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February 01, 2010

Apple's Chip Team a "Giant Sucking Sound" In the Valley

The Apple iPad may have been characterized as simply a larger iPod Touch, but at its core was something unique for Apple's product line, the first product from Cupertino to debut with its A4 chip, derived from the company's much-discussed 2008 P.A. Semi acquisition. After years of trying to work with partners that fit, from Motorola to IBM and finally to Intel, Apple, now a $50 billion company, has set off on a path to create its own silicon, starting with this product, and according to a valley industry insider I talked with over the weekend, the company's fast-growing team is not going unnoticed in the chip design community.

As you can see, among the many job postings on Apple's Web site are descriptions for roles including "Senior Chip Design Engineer" and "Sr. ASIC Design Engineer". The first is for the Mobile Silicon group, and the second is described more generically for the design and development of ASICs for Apple products.

As was characterized to me in the discussion, the team has grown significantly since the P.A. Semi acquisition nearly two years ago, and many talented engineers who found themselves on the short end of company reductions or closures through the recent recession are finding their way to Cupertino, with only one other company yielding a significant alternative.

"There are two giant sucking sounds in the Valley chip design space right now," they said. "Apple is one of them, and NVIDIA is the other."

Given Apple's interesting position, why would potential applicants turn away from Cupertino and instead to NVIDIA or other alternatives? As I heard it described, at companies like NVIDIA, chip design is celebrated, and that's the company's focus. At Apple, the chip design, like the A4, is made transparent, with the real focus on user experience instead. As much as we know about the A4, we also have a lot of questions. All Apple wants us to know is that it's fast. It sounds like the chip design team is also growing fast, and we should no doubt see more machines, beyond the iPad that will come with "Apple Inside" as the roadmap progresses.

See Also: NY Times: A Little Chip Designed by Apple Itself