How Society Will Change in the Digital Age

Report Series

Apple is already a fabless semiconductor maker

Among IT service providers, the first company to manufacturer their own semiconductor chip was Apple. The first generation Macs were equipped with CPU chips purchased from other companies, such as the 68 series, the PowerPC, and the Intel 86 series. However, these existing processors consumed too much power and thus were not suitable for mobile devices like the iPhone. This is because the batteries would wear out too soon. For this reason, Apple redesigned a CPU core purchased from ARM and then acquired Intrinsity, the company that invented logic circuitry to make it easy to raise the clock speed.

Apple has since gained enough knowledge of semiconductor design to design their own application processors for the iPhone. Recently, Apple declared it would begin developing graphic circuitry in-house, and parted ways with Imagination Technologies, the company formerly responsible for Apple’s graphics circuitry.

Apple’s focus on semiconductors is becoming even more intense. The power IC that Apple previously purchased from Dialog will be developed in-house in the future, and in the fall of last year, Apple acquired InVisage, the company that designed Apple’s image sensor. InVisage’s image sensor can be mounted with a supersensitive camera known as quantum dots.

Dealing with uberization

How is the semiconductor industry responding to uberization? One answer is to implement a strategy of strengthening their own companies by refining original technology, as suggested by IBM. The mergers and acquisitions (M&A) that were vigorously pursued from 2015 to 2016 symbolize this. In fact, it is conceivable that uberization was the underlying drive behind the recent flurry of M&A activity.

When business managers were asked, “How should you protect your company against uberization?,” the most common response was “technology,” (according to a report in IBM’s C-Suite Study, “Redefining Boundaries,” 2015 edition). In other words, companies should strengthen their own technology. In the past, management emphasized finances and human resources when responding to the same question, but in recent years, many business managers recognize the importance of technology.

Business managers believe that, aside from technology, the main external factor impacting their company is market changes. However, it is no longer possible for a company to work alone at both honing its technology and quickly responding to the changes. This is exactly why companies need to form ecosystems and think in terms of delegating areas where they lack proficiency to better-qualified companies. The goal should be to “develop stronger relationships with alliance partners, collaborate with companies in adjacent industries and realize innovation by listening to customer feedback and creating solutions together.”

In an effort to develop future technology, IBM is honing its AI and cognitive computing technology by using an AI computer called Watson for business. Watson performs voice recognition tasks including distinguishing human voices, understanding meaning, formulating answers corresponding to this meaning, and synthesizing voice as output. It also uses machine learning to gain the proficiency to understand meaning and formulate answers corresponding to this meaning. With Watson, IBM possesses an important technology for the future, which is already producing results in application for drug discovery and development.