Hey you! Do you want to control the future of virtually all mobile devices on Earth and even some laptops and desktops? I have a deal for you! ARM Limited is for sale, the company responsible for the ubiquitous ARM CPU architecture that powers most devices. It'll only cost a few tens of billions of dollars. Bloomberg has two reports on the subject, one that Nvidia is interested in buying ARM, and another that Apple doesn't.
ARM is currently owned by the SoftBank Group, a giant Japanese holding company previously featured at Ars for the purchase of Boston Dynamics, the purchase of Sprint and the purchase of shares in Uber and GM’s Cruise. SoftBank bought ARM for $ 32 billion in 2016, and since then ARM has only become more powerful. ARM does not make chips. Instead, it sells IP based on the ARM CPU architecture in the form of its internal Cortex CPU designs or licenses to design anything you want using the ARM instruction set.
In 2016, SoftBank described ARM as its valuable property, and SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son described it as “the center of SoftBank's center”. In the corona virus era, SoftBank was hit hard by Uber and WeWork's tank ratings and OneWeb's bankruptcy, and is now ready to sell ARM to raise money.
Bloomberg said to SoftBank and Apple: "The two companies had preliminary talks, but Apple does not plan to pursue an offer. Arm's licensing process would be a poor fit with Apple's hardware-focused business model. There may also be regulatory concerns regarding Apple as a key licensee own that supplies so many rivals. "
Apple's situation is likely to be the case with most ARM-bound companies. ARM is so widespread that buying will be a regulatory nightmare, and even the mildest stamp regulators around the world will shudder to think that an existing ARM licensee will buy ARM. Apple is known to switch its entire Mac product range from Intel to internal ARM chips and has the money to buy ARM. Would a government agree that Apple has so much power over the Android ecosystem? Qualcomm is another company closely associated with ARM, but is already a convicted monopoly in many countries thanks to its power over the modem and ARM SoC market for smartphones. Google also has the money, but it's already making regulators nervous as it controls the smartphone industry through Android.
SoftBank was a great home for ARM because it made the company neutral – SoftBank didn't make any devices and didn't sell chips. Many companies interested in ARM would create a major conflict of interest.
Nvidia is an ARM licensee, but not a major competitor in the smartphone industry. Nvidia's chips are sold due to the strength of its GPUs, and the company's biggest design wins (you could really say "design wins only") are the Nintendo Switch, AR-focused Magic Leap headset, and its own Nvidia Shield Android TV Box. Nvidia has started to focus on car hardware as Qualcomm has largely excluded it from the mobile SoC market. The company's newest SoC is called "Orion" and appears to be designed exclusively for self-driving cars, where its powerful GPUs can help with all types of computer vision calculations. With such a small part of the market, Nvidia could be one of the few ARM licensees that could squeak through regulatory approval.
If Nvidia doesn't pull the trigger and ARM turns out to be "too big to buy", there are a few other options. The Wall Street Journal's original "ARM is for sale" report mentioned that "it is possible that SoftBank may ultimately choose to do nothing" and find another way to deal with its money problems. The idea of an IPO for ARM was also put into practice by SoftBank in the past, and this solution would also solve the regulatory problems associated with the sale to a technology company.