Qualcomm buys a startup founded by former Apple chip designers

It plans to chips created with Nuvia for smartphones, laptops, cars and more.

Qualcomm has announced an acquisition that’s bound to make ripples in the chip world — even though you may not have heard of the company it acquired. Qualcomm paid $1.4 billion for Nuvia, a startup founded by three engineers who worked on Apple’s A-series processors that power the iPhone and iPad. It plans to use Nuvia’s technology in future chips for devices ranging from vehicles to smartphones to laptops.

Nuvia was founded by CEO Gerard Williams III, along with senior VPs Manu Gulati and John Bruno, with the original plan to build more efficient data center processors. All held high positions in Apple’s silicon design division. Williams previously worked at ARM on the Cortex-A15 and other cores, and later became the Apple’s chief architecture for its CPU and chipset design — covering chips from the A7 to the current A14. Gulati and Bruno worked under Williams until 2017.

“CPU performance leadership will be critical in defining and delivering on the next era of computing innovation,” said Williams. “The combination of NUVIA and Qualcomm will bring the industry’s best engineering talent, technology and resources together to create a new class of high-performance computing platforms that set the bar for our industry.”

The move could signal that Qualcomm plans to design their own ARM-based processor cores rather than relying on ARM’s Cortex designs. Rival Apple uses its own ARM-based cores for its A-series chips, and they’re generally acknowledged to have better performance than Qualcomm designs. Nuvia has also designed its own cores and recently published preliminary results from its “Phoenix” CPU, claiming double the performance per watt of rival chips.

The deal with Nuvia could also help Qualcomm rely less on ARM. That could be crucial given that chip rival NVIDIA has acquired ARM (pending regulatory approval). While Nuvia originally founded the company to build server chips, Qualcomm said it will use Nuvia’s technology to power “flagship smartphones, next-generation laptops and digital cockpits, as well as advanced driver assistance systems, extended reality and infrastructure networking solutions.”

The announcement included statements of support from a number of Qualcomm partners including Microsoft, Google, Samsung, ASUS and General Motors — all of which are likely keen to see better performance from Qualcomm compared to Apple.

Apple sued Williams back in 2019 for breach of contract, saying he tried to poach Apple employees for Nuvia before he left the company. Nuvia, meanwhile, filed a countersuit accusing Apple of essentially doing the same thing in return.