Apple's war games

Apple's acquisition of PA Semi, makers of low-power, high-performance Power-PC compatible processors, has attracted attention from an unusual quarter - the US military. According to Rick Merritt on EE Times, PA Semi's PWRficient chip has been a surprise hit in the American defence sector, and they're now very worried that Apple will stop production of what's become a widespread key component.

Apple's acquisition of PA Semi, makers of low-power, high-performance Power-PC compatible processors, has attracted attention from an unusual quarter - the US military. According to Rick Merritt on EE Times, PA Semi's PWRficient chip has been a surprise hit in the American defence sector, and they're now very worried that Apple will stop production of what's become a widespread key component.

Lots of strands to this one: first, that's what happens when you design a circuit around a chip with no second source. That's bad engineering, and it was IBM's aversion to doing that with the Intel 8088 which resulted in the deals that got AMD going in mainstream processors. It's also not too much of a deal killer: all Apple has to do is offload the part onto another company used to producing specialist silicon for particular markets - and there are lots of companies like that - and do its own licensing deals to allow PWRficient to have a separate life outside 1 Infinite Loop. As Intel will attest, you do have to get those deals right if you want to avoid trouble later - but hell, it's not the worst thing in the world to have a bit of competition.

There's also irony. In 1984, I got hold of one of the first Apple Macs in the UK - we'd had it airlifted over from the launch to check it out - and one of the things I noticed was in the documentation. The end user agreement said, among other things, that no Apple product was to be used in the design of nuclear weapons. Yes, they used to be hippies.

Finally, I note that more and more people are coming to the same bonkers conclusion that I resisted, that Apple's acquisition and other moves actually make most sense as part of the beginnings of a new gaming strategy.

Of course, the idea makes little sense in any other light - but something's afoot. We're past peak iPod now, and while Apple has successfully avoided the corporate distortion that, say, the Razr had on the hapless Motorola, it needs some big new ideas. Perhaps, like old hippies everywhere, it's gone the other way. Watch out for the first Cupertino arms fair...