Apple engineer confirms Apple working on ARM processor for the next-generation iPhone

“Given Apple’s super-secretive ways, it’s quite a shock to find a company engineer disclosing something about the iPhone’s future innards on a public social networking site,” Ashlee Vance reports for The New York Times. “Wei-han Lien, the senior manager of Apple’s chip team, dished out the morsel on LinkedIn, saying he’s busy at work crafting an ARM processor for the next-generation iPhone.”

“While it’s a minor revelation, Lien’s statement would confirm what many have expected ever since Apple acquired chip start-up PA Semiconductor in April for close to $300 million,” Vance reports. “PA Semi had assembled an all-star cast of chip engineers, including Lien, and Apple confirmed that it bought the company for that talent. In a June interview with The Times’ John Markoff, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs went one step further, saying the PA Semi team would work on designing brand-new processors for future iPhones and iPods. The only question was which kind of processors.”

“The current iPhone includes ARM processors, which are very common in the mobile device industry. ARM Holdings is a British firm that licenses out its processor designs to other companies, who tweak the chips to suit their needs. While Apple refuses to confirm it, the company uses ARM processors made by Samsung in the iPhone, according to numerous analysts,” Vance reports. “By developing its own ARM variant, Apple could create a processor that meets the specific needs of the iPhone and iPod, building support for functions such as the touch screen or scroll wheel into silicon and possibly savings on costs by reducing the number of processors needed in each device.”

Prior to Apple’s purchase of the company, P.A. Semi attracted “the attention of military equipment suppliers who were intrigued by the low-power qualities of PA Semi’s chips. (They consume less than 20 watts apiece.) People familiar with the Defense Department’s intentions say that PA Semi chips are set to go into missiles, computers in fighter jets and surveillance equipment,” Vance reports. “‘By all accounts, the PA Semi chip is meritorious,’ said Will Strauss, an analyst with Forward Concepts. ‘There really was nothing else quite like it.'”

Vance reports, “When Apple bought PA Semi, it had no intention of morphing into a military supplier. The Defense Department, however, received push-back from suppliers who had already committed to long-term designs based on the microprocessor. These equipment makers urged the Pentagon to pressure Apple into continuing to supply PA Semi’s chips for several years, according to people familiar with the negotiations, who declined to comment on the record because of Pentagon restrictions. Apple eventually caved.”

There’s much more in the full article here.

20 Comments

  1. If this is true:

    “John Markoff, Apple chief executive Steve Jobs went one step further, saying the PA Semi team would work on designing brand-new processors for future iPhones and iPods. The only question was which kind of processors.”

    Then what is “news” about Lien confirming what John Markoff had already stated?

    I don’t get it, I hope I’m not being obtuse…

  2. This is either an intentional leak or this guys job. If this guy went on his own to leak this information, this would even make Steve throw a chair or two.
    Some of the people who called Pepsi with the Coke secret ingredients are in jail as we speak.
    Keeping everything in house works only when you have the best product, which Apple does.

  3. What ever happened to the lowest powered Intel Atom chip? Surely the iphone is going to get more advanced and need a chip like low end atom. I am happy with the intel switch, can’t they fulfill all of our needs? I am thinking Apple wants more control here.

  4. There’s no way to hide the fact that iPhones currently contain ARM processors: anyone who wants to know can take one apart. It’s also public knowledge that the PA Semi folks are working on systems-on-a-chip for Apple and so the presumption is that at least some designs include ARM processors. It’s also not a given that just because Apple has PA Semi people working on ARM processors that they will come out in a product. I don’t see what this guy said in his Linked-In Profile as a job-costing leak.

  5. @ Orange Juice:

    BIG difference between stealing and attempting to sell secret, patented formulas. Releasing the fact that Lien is working on an ARM chip for the iPhone is hardly anything patented or top secret info. PA Semi was widely known in the industry for low power ARM chips.

    Apple probably realized that instead of cutting off the Pentagon, Apple had a nice, long-term revenue stream built-in when it acquired PA Semi. Perhaps it took a phone call (or fire) from the Pentagon to point it out, but Steve Jobs is not about to cancel a profitable plan to sell chips.

    Plus, the more chips are ordered, the lower the per unit cost, and the less the chips cost for the iPhone, which ups profitability at the same price point. So the Pentagon will get their chips, and likely many improvements made by Apple, and Apple gets a long term revenue stream plus lower per unit cost for chips.

    Everyone wins, except those people who are on the receiving end of those missiles.

  6. “Tomorrow he will be looking for a job.”

    he’ll find another employer much more easily than apple can find an equally qualified replacement. he won’t be going anywhere.

    please apple, do not assist our imperialistic military withs its 760 foreign military bases…………..

    don’t help them drop bombs on weak, defenseless countries!

  7. So, hypothetically speaking, an Apple subsidiary’s chip could end up inside a smart bomb that is dropped on some innocent schmuck in Afghanistan or Iraq. Nice. I hope Apple divests itself from involvement with the military industrial complex at the earliest available opportunity…

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.