Apple reaches for the Skyworks Solutions

Smart investors are paying attention to Apple's [AAPL] rapidly expanding iOS value chain, taking strategic holdings in Apple's component supply partners, and this last few days has seen markets whisper one name, Skyworks Solutions [SWKS].

Tear-down analysis of Apple's smartphones has previously confirmed Skyworks Solutions has been an Apple iPhone supplier since the iPhone 3GS. A June 2010 note from Oppenheimer & Co revealed,

"The first tear-downs of the iPhone 4 show Skyworks has gained share with Apple. In addition to the quad-band GSM/EDGE PA Skyworks already has on the iPhone 3GS, Skyworks has added two PAs."

Interestingly, the components used inside the iPhone 4 appear to have been custom-made for Apple, as it was not possible to cross-reference them with the component makers product catalog.

This confirms Apple's iPhone assembly plan involves sourcing as many customized components as possible, enabling it to deliver power and performance efficiencies within its devices.

[This story is from Computerworld's Apple Holic blog. Follow on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

The Samsung-manufactured A4 processors used in current generation iOS devices (including the now million-selling Apple TV) are also evidence of this approach.

Tablet designs

Skyworks Solutions shares climbed yesterday when an analyst remarked that the company seems set to get its products into "several" tablet computers that will go on sale in the first half of this year, as well as smartphones.

This seems probable. And it isn't beyond credulity to imagine Apple will field Skyworks Solutions chips inside the future iPad 2.0, as well as within the iPhone HD.

What does the company make? According to its own financial statements its product portfolio includes,

"amplifiers, attenuators, detectors, diodes, directional couplers, front-end modules, hybrids, infrastructure RF subsystems, mixers/demodulators, phase shifters, PLLs/synthesizers/VCOs, power dividers/combiners, receivers, switches and technical ceramics."

A close reading of the company's existing public releases hosted on its website reveals a lot more about the company, which offers expertise in 3G, LTE, Wi-Fi and all essential mobile technologies.This market focus also means the company's products were used to supply 3G modules inside Google's now discontinued Nexus One mobile phone.

On announcement of that link, Liam K. Griffin, Skyworks' senior vice president of sales and marketing said in a statement.

"Our participation in this platform demonstrates Skyworks' ability to work with leading handset manufacturers, smart phone providers as well as reference design partners to deliver the world's most powerful and leading-edge wireless systems."

It isn't just about Android. A Digitimes report this morning reveals,

"Skyworks Solutions... is expected to increase its outsourcing to the foundry partner (Advanced Wireless Semiconductor Company) in 2011 thanks to soaring demand for Apple devices..."

Given that Apple is widely expected to deliver a Verizon network-compatible iPhone shortly after CES, it is possible the company has secured Skyworks Solutions help in designed a device which can be used on multiple networks.

Verizon's call

Should this be the case, then it is possible Cupertino's product design gurus and those remaining processor experts formerly of Imagination Technologies and Intrinsity and now working at Apple may have teamed with Skyworks experts to produce new 3G processors for Verizon iPhones.

There's been speculation that any Verizon iPhone will be larger than existing models purely because the technologies seemingly demand larger PA's. Have Apple and Skyworks found a solution?

There's a second rumor which lends a small dash of credibility to such notions.

Christmas claims speculated the forthcoming iPad 2.0 (set perhaps to reach market at the end of the current quarter) might be available in three flavors with Wi-Fi, UMTS and CDMA connectivity.

Support for CDMA would bring iPads to Verizon's data network.

Rumors also persist that Verizon will be offering a version of the iPhone in early 2011, potentially including LTE 4G for high-speed access. This begs the question, will any purported CDMA iPad have 4G support?

So who is an expert at LTE?

Step forward Skyworks Solutions, who in July last year made a power amplifier (PA) modules for Samsung's GT-B3710 - a high speed fourth generation (4G) USB modem that is the world's first long-term evolution (LTE)-commercialized devices.

That Skyworks worked with Samsung underlines the latter company's expertise in manufacturing for future-focused smart devices: Samsung also manufactures the ARM A8-based A4 processor used by Apple in its iOS devices. Samsung's own iPad, iPhone nano and iPhone pretenders (the Galaxy series) all use the same basic processor as Apple's own. Though without the power and performance tweaks Apple's engineers designed into the A4.

That expertise and Samsung's unique position as a major manufacturer of sundry essential components used in smartphones and tablets from other manufacturers suggests Samsung will remain a prime player in the smartphone wars, but I digress.

I suspect we'll know a lot more in a matter of weeks, with previous reports claiming the LTE-friendly Verizon iPhone's set to ship soon, with Verizon holding internal management training for iPhone sales in early December.

CES iPhone no show as pent-up demand grows?

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster expects a Verizon iPhone will appear in the current quarter, he also expects Verizon will activate 9 million iPhones in 2011.

Speculation meanwhile remains that Verizon will reveal iPhones on its network during the company's CES keynote later this week. This appears likley now to focus on Android devices, but that's done nothing to reduce the clamor of expectation as Apple prepares for a truly network agnostic future.

The depth of such rumors has also likely helped develop pent-up demand among potential iPhone customers currently on Verizon, who have  potentially held back on a phone upgrade while they wait for Apple's device to take a bow.

iPad 2.0, too?

Meanwhile investors are likely pondering if Skyworks Solutions has achieved another design win -- the provision of CDMA chips for the other hot gossip casting a shadow across this year's CES, the iPad 2.0.

What do you think? Will Apple introduce a new iPhone at CES, or will it wait a little longer to make its mark? And when will the iPad 2.0 make its debut? Let me know your thoughts in comments below, and I'd like to invite you to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know about new articles as they first get published here on Computerworld.

The author holds no shares in any company mentioned in this article.

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