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Apple's proprietary iPhone chips may not surface till next year


Apple's fairly public plans to design a family of exclusive chips to power its next-generation iPhone and multi-touch handheld products may not fully materialize until sometime next year, according to the Wall Street Journal, which provides an overview of the matter with a few additional details.

The report published Thursday recaps the Cupertino-based company's acquisition of the 150-person P.A. Semi chip design firm and the subsequent hires of two key (1, 2) chip architects from ATI/AMD, including former chief technology officer of AMD's graphics products group Raja Koduri, who the financial paper says started work at the iPhone maker this week.

It adds, however, that the company's efforts to amass its own team of chip designers may be even more extensive than once thought. In particular, the report points out that there are more than 100 people listing current Apple job titles on their LinkedIn professional networking profiles with past expertise in chips, including veterans of Intel, Samsung and Qualcomm,

The Journal even rifled through Apple job postings on a variety of employment websites and turned up dozens of interesting calls for chip engineers, including two listings for people versed in handwriting recognition technology, others for designers with expertise in chips for managing displays, and one for a position that involves "testing the functional correctness of Apple developed silicon."

Citing people familiar with the matter, the paper went on to note that Apple even participated in a job fair this month "for soon-to-be-unemployed engineers at memory chip company Spansion," which filed for bankruptcy last month. Similar efforts were reportedly in motion even before the company's acquisition of P.A. Semi in April of 2008, which has largely been seen as its most significant move towards internally developed silicon to date.

As has been noted repeatedly by AppleInsider, and confirmed by comments from Apple chief executive Steve Jobs, this emerging family of chip designers spearheaded by the P.A. Semi crew is being tasked with crafting a future generation of chips for Apple's multi-touch devices that will deliver advanced gaming graphics and specialized features while simultaneously improving battery consumption and allowing the company to maintain more secrecy around its intellectual property.

"People familiar with the situation say Mr. Jobs told P.A. Semi engineers last April that he wanted to develop chips internally and didn't want knowledge about the technology to leave Apple," the Journal said. It adds that company executives have long shared their concerns that information shared with outside vendors regarding current iPhone chip designs — which include tweaked versions of broadly available Samsung processors — may have have found their way into chips sold to rivals.

Still, Apple's is said to be facing its share challenges in developing its first batch of custom chip designs, with "people familiar with Apple's plans" suggesting the specialized processors may not turn up in shipping products "until next year at the earliest." If true, this would raise new questions about the components making their way into the third-generation iPhone due this summer, which is expected to sport a noticeably different architecture from the first two generations of the touch-screen handset.