News from Apple's chip manufacturer is good for the entire smartphone industry
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is the firm that turns chip designs from companies like Apple, Qualcomm, and Huawei into the actual components used inside smartphones. So when TSMC is the subject of good news, it's usually positive for the entire smartphone market. According to industry sources cited by Digitimes, the company is seeing orders pick up for chipsets produced using the most advanced technology currently possible. This is important because these chips are stuffed with more than a billion transistors.
The more transistors in a chip, the more powerful and energy efficient that chip is. The most densely packed chips are currently made using the 7nm process; TSMC says that the production facilities it reserves for these chips will be running at full capacity during the third quarter of this year. TSMC is said to be "aggressively" turning out wafers for Huawei's Hi-Silicon unit that will be used to produce the Kirin chipsets found on Huawei phones. Qualcomm and MediaTek are reportedly keeping track of how busy TSMC is churning out advanced chips. Later this quarter, both firms are expected to request that the company start preparing wafers for the production of their chipsets. And during the third quarter, most of TSMC's 7nm assembly lines will be busy rolling out the A13 SoC for the 2019 Apple iPhones.
The company's utilization rate for its most advanced chips most likely hit its low point for the year last quarter. But an increase in orders for 7nm chips from Android phone manufacturers not only bodes well for TSMC but for the smartphone industry as well. Right now, these chips include the top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Mobile Platform and the Kirin 980. The former is found powering expensive flagship models like the Samsung Galaxy S10, the LG G8 ThinQ, and other new top-shelf models due out over the year. The latter chip is found inside the soon to be launched Huawei P30 and P30 Pro. The fact that TSMC is receiving a bunch of orders for 7nm chips indicates that we could be looking at higher demand for the pricier smartphones in the marketplace.
TSMC is churning out 7nm CPU, GPU, and AI chips
Smartphone demand has been tepid as of late. High penetration rates for smartphones, lack of innovation and high prices are partly to blame. In addition, the upgrade cycle continues to grow longer, and there are economic issues in China and India; those are the top two markets in the world for connected handsets. And while the new foldable phones might give the industry a shot in the arm, that won't happen until the prices of these units come down to earth. The Samsung Galaxy Fold, due out on April 26th, is tagged at $1,980 in the states. Launching later this summer, the Huawei Mate X carries a price tag that is equivalent to $2,600. Both phones will use 7nm chipsets with Samsung's foldable powered by the Snapdragon 855, and Huawei's foldable sporting the Kirin 980 SoC.
Sources at top chip firms who design components for the smartphone industry say that besides rolling out 7nm CPUs, TSMC's advanced production lines are also manufacturing chips for graphics processing and Artifical Intelligence. And in the second half of this year, 7nm chips using extreme ultraviolet light to more precisely layout transistors will start shipping.