What’s Apple planning to do with the 70,000-square-foot chip fab it recently bought?

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It seems something’s sprouting at Apple.

The consumer electronics company has big plans for the Maxim Integrated Products fabrication building it bought back in December. The San Jose, California, fab has seen a steady shipment of new equipment, suggesting Apple’s sees the $18.2 million manufacturing facility as a short-term priority.

That’s according to Apple Insider, which today posted a number of photos taken outside the 70,000 square-foot building, reportedly referred to by employees as “Athena.” Shipments of equipment, wrapped in anti-static foil and labeled “delicate instruments,” have become routine at the facility in the months since Apple acquired it.

This activity suggests that Apple plans to put the facility to work, but for what is far from certain. Apple designs the processors in its mobile devices, but it contracts the actual manufacturing out to Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company and Samsung.

It’s long been rumored that Apple will take the hardware manufacturing in-house, but the limited floor space of this facility doesn’t suggest that. It could be used as a testing ground for processor designs, but that would take significant upgrades.

Maxim Integrated Products used the space to manufacture micro-electromechanical system sensors, or MEMS. This field includes various tiny sensors, from accelerometers to barometers to medical sensors. AppleInsider speculated that the space could be useful for prototyping advanced antennas, ResearchKit sensors for things like blood sugar, or even wireless charging.

Or maybe they’re just messing with the neighbors’ heads.

The facility next door is owned by none other than Samsung, meaning employees of Apple’s chief rival in the smartphone market are seeing all that equipment being trucked in, wondering what Apple might be up to. Is it all a ruse to drive them nuts?

Probably not, but we can’t really say for sure what Apple intends to do with the space, because the famously secretive company isn’t saying. We’ll let you know if we learn more, though.


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