AnandTech has a fascinating piece on the early history of Intrinsity (the fabless semiconductor company behind Apple’s A4 processor in the iPad), and how they came to part of Apple’s portfolio of companies. As well as what that purchase actually means for Apple and other parts of the industry.
The entire article is worth a read if you are interested in the full technical details of what Intrinsity do, some Apple history, and the financials involved in the purchase of Intrinsity.
What the article adds up to is that Apple may have collaborated with Samsung (through Intrinsity) on the design of the A4, which is little more than a branch of The Hummingbird CPU that Samsung uses in their devices. They may have split some of the development costs also with Samsung, and then snapped up Intrinsity, which was at the end of several rounds of venture capital funding and in danger of having to sell itself for much less than it was worth.
The possible advantage for Apple in the purchase, despite it perhaps being very cheap for them, is that Samsung and other tech firms will now be beholden to Apple for any future revisions of what are called “FastCore” ARM CPUs, which boast Intrinsity’s particular technology for increasing processor speed with specialised circuitry.
It’s worth noting that one of the problems with Intrinsity’s method of increasing processor speed does have some power consumption issues. Something that PA Semi specialised in. So perhaps there was some crossover in the acquisition of that other fabless semiconductor group by Apple. PA Semi were originally believed by many to be the brains behind the A4 of course.
It is rumoured that Intrinsity also have an A9 version of their enhanced ARM core in the pipeline, which was perhaps under development for Samsung, but will now be Apple’s IP to assign as they see fit. Perhaps in their next iPad revision? Or a future iPhone 5G?
If that is the case, then Apple may have made a savvy purchase. If not then it is hard to see if there is much future in the purchase of Intrinsity.
There are also concerns that Apple will actually be able to hold onto the brains behind Intrinsity’s designs. In the last few acquisitions Apple’s corporate culture does not have a good track record of keeping employees of semiconductor companies they absorb, on staff for very long: Both PA Semi’s core staff and Raycer Graphics people defecting to other companies shortly after Apple takeovers.
Let us know your thoughts on what Apple’s plans may be in the comments.