Apple May Have Been An Investor In P.A. Semi Before Acquisition

Chicago (IL) - We are still scratching our heads over Apple’s $278 million acquisition of chip developer P.A. Semi. Following a rather strange wave of opinions that Apple wants to develop its own iPhone processor, there is now the first real piece to a puzzle that, perhaps, one day will reveal what advantage Apple sees in the company.

It seems that there may be more to this acquisition than meets the eye. You remember how media outlets embraced theory that Apple is breaking away from Intel, building a P. A. Semi-based iPhone. The problem with this idea, however, is the fact that these 65 nm 2 GHz dual-core processor (PWRficient PA6T-1682M) consume between 5 and 13 watts of power, as opposed to the iPhone’s current 620MHz ARM processor rated at somewhere between 180 and 450 milliwatts. Even if P. A. Semi would have made galactic advances in its chip design, this processor is just too large and too power-hungry for a cellphone.

The general speculation has been that Apple snapped up P.A. Semi for its engineering talent. Others have suggested that the company may have even done this deal to boost its stock price, since just a few dimes of gains would have made P.A. Semi break-even deal for Apple. So, even if we know that Apple would be insane to develop its own mobile chip - with Intel, Samsung and ARM pouring billions of dollars into this segment - this acquisition remains a mystery.

The next round of speculation could be supported by an interesting find by Peter Clarke of EE Times Europe.

Clarke claims that a "source" said that Apple has been an investor in P.A. Semi before. There are no public records to provide proof and Clarke while Clarke mentions that "strategic investors sometimes prefer to go unlisted", he notes that there is no substantial evidence to support the claim.

There appears to be a certain likelihood that this information could be true, as reports published in 2005 stated that Apple was interested P. A. Semi. Back then, Apple announced its transition to Intel architecture, a move that Mr. Clarke describes as "bad news" for P.A. Semi, whose architecture is based on a PowerPC license from IBM. Of course, we are deep into speculation here, but it is generally possible that P. A. semi may have been working on some processor project that was killed simply because of Apple’s move to Intel.

The theory here is that this switch has left P.A. Semi without a future key customer. In the years that followed, P.A. Semi spent most of its venture capital funding and essentially ran out of money. Clarke wrote that Apple apparently saw "another opportunity" for P.A. Semi-designed chip: "The only way to get the project funded was for Apple to pay off the other investors and bring P.A. Semi in-house," Clarke’s source said.

So, what kind of chip could that be? Your guess is as good as ours.

A processor for desktop systems and notebooks? A cellphone processor? Unlikely. An Apple TV engine? Maybe.

If there is really a processor in the planning, then common sense suggests that P. A. Semi will leverage the experience it has in the embedded market, possibly for multimedia applications. Combine that with the thought the Apple is moving deeper into the consumer electronics space and you end up at a perhaps completely new product category for Apple.

So let us add to the speculation: Our bets are on an Apple TV, not today’s box, but rather a LCD TV. Any thoughts?