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Apple Inc. Building Graphics Chip Team in the U.K.

By Ashraf Eassa - Updated Mar 13, 2017 at 3:35PM

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The tech titan is doubling down on what appears to be an increasingly strategic intellectual property.

It's no secret at this point that Apple (AAPL 2.45%) is building its own graphics processors. In fact, not only that, but microprocessor expert David Kanter revealed last year that Apple has been employing its own graphics processors inside its A-series processors since the launch of its A8 system-on-a-chip in the fall of 2014.

Based on where many of the graphics-oriented Apple employees that I see on LinkedIn appear to be located, the company apparently has a graphics processor design site in Orlando, Florida.

This image shows Apple's iPad Pro 9.7-inch models in four colors -- Gold, Silver, Space Gray, and Rose Gold.

Image source: Apple.

While perusing LinkedIn, I noticed that one of my connections began advertising the fact that Apple is looking to fill positions in its U.K.-based "Apple Hardware Design Center."

Unsurprisingly, as you can see in the screenshot below, all the positions that came up were graphics related:

Apple is trying to build up a graphics processor team in the U.K., and these job listings prove it.

Image source: LinkedIn.

Further, when I clicked on one of the positions ("Graphics Modeling Engineer"), the job description says "This is a career defining opportunity to get in at the ground floor as we build our UK Design Centre."

It's clear that the company is building a graphics processor design team in the U.K. So, why is the company doing that?

Increasing the pace of innovation

What I suspect Apple is doing is building a parallel graphics processor team to the one(s) that it already has in place. If that hypothesis is correct, it'll mean that the company will gain the ability to work on multiple graphics processors in a "leap frogging" fashion.

That is, Team 1 works on the graphics processor that'll be used in some iPhone (let's call it iPhone x) while Team 2 works in parallel on the graphics processor that will be used in the follow-on iPhone, iPhone x+1. Then, once Team 1 finishes its work on the graphics processor for iPhone x, it begins working on the graphics processor for iPhone x+2.

Under such a development methodology -- and it is a common one in the chip industry -- a company can increase the pace and the scope of the innovation that it can bring with each new design.

Why is Apple doubling-down on graphics?

Apple CEO Tim Cook is on record stating that he believes that augmented reality will be a huge deal. To fully capitalize on the opportunities in both virtual reality and augmented reality, companies are likely going to need to have significant expertise when it comes to efficient, high-performance graphics processors.

In other words, it's an intellectual property that could be very important for the future of the iPhone and mobile devices in general.

Beyond the iPhone, though, Apple surely wants to have best-in-class graphics to enable the kinds of workloads and experiences that it can deliver through its iPad (which it is positioning as a notebook/PC replacement) as well as through its Apple TV products (better graphics could help Apple TV inch closer to becoming a game console competitor).

Apple appears to recognize the importance of having excellent graphics technologies in-house and I think what we are seeing is Apple simply making financial bets commensurate with that viewpoint. 

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