Intel's talent and Qualcomm's IP might have given Apple enough legroom to lay groundwork for what may end up being another key strategic transition for Cupertino.
Not that it is a surprise or anything, but it looks like Apple has finally kicked off the development of its own cellular modem, a move that would allow Cupertino to eventually transition away from using Qualcomm technology. The formal announcement was made by Apple hardware senior vice president Johny Srouji, during a town hall meeting with Apple employees, Bloomberg is reporting.
Srouji joined Apple in 2008 and has since been leading the company’s chip design efforts. Srouji is the face behind Apple’s A-series processors that power the iPhone as well as iPad, as well as the custom chip inside its truly wireless AirPods, HomePod smart speaker, and Apple Watch. Apple now also makes its own custom silicon chip for Mac. Srouji is said to have been leading Apple’s modem chip designing efforts since January 2019, with Cupertino hiring modem engineers in Qualcomm’s own backyard, San Diego.
Apple acquired majority of Intel’s smartphone modem business for $1 billion in July last year after having just resolved a long-running dispute with Qualcomm in April. The “surprise” settlement included a payment from Apple to Qualcomm and “a six-year license agreement, effective as of April 1, 2019, including a two-year option to extend, and a multiyear chipset supply agreement.” Intel’s talent and Qualcomm’s IP gave Apple enough legroom to lay groundwork for what may end up being, in the words of Srouji himself, “another key strategic transition,” and a critical one at that.
Before the settlement, Apple had been fighting Qualcomm for years, alleging that the chipmaker was (mis)using its dominant market position to charge exorbitant fee for its technology, including the modem. At the same time, modems are key to a smartphone. Without them, a 5G-ready iPhone 12 would not have been possible. Apple already makes its own SoC and it was only about time it made its own modem. If Apple’s custom ARM silicon for Mac that made debut with the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini recently-not to mention, its years of experience building the iPhone chip-is anything to go by, its in-house modem could well be a serious threat to Qualcomm. An exact timeline for when Apple would be ready with its own modem is unknown for now.