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As Apple appears to ditch Imagination and Dialog, how much more design will it take in house?

Apple appears to be making some waves of late. Hard on the heels of its apparent abandonment of Imagination’s GPU technology comes news that it may be developing its own power management ICs (PMICs), which would replace those from incumbent Dialog Semiconductor.

Moving between suppliers has been a regular feature of Apple’s approach since the launch of the iPod and one of the first parts to see this switch was the selector wheel – no sooner than one company told you that it couldn’t say who it was supplying, but the product was white, than another took its place. But it’s the iPhone where the big change came as Apple started to design its own processors. Originally ARM cores, the latest processors have been created using Apple’s ARM architectural license.

Dialog, meanwhile, is said to derive 50% of its revenues from sales of PMICs to Apple and the loss of that particular socket would, on the face of it, affect the company significantly. Dialog is currently admitting nothing, stating it ‘knows of no business reason’ why its share price has plunged. Investors know otherwise, it seems, with close to 8million shares changing hands on 11 April – a significant slice of the 72m issued shares and many more than are traded day to day.

So, would Apple consider ‘pulling the plug’ on its ARM license in favour of creating its own processors? When ARM was acquired last year by Japanese company SoftBank, industry observers started to wonder whether the move might affect the independence upon which it had built its success. Coincidentally, this happened at the time when the RISC-V architecture gained a higher profile.

RISC-V offers a number of features which companies like Apple might find attractive. But would they would be attractive enough to cut the link with ARM?

Author
Graham Pitcher

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