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New A6 Chip Already In Production for Apple

Reuters has gotten wind that the next generation processor that is likely to power the follow-ups to the iPad 2 and iPhone 4 is already undergoing trial production runs.

According to Reuters, Apple has given a green light for Taiwan-based manufacturer TSMC to begin a test production run of its new A6 system-on-chip (SOC) processor. TSMC is the largest semi-conductor fabricator in the world. Moreover, they have previously provided manufacturing services for Qualcomm, Broadcomm, Conexant, Marvell, Nvidia, and Via.

This would represent a shift from Apple's current SOC provider, Samsung. The two companies have been embroiled in a heated series of lawsuits and accusations of design theft for the last few months. Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 debuted in June to generally good reviews from the media, and has been seen as one of the only competitors to the iPad that has been able to achieve parity with Apple's device. That, combined with Samsung's often well-regarded Galaxy-series of Android phones has turned them into one of Apple's most intense competitors. Starting to shift their strategic alignment away from critical dependencies on Samsung would seem like a natural move for Apple to make. 

Apple currently procures LCD's, flash memory, and CPU's from Samsung. In a deal reportedly worth $7.8 billion, Apple earlier this year secured what was believed to be a long-term arrangement with Samsung for these components. 

However, the arrangement with TSMC is not a done deal. It is likely that there is some minimum performance metric that TSMC needs to meet out of these trial production runs before Apple secures a standing arrangement with the company. With rumors of an iPad 3 and an iPhone 4S or 5 arriving later this year, Apple may not have many choices left if the TSMC runs do not go well.

Samsung has provided both the A4 CPU used in the original iPad and the A5 used in the follow-on iPad 2. Yesterday, Samsung announced it had successfully produced the world's first 20nm ARM chip, making this what could be a very intense arms race.

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Jerry Myers, 2011-07-15 (Update: 2012-05-26)