Apple's ARM race - this could be war

If Apple bought ARM, it would earn money every time you bought a rival handset like the Nokia N900

Did you read about Apple's earnings call this week? Apple is making so much money that the cash stuck down the back of Steve Jobs' sofa is enough to buy Belgium.

Can you imagine what would happen if Apple decided to use its war chest to start a war? According to "gossips" in the city of London, it's planning to do just that.

No, Steve Jobs isn't building Doctor Robotnik-style flying death machines - or at least, if he is then nobody's lost one one of them in a bar - but he's up to something much scarier. If the Evening Standard is correct, Apple intends to buy ARM.

If you're not familiar with ARM, they're the chip geniuses responsible for the processors used in some of our favourite gadgets. ARM's technology is in chips inside not just Apple kit, but smartphones by the likes of HTC, Sony Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung as well as handhelds such as the PSP and Nintendo DS.

Assuming anti-monopoly regulators didn't stop it, an Apple-owned ARM is a terrifying prospect for Apple's rivals.

All about control

In one fell swoop Apple would essentially control the silicon in most of the mobile technology market. We doubt Apple would stop licensing the tech even if it could do so and get away with it, but it's not hard to imagine the licensing costs going up or Apple keeping newly invented ARM technology to itself.

Apple doesn't even need to do that. If it owned ARM, it'd effectively make money from every non-Apple smartphone sold. In effect, whenever you bought an Android phone or a new Nokia, Apple would get a little bit richer.

It's not just phones and games consoles, either. ARM technology is everywhere. Check out the website: the tech is in laser printers, Dell laptops, Archos internet tablets, Sony's Reader, Palm's Pre, Samsung TVs, the Kindle… an Apple acquisition would mean Apple would have a finger in every one of those product pies.

Can Apple afford it? Certainly: Apple's got 47 billion dollars hanging around, and ARM's valued at roughly one-fifth of that. Would the regulators allow it? Nobody knows.

Can we imagine Steve Jobs doing it just so he can give the entire technology industry a heart attack? What do you think?


Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.