At Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Worldwide Developers Conference back in June, the company formally announced its own take on the smart speaker, known as HomePod.
The device, which Apple says will sell for $349 when it becomes available this December, is viewed as Apple's attempt to compete with Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) popular Echo smart speaker devices.
Since the device won't be available until December, the public is unlikely to gain much insight into the companies that supply components into this device. Moreover, since the device won't begin selling for quite some time, it'll be several quarters before investors get some insight into how this device will sell and the ultimate impact it'll have on Apple's and its suppliers' respective businesses.
However, even without a teardown or some insight into the sales momentum of the device, there is one company that we can be virtually certain will benefit from sales of the HomePod: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (NYSE:TSM).
Putting the "smart" in "smart speaker"
Apple says that the HomePod is powered by an "Apple-designed A8 chip," which "provides the brains behind the advanced audio innovations."
The A8 chip, as you might be aware, was the applications processor that powered the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus smartphones, as well as the company's latest iPod, Apple TV, and even the iPad mini 4. The chip was revealed to be manufactured by TSMC, representing the very first time that Apple had chosen to tap TSMC, rather than its then-longtime chip manufacturing partner, Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF), to build an A-series applications processor.
The A8 is manufactured using TSMC's 20-nanometer manufacturing technology, which was utilized by relatively few of TSMC's customers as it was largely seen as a "stop-gap" manufacturing technology ahead of the transition to the 14/16-nanometer technologies that Samsung and TSMC rolled out, respectively.
So, to the extent that the HomePod sells, TSMC should benefit, as it is the known manufacturer of the A8 chip.
It's not a lot of business, but every little bit helps
TSMC isn't exactly hurting for business -- it has been wildly successful in the mobile chip manufacturing game and is even the most valuable (by market capitalization) chip stock trading on the U.S. exchanges.
However, each HomePod sold means an A8 chip sold, and that's revenue and profit in the bank for TSMC.
Moreover, note that most of TSMC's customers at the 20-nanometer technology node have since moved on to more advanced technologies (either at TSMC or elsewhere). TSMC could conceivably convert that capacity over to 16-nanometer (or even something newer), but TSMC likely needs to keep some 20-nanometer capacity online to service those few stragglers left on the technology node.
By supplying A8 chips to Apple for the HomePod, TSMC can help to keep what 20-nanometer capacity that remains online fully utilized, helping to maintain the profitability of those 20-nanometer chip production lines as high as possible (higher factory utilization rates mean higher gross profit margins).
All in all, the HomePod win should be nice for TSMC, but it will by no means be a game changer.
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