Apple’s Chip Partner TSMC Shares Details on 7nm Node and Advanced InFO Package Process for 2018

At the Open Innovation Platform Ecosystem Forum in Santa Clara on Wednesday, chip foundry TSMC provided an update (via EE Times) on the progress of its forthcoming technology nodes, several of which would be candidates for upcoming Apple chips. Most notably, the company's first 7-nanometer process node has already had several tape-outs (finalized designs) and expects to reach volume capacity in 2018.

TSMC's 10 nm node, which first showed up in Apple's A10X chip in the iPad Pro, followed by the A11, has been fraught with issues (paid link) such as low chip yield and performance short of initial expectations. TSMC looks to change its fortune with the new 7 nm node, which would be suitable for the successor to the A11 chip given current timelines.

In addition to the 7 nm node, TSMC also shared information on the follow-up revision to this node, dubbed, N7+. Featuring the long-beleaguered Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography (EUV), the revision would promise 20 percent better density, around 10 percent higher speeds, or 15 percent lower power with other factors held constant.

While EUV has faced delays for over a decade at this point, it seems to finally be coming to fruition, and a 2019 volume availability update would allow Apple to update its chip process in subsequent years yet again. Apple had previously updated process nodes with every iPhone since the transition to 3GS before being forced to use TSMC's 16 nm node in consecutive years with the A9 and A10. Moving forward, that annual cadence is again in jeopardy as chip foundries deal with the realities of physics and minimum transistor geometry sizes.

TSMC also unveiled some low power and low leakage processes that are suitable for Apple's other custom designs, such as its line of wireless chips like the W1 and successor W2. TSMC is targeting availability next year of a 22 nm ultra low leakage node, which is suitable for analog and RF designs such as cellular basebands or Wi-Fi chips.

This will ultimately help Apple further lower power consumption on the Apple Watch and headphones featuring the W line of wireless chips. It is also likely to be adopted by Qualcomm for its line of modem products. The W1 and W2 manufacturing processes are not currently publicly known, but it is likely that one of TSMC's RF-focused processes powers the Apple chips.

Finally, TSMC announced a revision of its integrated fan-out packaging process (InFO) that is targeted at integrating high bandwidth memory (HBM) into the assembly, dubbed InFO-MS. HBM has generated a lot of interest from applications where very high sustained memory bandwidths are desired, such as consumer graphics cards.

HBM and similar standards such as Wide I/O promise not only to improve memory bandwidth, but also improve power consumption for a given bandwidth, making it a suitable evolution for mobile SoC designs. This type of memory interface has yet to appear in a mobile design, though it should be considered a near-term eventuality. Despite advances in mobile memory, it still lags behind desktop and laptop systems in total bandwidth, which can be important in some tasks such as graphics rendering.

Tags: TSMC, W1, A12, W2

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Multiple Apple Suppliers Share Revenue Reports Ahead of ‘Peak’ iPhone and Apple Watch Season

A collection of Apple suppliers have shared revenue reports today, which also provide a glimpse into the upcoming "peak" iPhone and Apple Watch manufacturing season. Starting off, Foxconn looked back at its profits in July and reported consolidated revenues of NT$315.06 billion (US$10.62 billion) for the month, which marks an increase of 7.53 percent year-on-year. For the first seven months of 2017, Foxconn's combined revenues were NT$2.2 trillion, increasing by 1.64 percent year-on-year (via DigiTimes).

Those watching Foxconn's revenue report are now expecting the October-December period to be the "peak of 2017" for the company, thanks to its status as one of Apple's biggest suppliers and the launch of the iPhone 8 sometime in September. Foxconn's revenue will increase "gradually" in August, according to market watchers, and will continue until the end of the year. Holiday spending traditionally helps increase Apple and its suppliers' revenue, even boosting Foxconn's December period in 2016 in the face of an overall year that saw its first-ever profit decline.

