What it is: Apple plans to develop its own graphics processor and reduce its dependence on third-party suppliers like Imagination Technologies.
Back in the early days of computers, Intel processors jumped in performance with each new version. The difference in speed between an 8088 processor and an 80286 processor justified buying a new PC. As processors kept growing in power and speed, people had valid reasons to keep upgrading and buying new PCs just for the new and faster processors so they could run the latest software.
Then processor speed and power became less important. Now people had far less reason to buy or upgrade their PCs because last generation’s processors worked just fine. While ordinary PCs remained relatively stagnant, gaming PCs started growing in popularity because gamers demanded faster and better graphics and that required a separate graphics processor. Most budget PCs included an integrated graphics processor but for real power and speed, a separate graphics processor was necessary.
By themselves, graphics processors aren’t that important to PCs since it’s not crucial to display an Excel spreadsheet in sharper c0lors. What makes graphics processors important is that the computing world discovered that graphics processors were perfectly designed for artificial intelligence applications. With machine learning, the faster graphics processors were far more important than faster Intel processors. Since the world is moving towards machine learning in various uses, graphics processors have moved beyond gaming and into artificial intelligence.
Now with virtual and augmented reality, graphics processors have found a new life. Both virtual and augmented reality require graphics either to create an entirely artificial world or to overlay graphics over reality. That requires graphics processing power and that further highlights the importance of a graphics processor.
So the reason Apple absolutely must develop their own graphics processor is because they need to reduce their dependence on third-party suppliers. Right now, Imagination Technologies gets close to half of their revenue from Apple, and they use those profits to advance their own research and development. Then they turn around and sell the exact same graphics processors to Apple and anyone else who wants them. So essentially Apple is funding graphics processors for their competitors in both artificial intelligence and virtual/augmented reality.
By creating their own graphics processors, Apple can customize their graphics processors while keeping this same technology away from rivals. Apple likely didn’t dump Imagination Technologies out of a whim but because they likely have they own graphics processor under development for years.
Back in the old days when Apple first created OS X, which later morphed into macOS, they had the foresight to make sure OS X could run on both Intel and PowerPC processors which were currently used in the Macintosh. For years, Apple funded this dual development of OS X just in case they needed to switch to Intel processors. When PowerPC processors proved unable to keep up with Intel processors, Apple shifted to Intel processors nearly flawlessly because they had been preparing for this possibility for years.
It’s likely Apple has also been preparing to develop its own graphics processors for years as well. Apple likely is confident their own graphics processor is superior to anything Imagination Technologies could produce, so they’re ready to release it soon.
Remember, Apple once had a contract with Google to develop Google Maps for iOS. Two years before that contract was set to expire, Apple released their own Maps app. Initially it wasn’t as good as Google Maps but now it has evolved into a decent alternative. Yet Apple prepared ahead of time to reduce dependence on Google Maps so expect Apple’s own graphics processor to appear far sooner than most people expect, perhaps even in the next iPhone this fall.
Apple needs its own graphics processor because graphics processors are the key for three areas:
- Graphics power in both mobile and desktop computers
- Artificial intelligence
- Virtual/augmented reality
These three key markets are too important to rely on third-party components that rivals can easily buy as well. Apple’s decision to go with its own graphics processors is because graphics processors are now the key component in any computer. Right now, computers use a main processor and a graphics processor. That won’t change, but pretty soon the graphics processor will be far more important than the main processor.
That’s good news for Apple in creating their own graphics processor. That’s bad news for companies like Intel that sell ordinary processors. Apple can afford to buy and rely on Intel processors to maintain compatibility with Windows if necessary. Apple doesn’t need to rely on others for graphics processors because that’s the future and Apple needs to control its own destiny.