Apple is reportedly interested in building on the success of the M-series processors and bringing the design of multiple other components in-house, including camera sensors.
While not a lot of information is available yet, Bloomberg‘s Apple Insider Mark Gurman — who has a strong record of correctly predicting both overarching goals as well as specific products — says that the Silicon Valley giant is planning to build on the success of Apple silicon by bringing more components in-house.
Gurman points first to Apple’s goal of moving away from Qualcomm’s modem compenent in the iPhone, although the company reportedly isn’t making as much progress on that front as it was hoping to by this point. It also plans to replace parts it gets from Broadcom with a combined WiFi and Bluetooth chip, its own microLED displays although Gurman notes both these efforts are also falling behind — the latter has been in development for more than a decade. Still, the company has its goals and intends to create a non-invasive glucose monitoring system that it could fit into a future Apple Watch design.
Lofty goals, and none have borne fruit as of yet.
But perhaps the most ambitious goal for Apple appears to be bringing the strategy for camera sensors in-house. While Apple would still need a fabrication partner, Gurman reports that the company is at the very least considering bringing the design of the sensors behind its cameras to Apple Park.
“Photography has become one of the most critical selling points of its iPhones, and the technology is core to future developments in the mixed-reality and autonomous-driving industries,” Gurman writes.
Last year, Tim Cook confirmed the open secret that Apple has been using Sony camera sensors for the last 10 years. The company had not been too keen to share details of its camera’s hardware components prior to that.
We’ve been partnering with Sony for over a decade to create the world’s leading camera sensors for iPhone. Thanks to Ken and everyone on the team for showing me around the cutting-edge facility in Kumamoto today. pic.twitter.com/462SEkUbhi
— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) December 13, 2022
That news was not all that surprising since Sony is not only the largest sensor manufacturer in the world, the other options would mean working directly with major smartphone competitors (like Samsung). While Sony does make its own line of smartphones, they are extremely niche.
What an in-house sensor design team at Apple could look like is likely most easily compared to Nikon’s current relationship with Sony Semiconductor, the sensor design and fabrication arm of Sony that operates separately from its camera and smartphone divisions. In short, Nikon provides the specifics of what it is looking for in a sensor and Sony Semiconductor manufactures them. While those designs may use an existing sensor, there is enough beyond just the silicon that allows Nikon’s cameras to operate differently and provide a unique “look” that separates its products from Sony’s Alpha series.
Taking a similar route, Apple’s more hands-on approach to sensor design may result in a better integration with the rest of its hardware, but only time will tell. If Apple does go this route, the hope is likely that the effort would move along a lot faster than its other current attempts at moving designs in-house.
Image credits: Jordan Drake for PetaPixel