Check out our recent hands-on with an iPhone 8 dummy model
Some market watchers expect Foxconn's revenues to increase gradually beginning August and the growth will last until the end of 2017 with the fourth quarter being the peak of 2017 for Foxconn.
Apple Watch supplier Quanta Computer announced revenues for the second quarter of 2017 at NT$235.37 billion (US$7.93 billion), growing 3.3 percent from the previous quarter and 13.3 percent from the year-ago quarter. Today's report stated that next-generation Apple Watch shipments will begin in the fourth quarter, gradually increasing Quanta's financial performance in the second half of 2017 -- a sentiment that's been shared in previous supply chain reports due to Quanta's status as the sole supplier of the "Apple Watch Series 3."
With the notebook market entering the traditional peak season, its server shipments expected to enjoy growth and the next-generation Apple Watch set to begin shipments in the fourth quarter, some market watchers expect Quanta's financial performances to gradually pick up in the second half of 2017.
In other supply chain ramp-up stories, TSMC has entered mass production on the iPhone 8's A11 chip in the third quarter of 2017. The next-generation chip is being crafted with a new 10-nanometer FinFET process, and originally began production back in May after a month-long delay. TSMC is also using its 10nm manufacturing process to build the new iPad Pro's A10X processors, and it's predicted the A11 processors will also find their way into the "iPhone 7s" and "iPhone 7s Plus."
In addition, TSMC has already started mass production of 10nm FinFET chips in the third quarter, driven by Apple's orders, the report indicated. TSMC's 10nm FinFET process has been adopted by Apple for its A10X processors for use in its 10.5- and 12.9-inch iPad Pro tablets and A11 chips that will power the upcoming iPhones.
There have been numerous reports from Apple's supply chain in recent weeks, timed ahead of the rumored announcement of the iPhone 8 in September. These include a report centered on Lumentum and "massive" orders it has received for components related to its vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers. Such technology is believed to be for the advanced camera and 3D sensing features of the iPhone 8.

Last week, all three new iPhones were reportedly entering volume production, and Samsung Display began gearing up to operate seven of its next-generation OLED lines at full capacity earlier this month, all aimed at the iPhone 8. In terms of the main suppliers for Apple's next-generation OLED smartphone, Foxconn, Pegatron, and Wistron are predicted to hit a sales high in the period running from September to November of this year, due to shipments of finished iPhones that will "start gaining momentum" as soon as this month.

Related Roundup: iPhone 8
Tags: TSMC, Foxconn, Quanta

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TSMC Rumored to Be Sole Supplier of A-Series iPhone Chips in 2018

Earlier this week, a report by The Korea Herald suggested that Samsung Electronics could be returning as a supplier for the so-called A12 chip in 2018's line of iPhones, after being removed from the A-series chip supply chain in 2016 and 2017, years in which Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company took on all of the orders. Now, industry observers reported upon by DigiTimes are predicting that TSMC is "still likely" to retain its title as the sole manufacturer of A-series chips in 2018.

In today's report, TSMC's integrated fan-out wafer-level packaging technology -- which the supplier uses in its 7-nanometer FinFET chip fabrication -- is looked at as largely superior to any progress made by Samsung in the same field. Samsung is said to be "aggressively vying" for A-series orders from Apple ahead of 2018, but DigiTimes' sources state that even the company's close ties to OLED might not be enough for Apple to add Samsung as a secondary A-series supplier for the reported three iPhones launching in fall 2018.


It is unlikely Samsung will be able to regain application processors orders for Apple's iPhone, as TSMC's in-house developed InFO wafer-level packaging will make the Taiwan-based foundry's 7nm FinFET technology more competitive than Samsung's, said the observers.

Samsung has grabbed Apple's A9 chip orders for the new 9.7-inch iPads introduced earlier in 2017, the observers claimed. TSMC, which is already the sole supplier of Apple's 10nm A11 chips for the upcoming iPhones, will still likely obtain all of the next-generation A-series chip orders for Apple's 2018 series of iPhones with its 7nm FinFET process, the observers said.

TSMC's innovation in backend packaging plays a key role in securing exclusive orders for Apple's processors for the upcoming iPhones, the observers noted.
In Tuesday's report, it was rumored that Samsung Electronics co-CEO Kwon Oh-hyun already made a deal with Apple concerning 2018 iPhone chip production during a visit to Cupertino last month. Otherwise, The Korea Herald's report was light on details, with no clear indication on exactly how many orders Samsung might have gained from such a deal besides believing the company would "share some parts" of A-series chip production with TSMC.

If Apple kept TSMC as the sole A-series manufacturer in 2018, it would mark the third year in a row that the supplier created iPhone chips alone, following the A10 in the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, and the A11 in the upcoming "iPhone 8," "iPhone 7s," and "iPhone 7s Plus." Otherwise, a return to dual-sourced A-series chips in 2018 would be the first time Apple made that move since 2015, when both Samsung and TSMC supplied the A9 chip in the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, which frustrated some users when TSMC's technology was discovered to boast marginally better battery life.


