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iPhone likely to use Arm chip

British firm could supply iPhone processors

The guessing game continues over which processors Apple's iPhone will use, with Arm Holding's top executive hinting the device will contain his company's intellectual property.

Warren East, Arm's president and chief executive, was reported as saying the iPhone will have "at least three" Arm processor cores, according to the EE Times last week. Arm, based in Cambridge, licenses a variety of processor designs to other companies and manufacturers.

A spokesman at Arm's public relations agency in London said the report wasn't quite accurate but not inaccurate, either. The report was "based on speculation”, and Arm was considering issuing a clarifying statement regarding the story, he said.

Apple's public relations agency said the few details about the iPhone were revealed by Apple chief executive Steve Jobs in his MacWorld keynote speech on 9 January.

"We don't know anything," the Apple representative said on Friday.

When unveiling the phone, Apple's boss Steve Jobs said it will run OS X with special iPhone applications. Apple hopes to sell 10 million devices, which will retail for $499 for a 4Gb model or $599 for an 8Gb one.

Analyst firms including investment bank Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group (FBR) have compiled lists of which manufacturers are likely contributing to the iPhone.

A day after Jobs' announcement, FBR said Samsung Electronics would likely provide an applications/video processor. Samsung licenses a range of processor technology from Arm.

Didier Scemama, a semiconductor analyst with ABN AMRO Bank NV in London, figures Arm cores going into three processors: the Samsung processor, a Wi-Fi chip from Marvel Technology and GPRS/EDGE baseband chip from Infineon Technologies. Scemama wouldn't say how he came to his conclusions.

The use of three cores won't mean much for Arm, whose technology already goes in other mobile devices made by companies such as Nokia, Scemama said. Other analysts agreed with Scemama's assessment.

"If Arm cores are common in phones and other small devices, why wouldn't they be found in the iPhone?" said Roger Kay president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, an analyst company.

So why do people care so much about the slivers of silicon? For enthusiasts, it fuels speculation over the iPhone's performance before it hits US shelves in June.

An Arm-based processor would mean OS X would have to be ported to a new platform. The OS already runs on Intel's x86 and IBM's PowerPC processors.

For others, it means the satisfaction of cracking the wall of secrecy Apple builds around it products months before the first device is cracked open with a putty knife.

"The only thing that makes it news is that Apple is so tight-lipped about its products, every little snippet of information is thought to be significant," Kay said.

Suppliers aren't supposed to reveal that their components are used in Apple products, Kay said. But as Apple has diversified its product line, its number of suppliers has increased, making leaks more prevalent and the monitoring of the suppliers harder, he said.


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