Apple is planning to release a new iPad and new iPad mini featuring next-generation A7 application processors around the middle of 2013, according to a Chinese-language report in the China Times published yesterday.
The report, spotted by SlashGear, didn't name its sources for the rumour but appeared to base its conclusions on a possible Apple move away from Samsung to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) as a chip supplier.
For several years, Apple has contracted with Samsung to supply ARM-based A-series application processors of Apple's own design that have been used in several generations of iOS-based devices like the iPad and iPhone. But Apple's ongoing legal feud with the South Korean tech giant over mobile device patents has spilled over into Cupertino's dealings with Samsung on other fronts - namely, Apple's desire to extricate itself from over-reliance on Samsung as supplier of components.
So Apple, according to the China Times, is turning to TSMC to manufacture new 28-nanometer A6X chips for the latest iPad on a trial basis as another step towards reducing Samsung's role in the Apple supply chain.
The trial production run would begin in the first quarter of this year, according to the report. TSMC is reportedly also in the running to produce Apple's next-generation A7 SoCs - which the company plans to use in a fifth-generation iPad and second-generation iPad mini supposedly being launched "in the middle of the year," according to the China Times.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Industry analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy said it wouldn't be shocking to see Apple make that move but warned of repercussions.
"Apple has been slowly disengaging from Samsung on SoCs for a while now, so this wouldn't surprise me. Apple needs to realise, however, that the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side," he said.
"TSMC has had their share of challenges and Samsung has been a very reliable SoC supplier willing to spend billions on Apple. TSMC is coming off of brutal 28nm missteps that cost Qualcomm and Nvidia dearly and could very well face those same challenges with Apple on 28nm and 22nm."
Friction between Apple and Samsung has been well-documented in recent months. The growing gulf between the two companies has been evident in a regular stream of stories describing supply chain turmoil. For example, in November it was reported that Samsung was delaying construction of a new fab over concerns with its Apple contract and later that month, the company had to deny rumours that it hiked prices on chips being made for Apple.
Apple, meanwhile, has reportedly been turning to other suppliers for touch screens, memory, and other iDevice components Samsung has provided in the past.