Late yesterday, Forbes reported that Apple has decided to buy boutique chipmaker PA Semi. So, the conference call later today where Apple announces its results for the second quarter of 2008 is going to be interesting. And there will be a bunch of silicon suppliers wondering what's going wrong for them.
Discarding the possibility that Apple has decided the move to Intel, and its rejection of PA's PowerPC processor in 2006, has been an awful mistake and it suddenly needs to press the architecture reset button, the move by Apple suggests that the company is not all that happy with the shape of today's integrated circuit (IC) business.
One possibility is that Apple has decided it needs more in-house chip designers and buying PA was a quick way to staff up. That's not unusual in this business: it's a surprisingly common way of getting hold of people who can design the analogue circuits that most electronics engineers fear to touch. Even after you've bought in a bunch of processors and memory, there are other places a computer maker can use experienced IC designers to get an edge on its competitors. You don't see that much in the PC business but it's a lot more common in places like the phone market.