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New Chip Off the Block: Apple Picks Up Passif

New Chip Off the Block: Apple Picks Up Passif
By Nancy Owano

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The Passif acquisition rounds out Apple's pick of ripe chip companies. Passif is the third such purchase of small chip companies by Apple to gain key technology for mobile devices. Apple bought P.A. Semi, designers of low-power chips, in 2008 and chip designer Intrinsity in 2010 for its technology that speeds up computing tasks.
 


Apple has picked up wireless chipmaker Passif Semiconductor. This new family member is described as a small company developing communication chips that use little power with small footprints.

News of the deal was first reported by blogger Jessica Lessin. She broke the story on Thursday and Apple later confirmed the purchase, issuing a canned, "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans."

If Apple wasn't about to discuss what it wants to do with Oakland, California-based Passif, Apple-watching techies have found it quite easy to talk. The question about this buy is not "why?" but "why not?"

These are battle-cry times for competing smartphone vendors. They're begging for attention, not to mention that mall stores are crammed with the latest smartphones tempting customers with the hottest new features in viewing, sharing photos, and messaging.

Fight the Power

Techies familiar with smartphone engineering, though, know that all the hot new features come at a power-guzzling sacrifice. A core limitation on what features one can enjoy on a mobile device is how long one can actually enjoy them while on the move and without a recharger on hand.

Smartphone engineers have said it all along: Efficient energy usage is critical for mobile products such as smartphones and will be even more so for next-generation wearable computers.

Apple has found a fit solution in the Passif buy. Apple will benefit by making use of Passif's technology -- its chipset uses little energy. Reports say the technology uses Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) radio, a low-power flavor of Bluetooth, which is ideal for small mobile devices that require small batteries.

In that context, the word "iWatch" has popped up in most of the reports guessing what Apple might have in mind in acquiring Passif.

Eyes on Wearables

Wearables is ostensibly placed in the top ranks of the next big thing in computing. What's more, analysts predict that devices for activity monitoring targeted at fitness and health-conscious consumers will play a big role as the market for wearables grows.

Packing components into smartwatches will call for components and technologies that are easy on power and battery life. That's where Passif's low-power chip technology might really shine.

After all, which would a consumer go for -- a smartwatch with a chipset that can ensure extra connection time or a smartwatch that does not?

Pick of the Chips

The Passif acquisition rounds out Apple's pick of ripe chip companies. Passif is the third such purchase of small chip companies by Apple to gain key technology for mobile devices.

Apple bought P.A. Semi, designers of low-power chips, in 2008. Apple then went after chip designer Intrinsity in 2010 for its technology that speeds up computing tasks.

Earlier this year at the AllThingsD conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked about acquisitions in general. Cook said that last year Apple might have acquired six companies or so. This year the company had already made nine acquisitions, adding, "We're always looking."
 

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