Is Apple (AAPL) tooling up to create custom chips for its next generation of MacBooks?
Analysts at Exane BNP Paribas think it might be, after they noticed a surge in Apple job advertisements for the sort of people needed to create an in-house central processing unit, or CPU, or a graphics processing unit, or GPU.
Apple is advertising 87 hardware engineering graphics roles, including 10 in London, according to Exane. A quick search of Apple's website found 62 of those roles, including eight in Apple's Hanover Street office in London.
"The graphics job vacancies suggest that Apple is building a completely new chip design team, which in our experience points to a new application," Exane analysts David O'Conner and Jerome Ramel wrote in a note published Wednesday. "The need for computing, CPU and/or GPU skills could point to a custom Apple chip for the Apple MacBook. it is entirely plausible that Apple could produce a beefed up 7mm apps processor ... capable of powering a MacBook in 2018"That could be bad news for Intel ( INTC) .
The Mountain View, Calif.-based chipmaker currently supplies much of the computing power for Apple's laptops. Intel's Core i5 CPUs are included in the 2016 iteration of the MacBook Pro, while Intel's Iris chips are the GPU for the 13-inch versions of the laptops. An Apple-designed CPU could cost Intel between 3% and 6% of its earnings per share in 2017, according to Exane BNP.
An in-house Apple chip could also weigh on Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) , which supplies the Radeon Pro GPU's to the Macbook Pro 15-inch model, according to Apple's website.
The theoretical Apple chip might not be bad news for all of Apple's suppliers. Exane thinks the hiring of chip designers in London hints that the potential graphics chip could be built on architecture created by Britain's IMG (IGNMF) .
IMG already provides the graphics architecture for the iPhone7 and 7 Plus. It is also clearly much loved by Apple, which owns a stake in the group and admitted in March this year that it had pondered a takeover.
"If Apple uses IMG graphics in this potential new chip then the resultant royalties would be positive for IMG," noted Exane, which said that such a deal could be worth between 7% and 10% to IMG's earnings per share. IMG shares traded Wednesday at 228.25 pence ($2.84), up 2.75 pence or 1.2% on their Tuesday close.
There is no guarantee that any of this will come to pass. Exane admits it has "no definitive" proof that Apple is preparing to launch its own CPUs or GPUs. Apple did not return a call asking for comment. Given its dedication to secrecy and love of a surprise it is unlikely to reveal its hand until a chip is safely ensconced in a new MacBook.
Apple shares opened 0.91% higher Tuesday at $108.12 while Intel fell 0.24% to $34.82.