Though Samsung has long been the supplier of all of Apple’s mobile processor needs, that may change soon. On Wednesday, reports out of Taiwan indicated that Apple(s AAPL) is actively moving to take production of its A6X processor to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.: the company is reportedly going to start a trial production run with Apple in the first quarter of 2013.
We’ve been hearing little snippets about Apple and TSMC for a while. In October, chip analysts in Asia said Apple was moving to TSMC. That followed earlier reports that Apple had made overtures to TSMC for exclusive access to a particular product line (typical Apple m.o.) in exchange for a massive investment from Cupertino.
If Apple does switch away from, or even lessen its reliance on Samsung, it’s pretty unfortunate timing for the Korean chipmaker, which recently made massive investments of its own in its Austin, Texas-based chip manufacturing plant, believed to be for Apple’s A6 line. Obviously Samsung and Apple are on pretty strained terms these days in the aftermath of the $1 billion patent verdict and ongoing appeals process in U.S. federal court. As a result, the companies have eased back on some of their partnerships, such as with the displays for iPhones and iPads. So a change in the chipmaking relationship wouldn’t come as a huge shock; plus, as with the display side of Samsung’s house, Samsung already has a major potential buyer of smartphone and tablet chips built in Austin: itself.
For Apple, there’s the question about what a switch away from Samsung and its Austin-based production lines would mean for Apple’s role as an American job creator: CEO Tim Cook has been very quick to point out lately that “the engine for the iPhone and iPad is made in the U.S.” and not overseas. Right now, TSMC does not have the capacity to build Apple’s latest chips in the U.S.
But that could change. Rumors about a company taking bids for a “Project Azalea,” said to be a plan to set up a new chipmaking factory in the U.S. These have floated around for the last month, with reports tying it to places like upstate New York or Oregon. It could be part of a deal with Apple; that TSMC get a U.S. production foothold in order to land Apple’s likely extremely lucrative mobile processor contract.