Apple Buys Low-Power Chipmaker Passif, Think Wearables

Apple's Big Pile O' MoneyApple has purchased another chip company, this time venturing into the world of low-powered communications chips with a firm called Passif. Passif makes radio chips that have a small footprint both in terms of physical space and power consumption, a key component for mobile and wearable computing devices.

The news was broken by Jessica Lessin. Formerly with The Wall Street Journal, Ms. Lessin has been breaking tech stories as an independent journalist. Apple confirmed the report with AllThingsD's John Paczkowski.

Apple's confirmation was the usual uninformative boilerplate: "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans."

One of Passif's products is a Bluetooth LE chip. The LE stands for "low energy," and Ms. Lessin said that it is being looked at as an important technology for health-monitoring and fitness-related devices, two important categories in the so-called "wearables" device market.

According to the sources who spilled the beans about the purchase, Apple made an offer to buy Passif a few years ago in a deal worth a few "tens of millions" of dollars. One might assume the price that finally sealed the deal was larger, perhaps considerably larger.

Of course, Apple has money, and then some. In addition, Apple likes to own one or more key technologies whenever it enters a market. The late Steve Jobs and current Apple CEO Tim Cook have both stressed this idea as being central to Apple's decision on whether to try and disrupt an existing market.

Wearables are one such market. Tim Cook has said that he's interested in the wrist, and Apple has repeatedly been rumored to be working on an "iWatch" wrist device that could well have health-monitoring and fitness features.

That makes Passif an ideal purchase for Apple. Having a unique chip powering Bluetooth LE more efficiently than competitors would be a substantial advantage. Apple can further more go on to integrate its iOS and wearable OS software with those chips, which is also something its competition won't be able to match.