Qualcomm Seeks iPhone Sales and Manufacturing Ban in China (Oct 13, 2017)
Qualcomm has announced that it’s filed lawsuits in China seeking a ban on iPhone sales and manufacturing in the country, the latest salvo in the ongoing dispute between the two over patent royalty payments. Qualcomm previously requested the International Trade Commission to ban the import of Intel-based iPhones into the US, and importantly the Chinese government earlier fined Qualcomm on antitrust grounds, so it’s not necessarily disposed to siding with it in this case. However, Qualcomm has been among a set of companies looking to curry favor with the Chinese government, so it’s possible that the Chinese government might look more favorably on such a request. On balance, though, I think it’s unlikely that Qualcomm will prevail here given its history not only in China but elsewhere around these antitrust issues, though of course a successful ban would be a huge blow to Apple in China, so it’s understandable why Qualcomm would seek it as a way to gain leverage in the case.
Qualcomm Fined $773m by Taiwan for Antitrust Violations (Oct 11, 2017)
Following existing investigations and/or action over antitrust issues against Qualcomm in the US, South Korea, and China, Taiwanese authorities have issued a $773m fine against the company over the same issues. The government’s Fair Trade Commission found that Qualcomm acted anticompetitively when it forced licensees for its standards-essential patterns to accept onerous terms as a condition of licensing. The fine relates to a 7-year period in which the FTC says Qualcomm was paid around $13 billion by Taiwanese manufacturers (presumably HTC and contract manufacturers like Foxconn). This antitrust situation is going more and more badly for Qualcomm, but the biggest outstanding case is of course its fight with Apple, which is withholding its own and contractors’ royalties from the company pending the outcome of various lawsuits. It’s hard to see this all going Qualcomm’s way at this point, and it feels like it’s mostly a question of how much the royalty rate will end up being reduced, and therefore what the financial hit will be.
Nvidia has announced Pegasus, a mini-computer which it claims is powerful enough to operate all the functions of a self-driving car while having roughly the footprint of a license plate, and which will become available in the second half of 2018. One of the key challenges with self-driving cars is that the computing power to run them is often so large and power-intensive that the unit often takes up much of the trunk of the car (see this Google search) and requires significant fuel over and above that required by the engine. Miniaturizing that processing power and making it more efficient is key to making autonomous driving a reality, albeit only one of several big challenges that must be overcome before that happens. Nvidia is arguably the current leader in providing the GPUs and related technology for these cars today, while others have taken the lead in sensors or connectivity relating to the cars, and this leadership has been a huge boon to Nvidia’s overall prospects and performance.
Imagination Technologies, whose GPUs Apple said it would soon stop using back in April, prompting a massive selloff in the stock and a decision to explore strategic options, has announced that it’s agreed to sell most of its business to a Chinese-backed private equity firm, Canyon Bridge, with Silicon Valley investment fund Tallwood Partners buying the MIPS business it had previously said it might sell separately. Apple, of course, announced a GPU designed in-house at last week’s iPhone event, which means its abandonment of Imagination Tech as a chip supplier is going even more quickly than we might have thought. Since April, the story of Imagination has been a cautionary tale about what a double-edged sword being an Apple supplier is – on the one hand, a huge boon to your business, and on the other hand a massive risk that it someday pulls the plug because it’s found an alternative supplier or simply decided it can do things itself. It’s good to see Imagination find a way out, but the acquisition price of 182 pence per share, a significant premium over its recent share price, is still way below its high of 291.50 right before the Apple news came out.
