like Apple and Samsung “can deploy staggering capital resources in the pursuit of non Intel Inside”.

Intel made a $4.2 billion loss in its mobile group in 2014.


TSMC flees Chinese unions

tsmcTSMC is set to invest US$15.8 billion in the Central Taiwan Science Park (CTSP).

The outfit is set to start building its 18-inch wafer foundry in March which will apply the 10 nanometre manufacturing process with a target for mass production in 2017.

However the location of the plant, away from mainland China has raised an eyebrow or two.

Last year the BBC ran a yarn about how China’s labour unions were getting antsy at Apple’s broken promises on work conditions.

Apple’s response to the BBC’s report at the time was that it strongly disagreed: “We are aware of no other company doing as much as Apple to ensure fair and safe working conditions. We work with suppliers to address shortfalls, and we see continuous and significant improvement, but we know our work is never done.”

However, another news site in China is reporting that “in response to the growing criticism of Foxconn’s treatment of its employees, the company has invited its critics to visit its production bases to get a better understanding of its operations”. During the visit, the critics could also talk to the employees to hear their views,” Foxconn said.

But it is starting to look like another row is flaring up between Foxconn via the labour unions – this time  it is about overtime. It seems that there has been a rash of suicides at its plant, and the unions are blaming them on the overtime.

So it does seem that Foxconn is avoiding any conflict with the Chinese unions getting in the way of its relationship with Apple by shifting its new plant to Taiwan.


TSMC reports record profits

tsmcTSMC has reported record quarterly net profit and revenue thanks to strong sales of smartphones from its clients.

TSMC earned about $3 billion in net profit in October-December which doubles the results posted at the same time last year and slightly more than the last quarter.

Demand for increasingly feature-rich gadgets has led to a burst in growth for companies such as TSMC and local peer United Microelectronics, whose chips power features from fingerprint sensors to fourth-generation (4G) LTE receivers.

In the fourth quarter, TSMC’s profit margin decreased to 35.9 percent from 40.4 percent in the third quarter in October-December revenue.

However, things are not looking that good for TSMC’s future. Analysts are divided about whether Apple will select TSMC to produce chips for its next-generation smartphones. There are questions as to whether it can create the next generation chips Apple wants .

Samsung, which is TSMC’s main competitor for Apple custom, has previously said it is seeing increased demand for chips made with 14 nanometre technology, the likes of which could power the successor to the iPhone 6.

Now that the war between Apple and Samsung is cooling, it appears that Jobs’ Mob might return to its old chipmaker ally and leave TSMC high and dry.



GloFo takes aim at China

renesas-chips (1)Abu Dhabi foundry company Global Foundries (GloFo) is seeking to make more partnerships in mainland China.
GloFo, which was spun off by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) some years ago, recently bought IBM’s foundry business, along with a large number of patents for $1.5 billion.
A report in the South China Morning Post quoted senior GloFo VP Chuck Fox as saying the firm would use IBM’s previous presence in mainland China to continue to grow its business in the country.
He said that his company is already in talks with a number of partners in China and is expected to announce deals when they happen.
Competition to win contracts from so called fabless chip companies comes from the like of Taiwanese major TSMC, mainland company SMIC, and even Intel.
Golf already has a partnership with Samsung in a bid to beat TSMC for orders to manufacture chips.


Nvidia and AMD stuffed by TSMC’s Apple friendship

two-applesNvidia and AMD have had their move to 16nm and 20nm designs hampered by the limited capacity of both nodes at manufacturer TSMC.

According to WCCFTech.com,  AMD GPUs are made by TSMC as are Nvidia’s chips.  But it looks like all TSMC’s capacity has been sucked up by Apple and Samsung.

This is hard on Nvidia which already had to make the chips in its GTX 980 and 970 cards, using the 28nm process instead of the 20nm it wanted. Nvidia thought it was better to skip 20nm and go straight to 16nm for future designs.

AMD wanted to drop from 28nm to 20nm for its new GPUs but hit the same capacity issue which stuffed up the delivery of AMD’s 20nm R9 300 series graphics cards. We expected these in February and March of this year but now they are at least two months behind.

AMD’s Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Mark Papermaster has warned that there would be 20nm and 28nm products in 2015 but no 14nm or 16nm products until 2016.

