The decision to design semiconductors was risky. About the size of a small postage stamp, the microprocessor is the most important component of any computing device. It does the work that makes playing games, posting to Facebook, sending texts, and taking pictures seem easy. Small currents of energy move from the battery through hundreds of millions of tiny transistors, triggering commands and responses in nanoseconds. It’s like an intricate city design that fits on the tip of your finger. When the chip isn’t doing its job efficiently, the device feels sluggish, crashes, or makes users want to throw it against a wall.
If there’s a bug in software, you simply release a corrected version. It’s different with hardware. “You get one transistor wrong, it’s done, game over,” Srouji says. “Each one of those transistors has to work. Silicon is very unforgiving.” Among computer and smartphone makers, industry practice is to leave the processors to specialists such as Intel, Qualcomm, or Samsung, which sink billions into getting the chips right and making them inexpensively.
Photo of chip durability test lab at Apple