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Apple Poaches GPU Company for AI Ambitions

Tim Maytom

imagination technologiesApple has hired a number of senior figures from Imagination Technologies, the firm behind the graphics processors it uses in its iPhones, most likely to power its ventures into AI, VR and autonomous vehicles.

Imagination Technologies produces a number of mobile technologies including multiprocessor cores, security software and multi-standard communication chips, but its focus is on graphics, video and vision processing, which will prove crucial to advancements in virtual and augmented reality, as well as computer vision software.

The company provides the GPU for the iPhone 7, as well as a number of other phones, and earlier this year Apple had initial discussions with the firm about a possible offer, but ultimately the talks did not lead anywhere.

While Apple didn't end up buying the firm, it is reportedly the third-largest shareholder in the company, and now has hired away a number of its most senior figures, including former chief operating officer John Metcalfe, now a senior director at Apple following 20 years at Imagination.

Other recent hires at Apple's London offices include people who worked on Imagination's PowerVR product, which is included in the iPhone, filling roles like GPU architect, engineering manager and design manager.

Overall, six technical employees from Imagination Technologies have joined Apple since September. The company has had a mixed year, having to cut 200 jobs in March and posting a £61.5m loss on revenues of £120m in July. Despite this, the firm's stock is up over the past year, and its strength in the graphic processing market means it likely has a busy future ahead of it.

GPU technology is central to many of the key emergent technologies of the moment, including autonomous vehicles, virtual reality and AI that utilises computer vision. Apple has a presence in at least some of these fields, if not all, and so looking to Imagination Technologies for expertise makes sense.

"It’s no surprise that our customers, who are exposed to the talent here, sometimes hire that talent, especially from our more customer facing teams," said an Imagination Technology spokesperson in a statement to Business Insider. "To call it a brain drain is nonsense – Imagination is a 1,400+ person company and we are talking about a handful who have gone to any one customer."