Apple seen as likely new ARM licensee

Chipmaker says "a leading handset OEM" has signed up for a far-reaching architectural license to the company's mobile-chip designs, following Apple's acquisition of P.A. Semi.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
2 min read

A new architectural licensee revealed by mobile-chip designer ARM might just be an old friend.

ARM Chief Executive Warren East revealed on an earnings conference call on Wednesday that "a leading handset OEM," or original equipment manufacturer, has signed an architectural license with the company, forming ARM's most far-reaching license for its processor cores.

East declined to elaborate on ARM's new partner, but EETimes' Peter Clarke could think of only one smartphone maker who would be that interested in shaping and controlling the direction of the silicon inside its phones: Apple.

And at first blush, the theory makes a lot of sense. Apple acquired P.A. Semi earlier this year to put CEO Don Dobberpuhl and his team of designers to work on developing new chips for the iPhone and iPod Touch, which currently use chips manufactured by Samsung, Marvell, and NXP based on the ARM core. Dobberpuhl has a long history with the ARM architecture as leader of the StrongARM processor design team eventually acquired by Intel.

ARM's architectural license gives holders the freedom to tinker with the ARM architecture and processor cores, whereas most of its customers sign licenses for specific core designs to incorporate into their chips.

The company is thought to have very few architectural licensees. Although they are believed to include companies like Qualcomm, Marvell, Texas Instruments, Freescale, and Samsung, an ARM representative did not immediately respond to a request for the full list of architectural licensees.

Note the common ground between those companies: they're all chipmakers. No other major handset vendor--with the exception of Samsung--has taken a similar degree of interest in designing processors, which makes Apple a likely candidate for the new architectural license, given its plans for the P.A. Semi designers.

Ties between ARM and Apple go back to the early 1990s, when ARM was actually created out of a partnership between Apple and Acorn, ARM's forerunner. ARM got the design win for the ill-fated Newton back in those days, but it made a strong comeback at Apple, inside the iPod line in the early part of this decade.