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Apple Loses Top Chip Expert

By Ashraf Eassa - Apr 1, 2019 at 7:01AM

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Here's why this is a big deal.

Apple (AAPL -0.35%) has excelled in chip design over the years. The company builds some of the world's best mobile applications processors to power its iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch product lines and has expanded its capabilities to include other types of chips in some of those devices, like power management chips, as well as chips to power things such as its wildly successful AirPods wireless earbuds. 

Powering Apple's impressive chip efforts is an army of sharp chip engineers led by strong leaders. According to a new report from CNET, one of those leaders, Gerard Williams III, has left the company. CNET says that he "hasn't yet joined another company."

Two girls playing with iPhones in an Apple store.

Image source: Apple.

Let's take a closer look at why this matters.

His work speaks for itself

One area where Apple differentiates itself from the pack is in the quality of its mobile CPU cores, which serve as the heart of the company's mobile applications processors. According to recent testing from AnandTech, the CPU core in the company's A11 Bionic chip, which is nearly a year and a half old, significantly outperforms the CPU cores found in top Android-based devices in the SPECint2006 and SPECfp2006 suites of CPU performance tests. 

The CPU cores in the more current A12 Bionic are even faster and only widen the gap between Apple's products and the competition's. Apple should introduce yet another new mobile CPU in about six months, and it should offer even better performance.

According to Williams' LinkedIn profile, he led the development of Apple's CPU cores known as Cyclone, Typhoon, Twister, Hurricane, Monsoon, and Vortex CPUs. Put simply, he led all but one of Apple's high-performance custom CPU cores. (Apple first launched a custom CPU core in its A6 chip, known as Swift.) 

Now, of course, it takes more than just one individual to design a CPU core, but teams of engineers benefit from great leaders, and the fact that Williams led the development of six best-in-class mobile CPU cores tells me that he is, in fact, a great leader.

A valuable asset to his next employer

I agree with CNET's Shara Tibken, who wrote that "Williams' departure is a loss for Apple."

That said, this development is unlikely to cripple Apple's CPU efforts. Having managed to nab talent from all across the industry, Apple has a deep bench of high-profile CPU architects under its roof these days. I expect that someone from within the company's ranks will fill the void Williams has left and will lead the company's efforts to keep building best-in-class CPU cores. 

What will be really interesting to see is where Williams ends up next, if he's not retiring from the industry. Many companies could benefit from Williams' expertise, ranging from companies that build their own mobile CPUs to those that build high-performance CPU cores for applications such as data center servers, network infrastructure, and personal computers.

Williams' expertise isn't limited to CPU cores, either. According to his LinkedIn profile, he was the chief architect "for all Apple CPU and [system-on-a-chip] development." That means he's not just good at leading the teams responsible for CPU cores -- critical components of any mobile chip -- but he's also proved himself able to lead the development of entire mobile system-on-a-chip designs, which consist of many different pieces, including the CPU cores, integrated together. 

I'll be keeping an eye on Williams' LinkedIn profile in anticipation of seeing where he winds up.

Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Ashraf Eassa has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and Microsoft. The Motley Fool has the following options: short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple and long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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