Indeed, when it comes to the netbook and smartphone markets, the company is poised to overtake Intel in marketshare within three years, reckons semiconductor analyst, Didier Scemama, at ABN AMRO.
That’s interesting, particularly since 100 percent of ARM stock is available to investors on the London Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. And it’s sparked us off on a train of speculative thought here at the European desk.
This also means it could become a strategic battleground for those companies with an interest in using processors designed by the company, firms which include both Apple and Google.
Look to the current battle between those two latter names, once firm friends now increasingly headed on a trajectory to become close competitors in the smartphone market, where iPhone may soon battle Android. And don’t ignore Nokia, which also makes use of ARM chips in some of its designs.
For Apple it’s like taking a step step step back in time… Apple, if you recall, worked with the company that was the forerunner of ARM in the ‘80’s. They were working together to develop new versions of the ARM chip under the name of a new company called Advanced RISC Machines Ltd.
ARM Ltd (as it was then called) had a clear mission to continue the development of the ARM processor and to facilitate its use by system developers, “whether as a standalone processor or as a macrocell with custom logic or other ARM components added to it to make a custom chip.”
As it does now, ARM licenses its designs to chip foundries who would sell the chips. It gets/gained royalties and avoids/avoided shelling out for its own production facilities.
Newton fans may remember that this 90’s cooperation spawned progeny in the form of the ARM 6 chip, which Apple used in the Newton PDA. Way back in 1990, Apple invested $2.5 million in ARM in exchange for a 43 percent holding of the company – a move designed to protect the Newton itself. The company divested itself of the remainder of these shares at the end of the decade, making $792 million with the move (at a point when it really, really needed the money).
Today, we know Apple’s got those world-class processor engineers it acquired on its purchase of PA Semi working away at a variety of different chips, presumably to drive future generations of iPhone, iPod, and, let’s face it, potentially its future tablet Mac.
With this in mind, and knowledge Apple holds billions in its war chest, it is interesting to note Scemama’s statement that an ARM takeover is quite likely, “but not by Intel”.
"I think it will be a consortium of the chip company and electronics OEMs that have a strategic interest in ARM,” he said, "Companies like Apple, Nokia, Google, IBM, TSMC; they are needing ARM to independent. They could make a pre-emptive move."
Given Apple has already paid $278 million in order to acquire PA Semi, a company with world class expertise in getting the very best out of processors loosely based on ARM chips, is the company going to lose its strategic advantage to a competitor?
Indeed, whichever company or consortium of firms may manage a takeover of ARM will be able to find some small consolation in that whatever the end run outcome of today’s smartphone wars, they’ll be getting a royalty on the majority of processors sold in a mobile device.
We’re not saying Apple’s going to invest in ARM in order to protect its new family of flagship products designed to stake Cupertino a far bigger slice of 21st century technology history. We are saying the company’s not going to let anything stand in its way as it maintains its market growth and momentum.
ARM stocks are currently trading at $7.33 on the Nasdaq, £1.53 in London. Current market cap’s allegedly $3.11 billion.
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