With the battle for mobile devices heating up, Apple has taken a step to solidify its position by buying a small, Texas-based chipmaker that created key technology in the iPad's processor. The deal to buy Intrinsity was confirmed by Apple on Tuesday.
The purchase price for the Austin-based company is reported to be $121 million. Since the iPad was unveiled in January, Apple has said the device's A4 chip is the key to its speed and battery life, and industry observers have speculated that the A4 was built on Intrinsity's technology.
Faster Mobile Chips
Intrinsity's technology allows the iPad's mobile chip to be run at one gigahertz, about a third faster than most processors for mobile devices. A division of Samsung actually built the A4 for Apple.
Apple's purchase is being compared to a similar move by a key competitor, Google. Earlier this month, Google bought a startup chipmaker named Agnilux, which had been formed by former Apple and PA Semi employees.
Interestingly, PA Semi was purchased by Apple in 2008 for $280 million, and its technology has also reportedly been used in the iPad's A4. But some industry watchers have speculated that Google's interest in Agnilux is more about creating energy-efficient servers for cloud computing than about mobile-device chips.
In its promotional material, Intrinsity said it provides "the tools, technologies, and expertise" so its customers can produce "the fastest digital logic." It added that the key to doing that is its proprietary Fast14 technology, which can provide circuit speeds "up to and beyond three GHz," as well as the ability to trade off speed, power and chip area in order to achieve a customer's targets.
The company said its FastCores, using the Fast14 technology, can typically run twice or more as fast as ordinary static-logic versions, with "little to no more silicon area or power per MHz" if Intrinsity's high-speed memories are used. It also noted that FastCores "consume "significantly less power" than comparable static versions, and they are built using the same manufacturing processes as slower versions.
A 'Relatively Minor' Advantage
Martin Reynolds, an analyst with industry research firm Gartner, said "what Intrinsity has is a portfolio of technology" for faster ARM chips that require less power.
Apple has several strategic reasons to buy Intrinsity, he said, such as a cost reduction in utilizing the technology for its chips, as well as the ability to adapt it in developing new products.
He noted that it "also takes this technology off the table for Apple's competitors," but this is a "relatively minor" advantage. Intrinsity's technology, which enables faster circuits to be built with fewer transistors, is "useful only for a while," Reynolds said.
Apple could move forward on the iPad and possibly other products without owning Intrinsity, he said, "but it certainly helps."