Amazon.com is in advanced talks to buy the supplier of processors for its Kindle tablet computer, Israeli financial newspaper Calcalist reported on Monday, in what could mark a step in the company's ambitions in the smartphone sector.
The report said any deal for the smartphone chip business of Texas Instruments would probably be worth billions of dollars and could make Amazon, led by founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, a direct rival to Apple (AAPL) and Samsung, which also design their own chips.
"Look at Bezos and what he's trying to build. I think he would consider himself of the Steve Jobs ilk," Williams Financial analyst Cody Acree said. "If it works for Apple, then why wouldn't it work as well or better for Amazon?"
TI's processors, essentially the brains in computers, are used in Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet. Bezos underlined TI's strength in the industry at the tablet's recent launch.
For more than a year, speculations has swirled that Amazon could sell its own smartphone, but the company has not publicly addressed those rumors.
Texas Instruments has said it plans to move away from the increasingly competitive smartphone and tablet chip business, called OMAP, and Wall Street has speculated it could be sold.
Apple designs the processors for its iPhones and iPads inhouse, alongside engineers working on the company's operating system and other features. Analysts credit that vertical integration with part of the success of Apple's mobile gadgets.
Microsoft agrees. In a break from its traditional business model of licensing operating systems to PC manufacturers, Microsoft this month will launch the Surface tablet, a tablet Microsoft designed itself.
Deutsche Bank analyst Ross Seymore estimated that TI's OMAP business will generate revenue of around $650 million this year. Based on that number, he wrote in a note to clients that the business could sell for $500 million to $700 million.
Acree said a second, more difficult, way to value a potential deal could be based on a estimate of potential future sales volume of Amazon smartphones and tablets built with TI's chips.
Some analysts questioned whether it would make sense for Amazon to spend billions on the business when many smaller and independent smartphone chip makers are reporting steep losses.
Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi said she doubted whether Amazon wants to "become that intimately involved with hardware."
TI said last month it would shift its wireless investment focus from products like smartphones to a broader market including industrial clients such as carmakers, where it is hoping for a more profitable and stable business.
Shares in Amazon were up 0.8 percent to $244.39 in premarket trade on Nasdaq while TI shares were up 1.9 percent to $27.8.
TI has told investors it would continue to support its customers but its mobile processor business would not invest to the same degree as before in supporting its customers' future plans for tablets and smartphones.