Samsung Said to Win Apple A9 Chip Orders for Next IPhone

Updated on
Samsung Electronic Co..’s semiconductor plant is pictured in Giheung, South Korea.

Samsung Electronic Co..’s semiconductor plant is pictured in Giheung, South Korea.

Photographer: Seokyong Lee/Bloomberg News

Samsung Electronics Co. will manufacture the main chip in Apple Inc.’s next iPhone model, regaining a customer previously lost to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

Samsung will start making Apple A9 processor chips at its Giheung plant in South Korea, the people said, asking not to be identified because the contract hasn’t been discussed publicly. Additional orders will go to Samsung’s partner Globalfoundries Inc., according to another person familiar with the arrangement.

Winning this order from Apple will help the world’s second-largest chipmaker rebound against TSMC, which last year ended Samsung’s monopoly over contracts to make iPhone and iPad chips. Both manufacturers have boosted capital expenditures to gain business from Apple and Qualcomm Inc. in the more than $300 billion semiconductor industry.

The Apple order may lead to additional business, said Song Myung Sup, a Seoul-based analyst at HI Investment & Securities Co. “If Globalfoundries quickly adopts Samsung’s most advanced technology and increases yield, it could also win orders from Qualcomm.”

Kelly Yeo, a spokeswoman for Samsung, declined to comment. Kevin Kimbal, a Globalfoundries spokesman, said his company doesn’t comment on any customer relationships. Josh Rosenstock, an Apple spokesman, declined to comment. Elizabeth Sun, a spokeswoman for TSMC, declined to comment.

Apple picked TSMC to produce A8 processors for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus devices. Those agreements came as the relationship between Apple and Samsung soured because of legal disputes dating to 2011.

Record Spending

Apple’s decision to turn back to the rival for supply of crucial components may vindicate Samsung’s investments in trying to grab the lead in manufacturing technology. Apple spent $25.8 billion on chips last year, accounting for 7.6 percent of industry purchases, researcher Gartner Inc. said.

The Cupertino, California-based smartphone maker has yet to announce specifications or unveil a design for its next new iPhone. In the past, Apple has introduced interim versions denoted with an S, leading to speculation the next device out this year will be the iPhone 6s.

Supplying chips for the iPhone and its own S6 smartphone will help Samsung turn its non-memory semiconductor business from a 1 trillion won ($914 million) loss last year to a 1 trillion won gain, said Song of HI Investment.

Samsung and TSMC said they would invest heavily this year to put advanced production capabilities in their plants, moves that analysts said were based on assumptions they would get orders from Apple.

Taiwan Semiconductor, the world’s biggest contract manufacturer of chips, budgeted a record $12 billion for plants and equipment. Chairman Morris Chang told investors in October that TSMC would lose ground to Samsung in the most-advanced chip technology before reclaiming the upper hand in 2016.

Battle Lines

Whether Samsung can hold onto the contract exclusively may depend on how quickly TSMC can bring online more advanced production and the pricing that both companies are willing to offer Apple. The benefit of using one supplier -- in Samsung’s case with the backup of Globalfoundries -- comes from the cost savings in designing the chip to fit that chipmaker’s specific manufacturing technique and not having to replicate that work elsewhere.

UBS AG estimates Samsung made $3.7 billion in capital expenditures on its processor business last year and may raise that to $4.9 billion this year. Samsung doesn’t disclose those figures, but executives said on a Jan. 29 conference call the company will boost spending this year.

Shares of Samsung closed flat at 1,434,000 won in Seoul today. The stock has risen 8.1 percent this year, compared with a 6.8 percent advance for the benchmark Kospi index.

The company is spending $15 billion on a new chip plant outside Seoul.

Samsung partnered with Globalfoundries last year in the made-to-order chip business, an alliance targeting TSMC. Globalfoundries is licensing Samsung’s most advanced 14-nanometer processor technology, giving customers access to factories in Texas, New York state and South Korea.

One nanometer, equal to one billionth of a meter, measures the size of connections within a chip. A lower number implies more advanced technology, allowing semiconductors to be smaller and more powerful.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE