What Does Apple's PA Announcement Really Mean?

"She will always carry on
Something is lost, something is found.
They will keep on speaking her name
Some things change, some stay the same."

-- From "Hymn To Her," by the Pretenders, from the 1986 album Get Close

Good old Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) released a fine earnings report, showing earnings of $1.16 per share on $7.5 billion in sales. As impressive as the results are -- read up on that in our handy Fool by Numbers companion and Tim Beyers' excellent interpretation thereof -- I think the company also hoped the data would draw interest away from another bit of Wednesday news.

See, Apple also chose to announce a $278 million acquisition the same day, and then stonewalled analysts and reporters with a well-rehearsed "no comment" mantra. That tight-lipped reticence is indeed the company's traditional modus operandi, but you have to think that announcement of the deal was timed to fall in the shadow of the earnings report.

If that sounds too much like conspiracy theory, the newly acquired company is semiconductor designer PA Semi. Its biggest seller is a low-power microprocessor based on IBM's (NYSE: IBM  ) PowerPC architecture. Yes, the same PowerPC that was inside Apple's Macs before the switch to Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) Core processors a couple of years ago.

The rumor mill back then suggested that the next Mac might come with a PA processor, but Apple chose Intel instead. It's a testament to the flexibility of Mac OS X that the processor change has been almost entirely painless, and there's no reason why the company could flop back much the same way it flipped before.

I'm not saying that Intel should look over its shoulder, waiting for a quick stab in the back. But the timing of the deal does raise that possibility to some degree. The ultra-low-power nature of PA's products would also make the chips a good option for the next set-top box a la Apple TV -- or mobile gadget such as the third-generation iPhone (or maybe the iPod Pico). In that case, maybe ARM Holdings (OTC BB: ARMHF.PK), which makes the chips for Apple's mobile devices today, should worry more.

Either way, nearly $300 million is a serious investment even for a company with $19.5 billion in the bank. Apple is all grown up, and may be ready to stand on its own component platform. It's just being coy about it -- hence the smokescreen.

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