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Samsung Rumored to Return to iPhone Chip Production in 2018

Samsung Electronics will return to producing chips for Apple in next year's iPhone lineup, according to a new report today by The Korea Herald. Before, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company held the sole supplier responsibility of providing Apple's A10 chip in the iPhone 7, as well as the A11 chip in the upcoming iPhone 8, but now today's report references a "crucial deal" made between Samsung Electronics co-CEO Kwon Oh-hyun and Apple during a visit to Cupertino last month.

According to the report, Samsung managed to close the deal because of the company's decision to purchase equipment solely intended for 7-nanometer chip fabrication for iPhone devices. This move, as well as using Samsung's "close ties on OLED," convinced Apple to reintroduce the supplier into the iPhone chip supply chain. Although details remain vague, The Korea Herald's sources said that Samsung would "share some parts" of the 2018 iPhone orders that have been previously monopolized by TSMC.

According to news reports on July 18, Samsung recently purchased extreme ultra violet lithography machines, the most advanced chip manufacturing equipment, to produce seven-nanometer mobile processors solely for iPhone.

“The CEO could persuade Apple’s top brass taking advantage of their close ties on OLED,” said an industry source. Samsung, the world’s largest mobile OLED maker with a whopping 95 percent market share, is the sole OLED supplier for the upcoming iPhone.
In 2015, Apple dual-sourced the A9 chip from both TSMC and Samsung for the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, leading to some blowback from consumers when battery tests were performed and saw the TSMC chips outperform those made by Samsung. To avoid that issue again, and thanks to TSMC's aggressive moves to adopt smaller and more energy efficient manufacturing processes, Apple chose the company as the sole supplier of the A10 and A11 chips.

Now, Samsung is said to be preparing tests for its own chip processing machines, and next plans to "seek final approval from Apple for the chip production" for what will presumably be called the A12 chip. As the sole OLED supplier for the 2017 iPhone, Samsung Display's deal with Apple has placed the manufacturer with providing between 70 and 92 million OLED displays for the upcoming iPhone 8. Apple is predicted to shift to OLED-only iPhone production as soon as 2018 or 2019.


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Samsung Rumored to Return to iPhone Chip Production in 2018

Samsung Electronics will return to producing chips for Apple in next year's iPhone lineup, according to a new report today by The Korea Herald. Before, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company held the sole supplier responsibility of providing Apple's A10 chip in the iPhone 7, as well as the A11 chip in the upcoming iPhone 8, but now today's report references a "crucial deal" made between Samsung Electronics co-CEO Kwon Oh-hyun and Apple during a visit to Cupertino last month.

According to the report, Samsung managed to close the deal because of the company's decision to purchase equipment solely intended for 7-nanometer chip fabrication for iPhone devices. This move, as well as using Samsung's "close ties on OLED," convinced Apple to reintroduce the supplier into the iPhone chip supply chain. Although details remain vague, The Korea Herald's sources said that Samsung would "share some parts" of the 2018 iPhone orders that have been previously monopolized by TSMC.

According to news reports on July 18, Samsung recently purchased extreme ultra violet lithography machines, the most advanced chip manufacturing equipment, to produce seven-nanometer mobile processors solely for iPhone.

“The CEO could persuade Apple’s top brass taking advantage of their close ties on OLED,” said an industry source. Samsung, the world’s largest mobile OLED maker with a whopping 95 percent market share, is the sole OLED supplier for the upcoming iPhone.
In 2015, Apple dual-sourced the A9 chip from both TSMC and Samsung for the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, leading to some blowback from consumers when battery tests were performed and saw the TSMC chips outperform those made by Samsung. To avoid that issue again, and thanks to TSMC's aggressive moves to adopt smaller and more energy efficient manufacturing processes, Apple chose the company as the sole supplier of the A10 and A11 chips.

Now, Samsung is said to be preparing tests for its own chip processing machines, and next plans to "seek final approval from Apple for the chip production" for what will presumably be called the A12 chip. As the sole OLED supplier for the 2017 iPhone, Samsung Display's deal with Apple has placed the manufacturer with providing between 70 and 92 million OLED displays for the upcoming iPhone 8. Apple is predicted to shift to OLED-only iPhone production as soon as 2018 or 2019.


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TSMC Sources Claim ‘iPhone 8’ Will Have Touch ID Integrated into Display

Apple has successfully finalized a solution to integrate Touch ID fingerprint recognition directly into the display of its upcoming "iPhone 8", according to a new report on Friday.

