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iPhone 4, Nexus S--rivals with a common core

The iPhone 4 and Google Nexus S share a core component, highlighting how Samsung is triangulating with customers and its own products and chips.

Apple's iPhone 4 and Google's freshly minted Nexus S share a critical core component inside, underscoring Samsung's presence in some of the most popular devices on the market and how it triangulates relationships between its own products and chip customers.

Google's Nexus S has a contoured 4-inch screen.
Google's Nexus S has a contoured 4-inch screen. Google

Google makes no bones about what's inside its slick Samsung-manufactured Nexus S: a 1GHz "Hummingbird" processor. That's a close cousin of--if not identical in many respects to--the processor inside of Apple's A4 system-on-a-chip, as a TechInsights analysis (PDF) revealed earlier this year.

"It's common in the electronics industry for competitors to get chips from the same source," said Joe Byrne, an analyst The Linley Group. "But it is somewhat of an odd situation for Samsung to develop chips and make their own systems (products). It does put them in a weird position," he said.

Byrne continued. "The Samsung-Apple deal is odd in that a system company (Apple) is doing a custom chip with a semiconductor supplier--that is, Samsung--that also has a system business. There's a potential triangle there."

The plot thickens when the new Samsung Galaxy Tab is added to the mix. That tablet has emerged as the principal competitor--with 1 million units sold in about two months--to Apple's iPad. Samsung's Galaxy Tab uses the same--or similar--Samsung-made processor as the iPhone 4 and Nexus S.

Samsung is obviously a large company with different arms that have competing interests. And, in that sense, it's not unlike Intel. Samsung is doing, however, what Intel, on principal, has avoided: making branded consumer systems and supplying chips to companies that compete with those systems.