And the reason is because Apple’s 16nm A9 chip, which is being made by TSMC has priority and what is left is being taken by Samsung which outsources a lot of work to TSMC.

AMD and Nvidia are stuffed. The only other manufacturer with spare 14nm capacity is Intel and it is not very likely that Intel will sell capacity to its rivals.

What this means then is that the world is not getting cutting edge GPU technology from the two top vendors because Apple has a huge control of TSMC and Intel is Intel.

PC Partner partner gets into 3D printing

manli-simplyprint-3d-printer-2PC Partner partner Manli has launched two 3D printers which look the spit of something already on the market.

According to Fudzilla the move mimics one carried out by Inno3D. Both outfits are PC Partner brands and the printers are practically twins.

The Manli SimplyPrint 3D is a rebadged Inno3D Printer M1, while the Manli MXPrint 3D is the Inno3D Printer D1.

The specs are the same. All of them have a build volume of 140mm (L) x 140mm(W) x 150mm (H), layer resolution of 0.13-0.30mm, 0.4mm nozzle and all use standard 1.75mm filament. The MXPrint 3D features an open design with a metal frame, while the SimplyPrint 3D is enclosed in a plastic shroud.

Inno3D is pricing the printers at €1,150 in Europe and Manli’s printers should cost about the same. Manli is PC Partner’s brand for Asia, so its products are usually not available in western markets.

Still it is an odd step sideways for Manli which is better known as an Nvidia partner and maker of motherboards and cards.

TSMC will make iPad processors

blue-appleGiant semiconductor manufacturer TSMC will churn out the microprocessors for Apple’s next iPad.

That’s the word on the Taiwanese street. Digitimes reports that TSMC is already making Apple A8 CPUs for iPhone 6 smartphones.

Apple is expected to announce the next generation of its iPad in the New Year – amidst consistent reports that sales of tablets are flagging.

The CPUs will be built on a 20 nanometre process and, the report added, is codenamed the A8X.

Shrinking the die to 20 nanometres accounted for 10 percent of its revenues in Q3 2014.

TSMC turned over $6.87 billion in its third financial quarter of this year.

TSMC shares fall on rumours of chip cancellations

A not so mobile X86 PCTSMC shares fell as much as six percent after an analyst and Taiwanese media reported that Apple and Qualcomm were going to buy their next generation chips from elsewhere.

This is bad news as TSMC reported its highest quarterly profit since the end of 2006, and said it expected revenue to grow at least a record 20 percent this year. But its outlook was based on increased demand from Apple which recently chose TSMC over Samsung to make the majority of chips for the successor to its iPhone 5 series of smartphones.

But it looks like Apple and Qualcomm will likely buy a larger proportion of 14 nanometer smartphone chips from Samsung rather than TSMC beginning in the second half of 2015.

KGI Securities analyst Michael Liu said in a note to clients that he found that tasty bit of gossip following an investor conference held after TSMC reported second-quarter earnings.

The Commercial Times on Thursday, citing market speculation, said Qualcomm has already started working with Samsung to develop the chips. The Economic Daily News said without citing sources that Qualcomm had placed orders with Samsung.

However the rumours are not believed by everyone. Quanta Securities Analyst George Chang, who also attended the conference, said this was just a lot of speculation as no one has even seen the iPhone 6 yet, so it’s too early to say anything about future products.

During the conference, TSMC Chairman Morris Chang admitted that the company’s market share in 16 nanometer chips – which perform similarly to 14 nanometer chips – will be smaller than “a major competitor” next year, and that TSMC will claw it all back the year after.

Apple snubs Samsung

Samsung rules the roostAs we have been expecting for some time, Apple is pulling away from manufacturing its chips with Samsung and having TSMC make them.

According to the Wall Street Journal, TSMC has shipped its first batch of microprocessors to Apple.

The move is being seen as Apple punishing Samsung for daring to compete against it and means that TSMC has supplanted Samsung Electronics as Apple’s chief chipmaker for iPhones and iPads.

The business relationship between Apple and Samsung will continue as Jobs’ Mob will continue to rely on the Korean electronics giant for some of its microprocessors.

Prior to the TSMC deal, Samsung was the exclusive supplier of Apple’s microprocessors since the very first iPhone launched in 2007. Jobs’ Mob has also been trying to find other people to make its screens.

