Apple's Designing More Silicon Than Ever Before

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Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) chip ambitions seem to have no bounds. With every passing year, the Mac maker increasingly insources semiconductor designs and its portfolio of chips continues to grow at an ambitious pace. That was on full display yesterday at the company's iPhone X event, when Apple showcased an unprecedented number of chips, controllers, and processors that were of its own designs.

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And it won't stop there.

Isn't it bionic?

When describing the new A11 Bionic chip, which looks like an absolute beast, marketing chief Phil Schiller described all of the various subcomponents that Apple designed. Just look how many times "Apple-designed" appears on this slide:

The most notable Apple-designed chip there is the GPU. In April, Imagination Technologies disclosed the bombshell news that Apple would be transitioning away from its GPU designs in favor of its own. Imagination was skeptical at the time:

Apple has not presented any evidence to substantiate its assertion that it will no longer require Imagination's technology, without violating Imagination's patents, intellectual property and confidential information. This evidence has been requested by Imagination but Apple has declined to provide it.

Further, Imagination believes that it would be extremely challenging to design a brand new GPU architecture from basics without infringing its intellectual property rights, accordingly Imagination does not accept Apple's assertions.

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Apple responded by saying it had stopped accepting new intellectual property (IP) from Imagination way back in 2015, and notified them in February 2017 that the writing was on the wall, adding that Apple "wanted to give them as much notice as possible to adapt their future plans." In Apple's book, "as much notice as possible" is about seven months. You can be sure that Imagination will be anxious to get its hands on the A11 Fusion in order to tear it down in search of infringing IP, but if Apple has really been working on its own GPU for a couple years, investors should trust that it knows what it's doing.

Three members of Apple's core SWAT team are getting updated. A newer S3 dual-core processor now powers the Apple Watch Series 3, an updated W2 wireless chip handles the smartwatches wireless connectivity, and we've already touched on the A11 Bionic. It's pretty incredible what Apple has accomplished with building a world-class silicon team in less than a decade; it all started with the A4 in 2010.

Even though Apple distills its progress into relatively simplified claims about performance gains (which is all average consumers need to know), Apple's silicon design capabilities are an important differentiator and an area where most other smartphone manufacturers (other than Samsung) simply cannot compete in part because they can't afford the related and hefty R&D expenditures. It's simpler and preferable for most OEMs to just buy chips from companies like Qualcomm. But Apple has even pulled fast ones on Qualcomm in the past, like when it suddenly switched to 64-bit architecture and left Qualcomm scrambling to catch up.

I'm still a believer that eventually, after years of rumors, Apple will one day transition the Mac to its own chips, displacing Intel. That may be many years away, perhaps even a decade considering the current performance delta between Intel chips and A-series chips, but Apple's trajectory speaks for itself.

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Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Qualcomm. The Motley Fool recommends Intel. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.