If You Like Apple, You Should Love These Chips

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- When it comes to chips, snack food giant Lay's has always reminded consumers that "You can't have just one."

This year, I'm realizing that it is also true in the semiconductor industry as the constant battle for chip supremacy unfolds. As enamored as I have become with embattled leader Intel ( INTC) in anticipation of a resurgence in their business and stock price, I am equally intrigued by the prospects of a few other names, for no other reason than their exposure to tech giants Apple ( AAPL), Google ( GOOG) and Microsoft ( MSFT) as these rivals are gearing up for an all-out rumble for the mobile devices market.

That is not to suggest they wouldn't be ideal holdings otherwise. That fact doesn't hurt either.

When it comes to chips, there are several ways to play -- particularly when considering that some names such as Qualcomm ( QCOM) and ARM Holdings ( ARMH) present better advantages than others by having greater real estate inside Apple devices as opposed to a name such as Atmel ( ATML).

However, where Atmel or even a giant such as Texas Instruments ( TXN) may fall short on device exposure, they more than make up for it in other aspects of their businesses.

Regardless, the underlying premise remains acquiring value and seizing an opportunity that may not be immediately apparent. For example, there is no question that the mobile device market is on the rise. And on the flipside, the PC decline is real -- albeit not as drastic as previously thought. For investors, the way to play the shifting market is to try to understand which chip players will be better positioned to produce market-beating performances.

More than one can win. We saw evidence of this at the height of the PC industry when Intel rode the coattails of Microsoft to become one of the most valuable companies in the world. Even today it still owns 80% of the PC chip business.

However, during its reign, names such as Advanced Micro Devices ( AMD) as well as Nvidia ( NVDA) became success stories in their own right. An argument can be made that Broadcom ( BRCM) was once as dominant as Intel.

While many inside-the-computer names have disappeared, Intel, AMD, Nvidia and several others have not only survived by are ready for the next wave, reinventing themselves for the new mobile devices spurt.

This recent history suggests that, as Apple, Google, Amazon ( AMZN) and Microsoft jockey for position in the battle for mobile device preeminence, the safer long-term play may eventually prove to be the chip names that are on the inside.

While Intel still dominates, Qualcomm controls the internal component space of approximately 250 million smartphones and other devices. ARM Holdings enjoys a considerable amount of space inside iPhones, iPads as well as several Google devices and the company's powerful chip technology will also be featured in Microsoft's new Windows 8 operating system. That has to be one of the best businesses on the market today.

There is also a lot to like with Atmel. The attractive nature of Atmel is that although it lacks the advantage of being inside Apple products, the company competes and has a sizeable advantage over its rivals in the non-mobile device market.

For that matter, I think the stock is very intriguing from a fundamental perspective as it is now a steal at current levels and trading below its book value. I like the fact that it is in markets which include microcontrollers, programmable logic devices and a wide range of proprietary system-on-chips and non-volatile memory chips.

It stands to reason that companies on the "inside" in the rise of the smart phone and devices market will prove as valuable as they did in the rise of the PC. These devices combine various social networking, gaming, scheduling and other business functions and have quickly moved from "wants" to "must-haves." Analysts expect their usage to continue to explode.

So the question is, why do some of these names continue to trade at a discount? It seems investors have not sought to take advantage or they're not paying enough attention.

At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL and held no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Richard Saintvilus is a private investor with an information technology and engineering background and has been investing and trading for over 15 years. He employs conservative strategies in assessing equities and appraising value while minimizing downside risk. His decisions are based in part on management, growth prospects, return on equity and price-to-earnings as well as macroeconomic factors. He is an investor who seeks opportunities whether on the long or short side and believes in changing positions as information changes.