Will Apple’s Next-Generation iPhone Feature More Samsung Tech?

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As Neil Sedaka once observed, breaking up is hard to do. Although Sedaka was singing about relationships among people, the lyrics of his signature song could just as easily be applied to Apple’s long-running, and at times adversarial, relationship with chip supplier Samsung. Recent comments made by Kim Ki-nam, president of Samsung’s semiconductor business, suggested that the company will be renewing its flagging supplier relationship with Apple for the company’s next generation of mobile devices.

According to ZDNet, the Korea-based company executive recently told reporters in Seoul that Samsung’s profits “will improve positively” when it starts supplying Apple with chips made using its latest technology. Per ZDNet’s unnamed sources, Samsung has already sealed a deal with Apple to supply the next-generation A9 chip that will be made using the company’s cutting-edge 14-nanometer FinFet fabrication process.

Samsung claims that the chips made with the 14-nanometer FinFet fabrication process outperform the A8 chips made with the 20-nanometer fabrication process in every aspect. The 14-nanometer FinFet chips use 35 percent less electricity, have 20 percent more processing power, and use 15 percent less space than 20-nanometer chips, reports ZDNet.

The 14-nanometer chips get their FinFet moniker from its 3D-structured shape that supposedly resembles the fins of a fish. If this report is true, it means that Samsung would likely regain its position as the primary supplier of Apple’s A-series chips. It should be noted that although Samsung has long been the sole provider of the A-series chips that power the California-based company’s mobile devices, its supplier role appears to have been reduced for this year’s A8 production.

Apple’s tumultuous relationship with Samsung seemed to be coming to an end this year, when a preliminary teardown of Apple’s new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus performed by researchers at Chipworks revealed that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), not Samsung, had produced the latest A8 processor using a 20-nanometer fabrication process. Apple’s move away from Samsung had long been predicted by many industry watchers as the two companies became fierce competitors in the worldwide smartphone market, as well as frequent foes in patent-infringement court battles.

Although it initially appeared that TSMC had fully usurped Samsung as the sole A8 chip provider, another teardown performed by researchers at IHS suggested that Apple had not completely shed its reliance on Samsung. IHS analyst Andrew Rassweiler told Re/code that he believes TSMC is handling about 60 percent of the chip orders for Apple, while Samsung is providing the remaining 40 percent.

On the other hand, ZDNet’s sources claimed that Samsung is only supplying 30 percent of the A8 orders, while TSMC is producing the other 70 percent. Though it is not the complete separation from Samsung that some Apple fans may have been hoping for, it appears to be a step in the right direction.

However, the latest claims made by Samsung’s Kim Ki-nam and ZDNet’s sources suggest that Apple’s one step forward and away from Samsung this year will be followed by two steps back into the Korea-based company’s arms next year. Thanks to Samsung’s cutting-edge processor technology, it appears that Apple users can expect to see the company’s chips reappear in the next-generation iPhone and iPad models.

Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS

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