CNBC reports that Tesla is using AMD “intellectual property” in its work on chips to power the autonomous driving systems in its cars. Though investors seem to have taken that as a sign that AMD is supplying Tesla with chips, the CNBC report doesn’t explicitly say that, but does quote the CEO of AMD foundry spinoff GlobalFoundries as saying it’s working directly with Tesla on chips, which may suggest AMD isn’t totally in the loop. The CNBC and other coverage has noted that former AMD chip engineers are now abundant at Tesla, though the company has used Nvidia rather than AMD chips in the past. It’s also interesting to see Tesla contemplating such an architectural shift when it’s claimed that the innards of cars it’s selling today based on its existing architecture are capable of running full autonomy in future. The idea of Tesla increasingly designing its own chips would certainly be in keeping with the work led by Autopilot head Jim Keller when he spearheaded the A-series chip initiative at Apple – companies truly serious about software need to design their own hardware right down to the chip layer, an idea reinforced by this week’s iPhone 8 chip performance benchmarks. But the news also makes clear how unsettled the chip vendor picture still is in the automotive space, with Intel clearly finally gaining some traction alongside others who have done better in the early running.
Waymo Uses Intel Chips for Autonomous Driving Technology (Sep 18, 2017)
With data centers a big exception, Intel has struggled to take a major share of most of the new chip technology markets that have emerged over the last twenty years, failing in mobile, tablets, wearables, and others. The automotive space has been another where it’s clearly been very serious – its Mobileye acquisition being the biggest sign of that seriousness – and yet has lost out to other big chip vendors including Qualcomm and Nvidia for some big contracts. In that context, I bet it’s been begging Google/Waymo for years to let it talk abbot the two companies’ partnership in powering autonomous driving technology, because it’s something of a coup. The two companies are now finally talking about that partnership in blog posts and coverage by TechCrunch linked below. Waymo has largely developed its own computing platform for self-driving cars internally but has apparently leaned on Intel chips almost from the beginning. There’s definitely some of the article here that feels overblown – talk of scale, for example, seems odd in the context of a fleet that currently numbers in the hundreds, while the idea that autonomy and self-driving “represents a significant portion of the chipmaker’s business” also feels off even with the inclusion of Mobileye. The words “car” and “autonomous driving” barely appear in Intel’s latest 10-Q, for example, and mostly in the context of that acquisition. But this is a big win for Intel, and one that’s remained quiet for a remarkably long time. It won’t by itself dramatically change Intel’s fortunes in this space, but it’s great validation that Intel is a worthy player given that Waymo is considered one of the leading companies in autonomous driving.
I’ve already commented this quarter on Samsung’s preliminary results, which let us know that it would report record high revenues and operating income. But we had to wait until its final and full results for the quarter were out to know the contributions made by its various divisions, though I’d had a good guess in that first comment. As expected, the Semiconductors division (which includes memory, ASICs, and Samsung’s new separate foundry business) was by far the strongest performer in the quarter, growing 47% year on year and contributing 57% of operating income for the company on just 27% of its revenue. That was driven, as expected, by a combination of market growth and price increases, with memory making up nearly 80% of sales. But the IT & Mobile division, which has been stagnant or declining in recent quarters, also contributed to revenue growth, up 17% year on year, the best in several years. A big contributor was the shift of the company’s Galaxy S launch from Q1 to Q2 this year, which had sent Q1 revenues down 15% year on year but boosted the year on year comparison this time around. Profits and margins, though, were both down on last year in the mobile division, suggesting perhaps because of the expenses associated with the launch shifting from Q1 to Q2 as well, and perhaps because the company is making a big marketing push around one of its most compelling flagships in several years. My bet is that the rest of Samsung’s year will go as well as its first half, based largely on the combination of higher chip prices, growing components shipments, and a big boost from Apple OLED orders for its new phones. Some of those drivers will ease next year, especially if other suppliers are able to ramp up OLED production to help meet Apple’s needs in the next generation of phones, but Samsung’s on a pretty healthy trajectory right now and there’s not much sign of that stopping. The biggest short term question is how it will position the Note 8 that’s due to launch next month, given the increases in usable screen size in the Galaxy S line and last year’s troubles, and how competitive it and the Galaxy S8 will be versus the new iPhones launched a month later by Apple.
via Samsung (PDF)