From Wayne Ma's "Inside Apple’s War for Chip Talent" ($) posted Friday.
Interviews with more than two dozen former Apple employees and a review of legal filings show that Apple has lost dozens of key people to chip startups and more-established silicon companies since 2019. Collectively, this information provides the most complete picture to date of how Apple’s secretive silicon group operates and the behind-the-scenes drama that has unfolded since the departure of Gerard Williams III, the Apple executive responsible for the central processor inside iPhones, who left to create his own chip startup, Nuvia, in 2019.
“The gains in Apple’s CPU performance over the last few years have been very minor and mostly due to improvements in chip manufacturing rather than Apple’s chip design,” said Dylan Patel, chief analyst at research firm SemiAnalysis. “Since Williams left, Apple’s CPU performance gains have slowed significantly.”
Apple sued Williams six months after he left, accusing him of using its intellectual property at his new venture and of poaching key chip engineers to work at Nuvia while he was still employed at Apple. Earlier this year, Apple made similar accusations against Rivos, another chipmaker that has lured away key Apple silicon engineers.
People familiar with the two startups say the departures have had a deeply personal impact on [Apple SVP JohnySrouji] and his top lieutenant, Sribalan Santhanam, given their friendships with the former Apple employees who left for Nuvia and Rivos
. They have also created tensions with a pair of venture capitalists—Lip-Bu Tan and Amarjit Gill—who are investors in both startups. Tan, a powerful figure in the chip industry who sits on the board of Intel, is closely linked to Apple as a key supplier of software tools for chip design, while Gill worked briefly at Apple after it bought his former startup, P.A. Semi, which helped Apple get its start in chips. Tan’s and Gill’s investments in Rivos haven’t been previously reported.
Qualcomm, which now owns Nuvia, declined to comment. Williams and representatives for Rivos, Tan and Gill didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. In legal responses, lawyers for both Williams and Rivos have claimed the Apple lawsuits are baseless.
My take: Ma, a reporter relentless in his search for ways to take Apple down a notch, pegs this story to -- and blames the behind-the-scenes drama for -- a "snafu" that feels blown out of proportion:
Apple planned a generational leap for the graphics processor in the latest version of its high-end smartphones, the iPhone 14 Pro. But engineers were too ambitious with adding new features, and early prototypes drew more power than what the company had expected based on software simulations. That could have hurt battery life and made the device too hot, according to two people with direct knowledge of the incident. Because Apple discovered the mistake late in development, it had to base the graphics processor in its iPhone 14 Pro line—which powers the phone’s user interface, games and everything else visible on its screen—largely on the design of the chip that went into last year’s iPhone model, according to four people familiar with the matter.