Apple's Intrinsity Acquisition: Winners and Losersby Ganesh T S on April 28, 2010 6:30 PM EST
The Rest of the Industry
What repercussions does this acquisition have for the rest of industry? It is still not clear whether Intrinsity would continue to support any of their existing customers (AMD/ATI and AMCC -- whether they are still using FastCore technology is not known). However, we can safely say that the FastCore version of the Cortex-A8 on Samsung's 45nm node is the final Intrinsity product available for other fabless semiconductor companies to license. This hardened macro (called as the Hummingbird) has found a place in some of Samsung's app processors, but we are not aware of any other licensees for this.
Of all the companies involved, it appears that Samsung's app processor division would suffer the most in this transaction. It is quite possible that they were counting on a FastCore version of the Cortex-A9 at the 32nm node for their next generation product in the S5PC line. The online rumour mill suggests that Intrinsity had already been working on a FastCore version of Cortex-A9, but it is not clear whether it was Samsung who had requested it (most likely). The status of this FastCore after Apple's acquisition remains unclear.
While Samsung's app processor division could end up unhappy, things continue to bode well for Samsung's foundry business. Apple was never likely to move away from them for future members of the A4 product line, but Intrinsity's acquisition and their previous experience with Samsung's process flow only continue to strengthen this belief.
Intrinsity's technology, back in 2001, was probably a bit ahead of its time. Undoubtedly, their most outstanding success to date seems to be the Hummingbird core in the 45nm node, showing how their technology has matured and delivered outstanding results for a company of Apple's stature to use in their own products. Unfortunately, for the rest of the industry, the technology has been rendered no longer licensable. With the relevant patents now belonging to Apple, it is unlikely that other companies can benefit from Fast14 technology of any form in their own product lines. The pity is that these may be product lines such as the embedded PowerPC market for control and telecom applications (this is where AMCC's Titan core designed with help from Intrinsity's FastCore technology is used) where Apple has no presence. Hopefully, the industry would continue to innovate and get past the loss of this promising technology.
In closing, it can be said that there are no outright winners in the asset acquisition. While Intrinsity's investors may have just about broken even or may have even had to get out with a big loss, Apple has its hands full in trying to get some returns for the investment in their third semiconductor company acquisition. In particular, considering the fact that they don't seem to have had much success with the first two, it will be interesting to watch how Apple's management style works in a small fabless semiconductor company. The nature of Intrinsity's technology also doesn't seem very amenable to the fastest-time-to-market nature of the application processor market, and this only makes Apple's task that much more difficult. Current licensees of Intrinsity's technology and the Samsung application processor group (particularly if the rumors of Intrinsity's current activities with respect to the Cortex-A9 turn out to be true) seem to be left in limbo. The industry, in general, has lost the ability to take advantage of a technology whose time seemed to have just arrived.
Note: We are grateful to Tom Halfhill for his invaluable inputs to this story. If you require a professional analysis of the acquisition, please check out his piece "Why Apple Wants Intrinsity" in the April 26th, 2010 issue of Microprocessor Report.