Apple poaching GPU designer Imagination Technologies' talent, hiring key personnel away

Posted:
in iPhone edited March 2017
Following Apple's decision to not pursue an acquisition of mobile GPU developer Imagination Technologies, at least 25 staffers and management personnel have jumped ship to Apple over the past two years.




Among the departees now confirmed to be working at Apple from LinkedIn postings, notable high-level staff members are the ex-chief operating officer of Imagination Technologies John Metcalfe, Senior Design Manager Dave Roberts, Vice President of Hardware Engineering Johnathan Redshaw, and 17-year veteran of the company and Senior Software Engineering Manager Benjamin Bowman.

Metcalfe is now a senior director at Apple. Roberts is an engineering manager at Apple's iOS GPU software group, and Bowman is a GPU architect for the company. Redshaw is listed as a director at Apple, with no specific branch of the company declared.

Imagination Technologies has licensed high-performance GPU designs, known as PowerVR graphics series, for use in Apple's A-series system on a chip (SoC) dating back to the original iPhone in 2007. The hires may herald an internal project to develop an Apple-designed GPU for use in future iOS projects, rather than rely on third parties for the technology.

Apple issued a statement in March admitting it had "some discussions" with Imagination involving an Apple buyout, but that it did not "plan to make an offer for the company at this time." Apple owns a 10 percent stake in the company.

Following the breakdown in talks, Chinese state-owned company Tsinghua took a 3 percent stake in Imagination as of May 4. Layoffs have wracked the company since.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story said Apple hired 25 employees away from Imagination late last year. Imagination later clarified the personnel moves took place over a two-year period.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 27
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 1,813member
    Can you sense what is going on here ? Apple working towards in-house integrated single chip CPU/GPU/CELL/WiFI/BT/etc SOC fabricated on Intel's advanced 10nm node process..Target is iPhone 2018 fall announcement. All geared for high performance/power efficient A12, integrated Home button under screen, smaller basel, OLED, etc. All good.
    edited October 2016 calistanthemanrepressthispatchythepiratepropodjustadcomics
  • Reply 2 of 27
    wood1208 said:
    Can you sense what is going on here ? Apple working towards in-house integrated single chip CPU/GPU/CELL/WiFI/BT/etc SOC fabricated on Intel's advanced 10/7nm node process..Target is iPhone 2018 fall announcement.
    It would sem so, yes. Interesting times for Apple. 
    calirepressthis
  • Reply 3 of 27
    brucemcbrucemc Posts: 1,509member
    wood1208 said:
    Can you sense what is going on here ? Apple working towards in-house integrated single chip CPU/GPU/CELL/WiFI/BT/etc SOC fabricated on Intel's advanced 10/7nm node process..Target is iPhone 2018 fall announcement.
    2018 might be early for that level of combined SOC, but it does seem the path Apple is headed for.  They have the volumes to justify the investment, which in terms will reduce internal space & power.  And support the technologies into smaller / new devices (that cellular connected Apple Watch...).
    calijbdragonduervowatto_cobrarepressthispropodjustadcomics
  • Reply 4 of 27
    And would also make sense if they want to create a turbo SoC version for Macs (bailing on Intel in some years)... though the volumes aren't as high, still synergies and given Intel margins would been a strong ROI contributor.
    calistanthemanbaconstang
  • Reply 5 of 27
    larryalarrya Posts: 538member
    I agree with everyone, but serious question: when Apple hires big swaths of staff from these companies, how does it avoid patent infringement?  Do they have to invent all-new IP?  If so, why poach these particular employees? 
    watto_cobralolliverrepressthiszoetmbjustadcomics
  • Reply 6 of 27
    wood1208 said:
    Can you sense what is going on here ? Apple working towards in-house integrated single chip CPU/GPU/CELL/WiFI/BT/etc SOC fabricated on Intel's advanced 10nm node process..Target is iPhone 2018 fall announcement. All geared for high performance/power efficient A12, integrated Home button under screen, smaller basel, OLED, etc. All good.
    2020 would be a more realistic projection for something like what you describe ... at least that's my 2020 vision. (Haha)
    watto_cobrajustadcomics
  • Reply 7 of 27
    Apple is taking control now of the GPU. It is a very substantial development.  

    Intel can offer the ability to integrate the modem into the SIP/SOC. The integration of the modem is important for the watch given the space constraints and power requirements. It is not nearly as critical for the iPhone and iPad. 

    It would seem inevitable that Intel will build the SIP for the watch. The watch will likely cannibalize the iPhone. I know that I would get rid of the phone all together if the watch came with a cellular radio and I am able to tether the iPad to the watch for calls and data. 

    I am far less convinced that Intel will get the business for the iPad. The iPad is built primarily for mobile performance. TSMC is ahead of Intel with better yields, and lower cost. 

    Interesting times are ahead.  

    I remain convinced that the watch is the next disruptive technology. And Apple moving to control all of the technologies involved. 

    Apple is now going to own its own GPU. A nice development. 
    watto_cobralollivercalipatchythepirate
  • Reply 8 of 27
    knowitallknowitall Posts: 1,182member
    High level staff, so most talent is still at Imagination I assume.
    This could mean of course that real key personnel is following suit.
    That's a quite aggressive move from Apple, effectively destroying a company.
  • Reply 9 of 27
    I wonder why Apple just doesn't buy Nvidia since they are mainly in the GPU business. They technically could, right?
  • Reply 10 of 27
    It seems likely that Apple has already done a lot of preliminary work and planning on its native GPU, and only now has decided to go ahead. That preliminary work means the GPU group are not starting from scratch in 2016. Most likely, the new GPU will appear sooner rather than later, because incremental cost savings on the GPU will more than recover high R&D costs.

