Regular readers of my columns know that I've written rather extensively about Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) plans to build its own graphics processors, displacing longtime graphics processor intellectual property supplier Imagination Technologies (NASDAQOTH: IGNMF).

The bottom line is that Apple wants to build graphics processors for its iPhone, iPad, and other devices that are simply superior to what it can get by licensing technology from third parties, such as Imagination Technologies.

Apple's iPhones in a "mosaic" pattern.

Image source: Apple.

And, if we're being totally honest, Apple is probably tired of seeing devices powered by alternative chipsets -- such as those from Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) -- outdoing the Imagination-based designs that power its A-series processors in industry-standard performance tests.

So, we know Apple wants to build the world's best mobile graphics processors, and we know that it's willing to invest rather significantly to do so (it has hired quite a lot of top graphics industry talent, from what I can tell).

What might not be immediately obvious, though, is why Apple cares so much about having leadership graphics performance in its iPhone devices.

Allow me to offer up my view on the matter.

Graphics is an important long-term asset

Graphics processors are obviously quite good at rendering complex three-dimensional images, and the faster and more efficient a mobile graphics processor is, the smoother key applications like graphics-intensive games run.

Indeed, the more graphics power that Apple gives to its developers (through both good hardware and powerful software development tools), the better the gaming experience on iOS is going to be.

Mobile gaming is clearly an important use case and it, alone, could be enough to push Apple to want to build "unique and differentiated" (Apple's words) mobile graphics processors.

However, in the coming years, it's clear that graphics processors can, and will, be used for so much more than rendering 2-D and 3-D video games.

Graphics processors are likely to be critical to enabling rich augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) experiences, something that Apple has made abundantly clear that it cares about.

It's not even just games, AR, and VR that'll require powerful and energy efficient graphics processors, though! Graphics processors are, at their core, very powerful parallel processors.

Parallel processors can't bring massive speedups to every kind of workload (graphics is an example of what is called an "embarrassingly parallel" problem), but for workloads that can benefit from parallel computing, GPUs can be substantially faster and more power efficient than traditional CPUs, which are really good at handling serial tasks.

Indeed, you may have noticed that on Apple's webpage for Core ML -- its software development framework designed to help developers integrate machine learning into their apps -- the company says that Core ML "seamlessly takes advantage of the CPU and the GPU to provide maximum performance and efficiency."

I suspect that the Core ML framework takes ample advantage of the GPU (graphics processing unit) for handling some of the more difficult tasks that it must process, and as the iOS app ecosystem begins to fully leverage Core ML, the performance and efficiency of the GPU will become more important to the iOS experience.

Given how important the GPU is today and how much more important it's poised to be in the years ahead, it's little wonder that Apple wants to build its own leadership graphics processor technology.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.