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Apple, Inc. Has Scooped Up Some Major Chip Talent

By Evan Niu, CFA – Oct 13, 2016 at 2:50PM

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The iPhone maker is bolstering its in-house graphics chip team.

A10 Fusion chip. Image source: Apple.

This should come as no surprise considering Apple (AAPL 1.56%) has become a world-class semiconductor designer over the past five to six years. The iPhone maker poached John Metcalfe from Imagination Technologies earlier this year, as noted by MacRumors, citing the executive's public LinkedIn profile. Metcalfe served as Imagination's COO but now works as a senior director at Apple. Digging deeper, MacRumors also notes that there are also over two dozen engineers that Apple has poached from the British graphics chip specialist.

Apple has long licensed Imagination's PowerVR GPU technology for use in its A series of processors, which was paired with CPU architectures licensed from fellow British chip designer ARM Holdings (since acquired by Softbank). Imagination has been on the ropes lately, announcing a corporate restructuring and layoffs earlier this year. There were even reports that Apple was considering a full-blown acquisition. Apple confirmed that there were some negotiations, but no offer materialized.

Taking the "acqui" out of "acqui-hire"

Why buy the whole company (Apple was already a stakeholder in Imagination) when you can surgically poach what you need?

As Apple continues to expand its chip strategy into a diverse range of semiconductors, it's arguably surprising that Apple has only recently begun bringing graphics expertise in-house. The company now designs the system-in-package that powers Apple Watches and wireless audio chips in the new AirPods, among others. Strong graphics performance is integral to Apple's A series of chips, particularly as gaming has become the largest and most popular category of apps on the App Store.

Combined with the never-ending string of evidence that Apple is still working on an ARM-based Mac that will potentially run on an A chip, the company's chip aspirations are only getting grander. Apple prefers using integrated graphics in many of its Macs these days, particularly entry-level machines, so it will need to significantly improve A series graphics performance since Macs have greater graphics needs (larger displays, more graphics-intensive applications, etc.).

Expanding across the pond

Many of these poached engineers are still based in London, and it just so happens that Apple is planning on expanding its U.K. headquarters in London. The Mac maker has decided to consolidate offices and move into the Battersea power station, an iconic decommissioned coal plant, utilizing 500,000 square feet. The company is hoping to open the location in 2021 and expects to relocate 1,400 employees that work in the area. The Battersea power station is about an hour away from Imagination's headquarters.

Apple's presence in London is only getting bigger.

Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple and LinkedIn. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of LinkedIn and has the following options: long January 2018 $90 calls on Apple and short January 2018 $95 calls on Apple. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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