    Next year's iPhone 8(?)will have TSMC's 10nm application processor, so I will bet on the new GPU being integrated into the following year's 10nm chip: iPhone 8s, in 2018.
    cali
  • Reply 11 of 27
    wood1208 said:
    Can you sense what is going on here ? Apple working towards in-house integrated single chip CPU/GPU/CELL/WiFI/BT/etc SOC fabricated on Intel's advanced 10nm node process..Target is iPhone 2018 fall announcement. All geared for high performance/power efficient A12, integrated Home button under screen, smaller basel, OLED, etc. All good.
    I'd like to think they will eventually have such mastery over their materials that they'll be able to manufacture a single, completely solid substrate that exhibits all of the properties of an iPhone (and more), yet it is completely secure because it cannot be opened or accessed in any possible way. That would represent the ultimate solid state Apple device, IMO.
    edited October 2016 justadcomics
  • Reply 12 of 27
    ksecksec Posts: 1,549member
    I dont think poaching is really the right word. Img made a big mistake ( sort of ) in acquiring MIPS. It wasn't a mistake in the move per se, but they dont have the financial power to maintain two major battle field. MIPS was losing ground. What used to be MIPS CPU like embedded devices, Router were all moving to ARM simply because the economy of scale from ARM works much better. Img were also fighting in the voice / WiFi battlefield, which didn't gain much ground.

    I think the company, or at least the exec were well aware where the company is heading. And it does makes sense somebody jump ship. Once certain people leaves, others may likely follow, especially to Apple. And if CEVA rises enough money, they could acquire IMG as well, which should be a nice fit.
  • Reply 13 of 27
    hypoluxa said:
    I wonder why Apple just doesn't buy Nvidia since they are mainly in the GPU business. They technically could, right?
    nVidia is a lot more than the gaming GPU market. Workstation GPUs, giant farms of servers, AI, auto driving systems, they make a lot more than just the 1080 and 1070. It'd be buying a lot of things Apple shouldn't get into. 
  • Reply 14 of 27
    None of these speculations are remotely accurate.
    gatorguy
  • Reply 15 of 27
    knowitallknowitall Posts: 1,182member
    hypoluxa said:
    I wonder why Apple just doesn't buy Nvidia since they are mainly in the GPU business. They technically could, right?
    Imaginations GPUs are incredibly powerful, no need for Nvidia and its corporate culture.
  • Reply 16 of 27
    It would seem inevitable that Intel will build the SIP for the watch. The watch will likely cannibalize the iPhone. I know that I would get rid of the phone all together if the watch came with a cellular radio and I am able to tether the iPad to the watch for calls and data. 
    This is why I think (some) people don't understand the impact wearables could have on our use of tech in the future. We're figuring all this out regarding how best to use tech and what size devices are ideal and in which combinations, but I agree, a cellular radio in a watch opens up a world of opportunities, especially if it's fast enough. All your peripherals could attach and you'd only have to have 1 telco annuity to pay, instead of a series of monthly bills for each device (which is why the telcos will *hate* this idea but fuck them), one that you *always* have with you on your person to which you could tether all your other devices. Maybe we'll break this whole notion that a small tablet device must have a cellular radio and be called a phone, but larger ones we don't call phones and don't use the cellular radio for voice (only data) - this is really quite silly and one in your watch might break this silliness (insanity?) we've created in these devices and limitations we've arbitrarily places on their names and usages.
    edited October 2016
  • Reply 17 of 27
    hypoluxa said:
    I wonder why Apple just doesn't buy Nvidia since they are mainly in the GPU business. They technically could, right?
    Apple could technically buy most companies.  B)
  • Reply 18 of 27
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,739member
    Not quite sure what the play is here, are Apple looking to move away from Power VR entirely?

    If yes, then ex-Imagination employees might not be the best people to oversee that.
    If no, then it doesn't seem like a healthy relationship, taking employees away from a crucial supplier.
  • Reply 19 of 27
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,703member
    wood1208 said:
    Can you sense what is going on here ? Apple working towards in-house integrated single chip CPU/GPU/CELL/WiFI/BT/etc SOC fabricated on Intel's advanced 10nm node process..Target is iPhone 2018 fall announcement. All geared for high performance/power efficient A12, integrated Home button under screen, smaller basel, OLED, etc. All good.
    I kinda doubt Apple will put everything on one piece of Silicon. Specifically I'm not seeing good reason to put the cell functionality on the same die when TSMC stacking technology makes it possible to integrate the cell modem into the package. Keeping the cell modem on a separate die reduces a lot of risks with a part that doesn't evolve as fast as the SoC in general. On the other hand yes the goal is to do as much as possible on a single piece of silicon. That has been the goal for decades when it comes to computer design. As for Intel, at the rate they are going, Global foundries will be ahead of them soon.
  • Reply 20 of 27
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,703member
    larrya said:
    I agree with everyone, but serious question: when Apple hires big swaths of staff from these companies, how does it avoid patent infringement?  Do they have to invent all-new IP?  If so, why poach these particular employees? 
    You don't know for sure what they are even working on. For example they could have hired some of the guys to work on Neural Network functionality in a chip. That chip could be adjunct to the GPU or something else. Beyond that Apple has licensed Imaginations technology, so any infringement would have to come via IP not covered by that agreement.
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