Chinese-language Economic Daily News (EDN) said it spoke to sources from Apple supplier Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), who apparently confirmed Apple's achievement during a technology convention held in Taipei on Thursday.

Among several design changes TSMC reportedly discussed at the TSMC 2017 NA Technology Symposium was the lack of a home button on the redesigned OLED iPhone, owing to Apple's use of "an optical fingerprint sensor to enable authentication directly on the screen".


In addition to the fingerprint recognition, the sources claimed the new iPhones will also come with "invisible infrared image sensors to enhance the functionality of the high-pixel camera" and to enable augmented reality functions.

If true, news of Apple's on-screen fingerprint recognition solution will come as a relief to watchers tracking the development of Apple's "tenth anniversary" edition iPhone. Reports that the company has been researching ways to integrate fingerprint sensors directly into screens go as far back as June 2015, but more recent sources have claimed Apple has struggled to find a solution that overcomes the production challenges involved.

Specifically, Apple was said to be facing low yield issues of its in-house fingerprint sensor solution, which may have been forcing it to consider three possible alternatives: remove Touch ID from the 5.8-inch iPhone entirely and rely on other forms of biometric authentication, place the sensor on the back of the device (similar to the one on the Samsung Galaxy S8), or delay production of the phone.

The security of existing face and iris recognition technology has already come into question, while the idea of a rear-mounted Touch ID fingerprint sensor has received a largely negative response from current iPhone users. Suggestions that Apple could announce the OLED iPhone in September alongside typical "S" cycle iPhones but delay its availability have also been met with skepticism.

Additionally, today's news also lines up with previous rumors claiming Apple has been aiming to finalize its fingerprint sensor specification in May all along, in time for mass production in late July, which would fall in line with the company's usual annual iPhone production timeframe.

The other design changes mentioned by sources at TSMC suggest additional biometric authentication such as iris/facial recognition could be used to augment Touch ID via a high pixel-density front-facing camera, which is expected to feature next-generation 3D-sensing capabilities powered by PrimeSense technology. The report also claims the screen ratio of the displays on the new iPhones will be adjusted to 18.5:9 instead of the previous 16:9.

The "iPhone 8" is thought to have a redesigned steel and glass chassis, an edge-to-edge OLED display, and could carry a "premium" price, compared to previous models. Apple is expected to debut the new iPhone in the fall alongside updated versions of its current 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch device lineup.

(Via DigiTimes.)

Related Roundup: iPhone 8 (2017)
Tags: TSMC, Touch ID

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TSMC Begins Production of A11 Processor After Initial Manufacturing Issues Resolved

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) has commenced production of Apple's A11 processor, according to a new report by DigiTimes. The chip is expected to power the company's redesigned OLED "iPhone 8", scheduled to launch in the fall.

TSMC is the sole supplier of A11 chips, which could also make their way into the upgraded "S" cycle models of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus and potentially upcoming iPad refreshes this year, too.


TSMC originally aimed to start producing the chip in April with a view to completing 50 million units by July, but production was delayed because of issues in the 10-nanometer FinFET manufacturing process. However, those problems have now been solved, according to today's report.
TSMC has begun 10nm chip production for Apple's next-generation iPhone 8 series, the sources said. Production was once affected by issues involving stacking components in the backend integrated fan-out packaging process, but they have already been solved, the sources said.
Apart from faster A11 processors, all three rumored iPhone models may include glass bodies and wireless charging (though rumors disagree on this point). It is unclear if the two LCD models will feature the same edge-to-edge display rumored for the higher-end device and what other features will be included.

KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has suggested that production issues could result in a "severe" shortage of Apple's upcoming "tenth anniversary" OLED iPhone in the months following its rumored September launch, but other sources claim production is on schedule.

TSMC was also the sole maker of the A10 chip in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, which helped lead the chip maker to revenue growth towards the end of 2016.

Related Roundup: iPhone 8 (2017)
Tags: TSMC, A11 chip

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TSMC Drops Out of Race to Acquire Toshiba Flash Unit, Foxconn Highest Bidder

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) has withdrawn its offer for Toshiba's highly sought-after NAND flash memory business, leaving major Apple supplier Hon Hai in the driving seat to acquire the unit.

Hon Hai, also known as Foxconn, has offered up the highest bid so far, with almost 3 trillion Japanese yen ($30 billion) said to be on the table, according to Japanese paper Asahi Shimbun on Friday. Shares in Toshiba jumped 7 percent on the news.