The Tame Apple Press is rubbing its paws with glee with Business Insider   saying that all this could not have come at a worse time as Samsung has already been feeling the effects from the slowdown in sales.

We are not sure it thought that comment through, because the same problem is applying to Apple too.

There are a few flaws in the WSJ story. Firstly it is not clear how many microprocessors TSMC has shipped to Apple and given that it is the first batch we would not have thought it to be that many.

Secondly “sources said” the chipmaker has begun manufacturing Apple’s processors with its “advanced 20-nanometer manufacturing technology”.

It also said that the pair are testing next-generation microprocessors on a 16-nanometer process that will be used in “large scale” next year. This gives a better clue as to what Apple is doing.

Samsung spent $22 billion last year making it the biggest spender, capital investment-wise in the process improvements. It is about a year behind TSMC in actually making products.

TSMC has a 20 nm process ready and the 16 nm node is expected to be taped out late this year (Q4 2014) or very early next year (Q1 2015). Rather than punishing Samsung, Apple appears to have made a pragmatic technology decision which will give it 20nm and 16 nm technology before anyone else.  Then, by the time Samsung has caught up, it will have to bid alongside Intel and TSMC at a cheaper rate.

This is assuming of course that TSMC does not have some other process improvement up its sleeve.


International Electronics Forum 2013 – roundup

Dublin CourtsLast week, TechEye visited IEF 2013 in Dublin to hear what the semiconductor industry had to say for itself. Here’s the roundup:

Imagination Technologies’ Tony King-Smith said the future really relies not on the humble CPU but industry and engine cooperation for the System on Chip. “SoCs means everything is now mobile, and continues to have advanced capabilities. They are the only way to get scaleability,” King-Smith said.

Barry O’Leary, CEO of IDA Ireland, talked about investment in the Emerald Isle. Naturally the 12 percent corporation tax was mentioned. Four of the most crucial investors in Ireland are in tech, including Intel and HP, and social media is also experiencing huge growth. The IDA chiefly looks at manufacturing and R&D.

Senior Nvidia research scientist John Chen told the audience about various problems associated with nodes at under 20nm, specifically in performance, perfection and precision. But technologies like zero leakage transistors, III-V, Ge channel and carbon nanotubes will help the industry march on.

EU commissioner for digital agenda, Neelie Kroes, gave a keynote about Europe’s hopes to punch up in technology and innovation, including spending of €100 billion in R&D by 2020, leading to job creation, we were told, as well as smarter kit. Europe also wants to boost its performance in production capabilities.

TSMC’s senior director of R&D, Yee-Chaung See, highlighted problems in EUV and talked up the company’s 20 nano SoCs, adding qualification for 16 nano SoCs should be finished by the end of the year. It’s focusing on 3D stacking, while there are already high yields in SRAM. Gains in 3D, it is hoped, will lead to producing a silicon system super chip, that can integrate analogue, image sensors, photonics, MEMS and TSV.

Ram Ramamoorthy, professor at Edinburgh University, unfortunately indicated it’ll be a long time, if ever, if replicants of iconic futuristic dystopia Bladerunner are going to come to be. A machine is where the sophistication is such a robot can simulate some human senses like sight and sound. That means football playing robots, but they’re not great at it yet.

“The level of intelligence of robots in movies is very difficult to achieve,” Ramamoorthy said. “It’s very hard to deal with real people but in reality it’s very hard to model human users, that’s one of the biggest challenges we’re looking at”.

Plessey CEO Michael Le Goff told the room that, by using Gallium Nitride on silicon substrates to create LEDs, advanced lighting will be lower cost. And eventually, you’ll die before your lightbulb does.

Principle analyst at Future Horizons, which hosted the conference, Malcolm Penn, warned that there is a “chip crunch” around the corner. “The basics of fab capacity is cast in stone,” Penn said. “Capacity can’t be influenced for a year. We’ve not being building capacity which I think is dangerous,” Penn said. “There’s a silicon crunch just around the next corner. The most crucial part of the food chain is being treated with complete cavalier indifference. That’s because the capital spend is too low”.

