Infineon, Marvell and the iPhone

Monday, June 2, 2008

Apple is expected to announce the 3G iPhone this month. Based on a reasonable set of assumptions, I have speculated that Infineon will continue to be at the heart of the iPhone. Clues that ratify this scenario have also been uncovered in the recent months. Recently, however, there were two industry events that made many question this theory. Here, I will take a look at these events and what they signify for the iPhone.

Firstly, Sehat Sutardja, Marvell’s CEO, had this to say in the company’s F1Q09 conference call –

“During the first quarter we achieved what I believe to be a very important milestone as we began volume shipments of our HSDPA communication processor to a key smartphone customer. We expect a steady ramp to high volume production throughout the remainder of the year.”

With the name of this ‘key smartphone customer’ not revealed, Apple and iPhone immediately got tagged to this remark. To me, the matter-of-fact statement appeared to reflect Marvell’s continuing relationship with RIMM.

The latest Blackberry Bold 9000 features Marvell’s Tavor platform. Tavor is a single-chip solution that combines a HSDPA baseband processor with a 624 MHz applications processor. The timelines of the Bold launch and Marvell’s shipment dates seem to corroborate as well. The RIMM angle, coupled with the difficulty in launching and testing a new platform with Marvell for the existing form-factor iPhone makes me believe that the Santa Clara-based company will not displace Infineon in Apple’s darling phone.

I will, however, not dismiss the possibility of Apple launching a second, smaller form-factor 3G phone with Marvell’s solution. Marvell’s Tavor may be ideal for a low-cost phone from Apple. The single chip will eliminate the need for a separate application processor. It will save space and power. Hence, it (or any single chip solution for that matter) will be a preferred solution a low-cost iPhone, if there is one. I also anticipate that Marvell will be able to bundle Tavor with its WiFi solution giving it a price advantage. So, in the eventuality of two iPhone models being launched, it is possible that both Infineon and Marvell have design wins at Apple.

This brings me to the other iPhone related news – the Infineon warning. The German company recently warned that it has received lower than anticipated orders for a project to supply HSDPA chips. Going with the premise that Infineon is indeed the 3G supplier for the iPhone, it is hard to tell if this warning pertains to Samsung or Apple or another customer. If it is for Apple, then, contrary to what is being written elsewhere, I don’t think it signifies any major delay in the anticipated launch of the 3G iPhone.

This may, however, signal one of two things. The first possibility is that Apple may not market the 3G iPhone as widely as anticipated (at least initially.) The second possibility, which ties up with the Apple angle to the Marvell statements is product mix. Apple may be planning on a staggered, complementary launch of two 3G iPhone models. This, in turn, could be the reason behind the lower volumes shipped by Infineon and the perceived secrecy associated with Marvell’s ‘key smartphone customer.’

In summary, I think Infineon will be in the 3G iPhone. While I feel that Marvell’s statements pertain to RIMM, I also see the company as a very good candidate for a second iPhone design that may also launch soon.

Posted by Vijay Nagarajan at 8:00 PM  


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