Toshiba is said to have narrowed down the number of bidders for its semiconductor business, which it is seeking to sell in order to raise at least $9 billion to cover U.S. nuclear unit charges that threaten the conglomerate's future.

Out of the initial 10 interested parties one of which was reportedly Apple, the smaller group of bidders includes Western Digital, Korea's SK Hynix, U.S. investment fund Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co, and a combined partnership bid from Silver Lake Management and U.S. chipmaker Broadcomm. Media reports made no mention of whether Apple made the cut, making the prospect seem unlikely.

Japan's government could oppose a sale to Taiwan-based Foxconn because of the strategic value of Toshiba's technology to the national interest, according to sources who spoke to Bloomberg. Toshiba reportedly wants to encourage Japanese companies to participate in the bidding process, since none are in the current group.

The second round of the bidding war is expected to be held before the end of May, with the winner is expected to be announced in June before Toshiba's next shareholder meeting.


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TSMC to Begin Production of ‘iPhone 8’ and ‘iPhone 7s’ A11 Chip in April

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company will begin volume production on Apple's A11 chip in April, with a production capacity of 50 million units of the chip aimed to be completed before July. The A11 chip is slated to power the new iPhone lineup launching later in 2017, including what is believed to be iterative "iPhone 7s" and "iPhone 7s Plus" updates, along with the specced-out "iPhone 8."

The A11 chips will be built on a 10-nanometer FinFET manufacturing process and are packed with a "wafer-level integrated fan-out" technology, according to a report by the Economic Daily News (via DigiTimes). For the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, TSMC currently manufactures the A10 chip on a 16nm FinFET process. The jump to 10nm is tipped to yield chips that are more power efficient, and subsequently provide end user experiences that are snappier.


Before the end of 2017, TSMC is expected to "maintain a capacity" for producing a total of 100 million of Apple's A11 chips.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) will begin volume production of Apple's A11 chips in April and will prepare a capacity for production of 50 million units of the chip before July, according to a Chinese-language Economic Daily News (EDN) report.

The A11 chips, which will power the upcoming iPhone series slated for launch in September 2017, will be built on a 10 nm FinFET process and packed with a wafer-level integrated fan-out (InFO) packaging technology, said the report.
Last summer it was confirmed that TSMC would become the sole supplier of the A11 chip, with the design of the chip reportedly being completed around that time as well. The supplier was also the sole maker of the A10 chip in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, which ultimately helped lead TSMC to revenue growth towards the end of last year.

TSMC company spokesperson Michael Kramer earlier this month said that an official decision regarding the creation of a major production plant in the United States would now be held off until 2018. Kramer said the company would lose much of its "flexibility" if it moved production stateside, but if it does end up building a U.S. plant for the production of Apple chips it could become an investment worth upwards of $16 billion.

Related Roundup: iPhone 8 (2017)
Tags: TSMC, A11 chip

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New Apple Product Expectations See AAPL and Supplier Shares Surge to Record Highs

Shares in Apple supplier Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) hit an all-time high on Tuesday, coming on the back of record spikes in Apple's share price over the last few trading days.

TSMC share price rose to 195 New Taiwan Dollars, up NT$3.5 or 1.83 percent on the Taiwan Stock Exchange, breaking a previous record set in October 2016.


Shares in other Apple parts suppliers in Asia also rallied on Tuesday, reported Nikkei Asian Review. Shares in optical lens manufacturer Largan Precision hit an all-time high and contract electronics maker Pegatron reached the highest level since last year. At one point, Foxconn reached NT$91.80, its highest level since 2016.

The rallies came as Apple's own share price hit another all-time high on Monday, reaching $141.46 at the end of trading, following indications that the company could make new product announcements on Tuesday. Rumors suggest Apple is planning updated 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models, a 128GB iPhone SE, a red color option for iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, and new Apple Watch bands.

The gains have also been fed by speculation surrounding Apple's "iPhone 8", which is expected to launch in the fall, but could conceivably appear earlier. Several financial analysts have raised their price targets for Apple's stock to between $150 and $185, according to research notes obtained by MacRumors.

TSMC is also thought to be considering moving some of its chip manufacturing into the United States, according to sources, with a decision said to be coming specifically in the "first half of 2018", with upwards of $16 billion potentially being invested in getting the American plant up and running.

Tags: TSMC, AAPL

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