Microsoft Cambridge’s senior research director, Alex Butler, talked the room through various research projects at the company. That includes advances in touch, and Butler assures us that although many of the R&D group’s creations won’t see the light of day, others find their way into products. The group is interested in the future of tech, five, 10 or 15 years away from now.

Compound semiconductors will play a major role in a different kind of Moore’s Law, Drew Nelson, CEO of IQE, asserted.  Although silicon is approaching its natural limits, compound semiconductors have more functionality and flexibility – according to Nelson, the materials are just better that silicon, and from a power perspective there is a clear lead.

Crocus doesn’t have MRAM in the market yet, but there’s a licence agreement with IBM for 65/45nm memory logic units to go into production later this year, CEO Jacques Noels said. Crocus thinks it has figured out stability problems in magnetic memories, while 28nm for generation 4 is on the horizon.

Investment company Convergence’s CEO and former Director General of the Department of Communications in South Africa, Andile Ngcaba, spoke on trends across the African continent. Just in 1990, there were more phones in Manhattan than the entire continent, but with the emergence of mobile there is more connectivity than ever. However, getting connected proves challenging: poly silicon is expensive and not particularly economical at the moment. So petrochemical companies are cleaning up with fossil fuel-powered base stations.
*EyeSee We’ve heard that some chip giants are being economical with the truth about the size of their semiconductors. TSMC’s 14nm chips are a little closer to 20nm. Intel’s 14nm chips are between 16nm to 17nm, and Samsung’s measure in at roughly 18nm. None were available for comment.


TSMC boss bets on wearable devices

gglassTSMC CEO Morris Chang was one of the first industry leaders to truly recognise the potential of smart devices and unlike many tech execs, he runs a very tight ship, with an emphasis on good working conditions. Small wonder, then, that TSMC often ranks as one of the top employers in Taiwan.

Now that his smartphone optimism has been vindicated and then some, he is starting to talk up wearable gear. In a recent interview we admitted that he doesn’t wear a smart watch or Google Glass, but he still thinks they are the next big thing, Forbes reports.

“When you wear the Glass, you look like a man from Mars,” he said. However, over the next decade things might change. “I don’t think they are very practical yet, now, but the idea is being very actively worked on, so in 10 years we will certainly have practical wearables.”

Needless to say, a potential wearable tech boom would be a boon for TSMC. The foundry already supplies about 70 percent of the world’s application processors. Smart watches and Google Glass like devices would need bespoke chips. They can’t really use off the shelf SoC designs because they need something a bit more frugal, and this is where TSMC hopes to step in.

Chang believes that “a lot more things” will be mobile ten years from now and nobody is disputing the allure of wearable tech. However, at this early stage few consumers will be willing to spend a lot on what are essentially immature products with limited functionality. It is up to big vendors to get more developers on board and make cheap wearable gear a reality – a process that will take years, but in a decade or so we could see plenty more Martians on the street.

Semiconductor industry rakes in dosh in 2012

gartnerThe global semi foundry market raked in $34.6 billion in 2012, an increase of 16.2 percent from 2011, according to Gartner.

The analyst house said that 2012 was also the year that semiconductor revenue for mobile devices surpassed that of PCs and notebooks, as well as marking the first year that advanced technology for mobile applications drove the foundry revenue.

And 2012 continued to please the industry with major foundries improving the yield of 28 nanometer (nm) technology, but also many foundries fine-tuned the device performance of legacy nodes.

TSMC continued its reign as the number one semiconductor company as a result of its success in the advanced technology nodes sector. Strong performance on 32 nm yields and the availability of sub-45-nm wafer capacity at the Dresden, Germany, fabs allowed Globalfoundries to advance to second place, while UMC’s market share decreased due to reduced wafer shipments.

Driven by the wafers consumed by Apple’s A6 and A6X chips, Samsung moved up four spots to tfifth position with 175.5 percent growth in 2012.

The increase in the foundry business was attributed to the restocking of inventory by customers, along with the increased demand of smartphones, in which wafers for advanced technology are required.

Gartner also pointed out that in the second half of 2012, foundries performed better than the seasonal norm due to the need of 40 nm wafers as a result of the unexpected fast rise of low-cost smartphones in China and other emerging countries.

It said those foundries with sufficient wafer capacity and a good yield of 40 nm and 28 nm technologies have achieved solid revenue growth.