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ARM sold to Nvidia – could there be repercussions for Apple?

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Computer chip designer ARM Holdings has been bought by US graphics card maker Nvidia in a $40bn deal, pending regulatory approval.

Nvidia confirmed the purchase, and that it plans to utilize ARM’s processing chip expertise to form “the premier computing company for the age of artificial intelligence”.

The acquisition of such a major cog in the tech industry machine could have direct repercussions for Apple’s product roadmap. Apple’s A-series chips, which power the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Apple Watch lines, all feature ARM components at their core.

What’s more, Apple announced in June that it would begin shifting over to ARM-based processors for its Mac range later this year. Might Nvidia’s acquisition prompt Apple to focus on developing a completely independent end-to-end chip for itself, if it isn’t already?

It’s possible, but there are signs that Apple is quite relaxed about the current scenario. Reports suggest that SoftBank approached Apple about a potential purchase of ARM Holdings earlier in the year. Apple certainly had the means to acquire the chip company without making much of a dent on its vast cash reserves.

That it didn’t would seem to indicate that Apple either doesn’t see ARM as a natural fit, or that an ARM acquisition by a rival company isn’t a major concern. As Apple commentator John Gruber points out, Apple uses only the ARM64 instruction set in its chips, for which it has a perpetual license.

Indeed, the fact that Apple is largely responsible for its own chip designs is the whole reason why it enjoys such a performance advantage over its Android and mobile PC rivals. It’s probably safe to assume that Apple devices will be outperforming the rest – with a little help from ARM – for the foreseeable future.