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Why the worlds most advanced chipmaker sells the world’s simplest phone

By Bob Cook

Image courtesy of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Ltd.

You probably don’t know TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) but, if you own a beautifully crafted Apple device, NVidia graphics cards or Intel powered computer then the chips at the hard of your shiny tech were probably made by them. This 35 billion USD company also manufactures processors for AMD. From their home in Hsinchu, Taiwan TSMC constantly vies with local rivals and the Korean Giant Samsung. Companies like Apple alternate suppliers to keep technology sharp and prices sharper.

They are on the very edge of semiconductor design with chips based on 6-nanometer technology (human hairs are about 10000 times larger). They may be producing computer chips on the cutting edge of technology, but the TSMC logo also pops up on the front of cellphones – and these are far from the cutting edge, they are phones that even your grandmother would think were, to be honest, a bit well, primitive.

The second generation of TSMC phone is made by Huawei, but there is no sign of the latest tech; no clever AI system, no snazzy foldable screen (not even a HD screen). It is simpler than the simplest phone than most people can remember using. Unless your memory goes back to the early-nineties Nokias – the small chunky things with no camera and physical buttons for the dial.

So, is the TSMC phone range some anti-phone-addict statement? Are they reducing against the amount of time their 48000 staff spend of their phone – maybe too much Instagram, Facebook or dancing TikTok’s in the office? No, but it makes sense to anyone who has visited one of their fabrication plants. The cleanrooms are an alien world bathed in yellow light of a specific frequency, designed to protect the wafers that whir above you on toy railway like tracks. The air tastes sterile with a hint of chemicals and a perfect dryness. Not only are you forced to dress in an all-encompassing white costume that looks like the police wear at murder scenes (including a mask and the blue booties). But also, you hand in your beloved smartphone and any other form of data storage to the unsmiling security staff. An action designed to prevent illicit photography and the theft of trade secrets. Which explains why TSMC makes the world’s simplest smartphone – it’s not an anti-social media thing, but far simpler a way of keeping their trade-secrets secret without losing contact with their employees. And the reason they’re offering a TSMC branded phone for sale is to offset the cost of creating a phone to do that by betting that other companies want to do the same.

So next time you’re complaining because your employer has issued you with a company phone that’s far from the latest model, spare a thought for the TSMC employees who have to carry one of the world’s simplest phones at work.

Image courtesy of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Ltd.

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