Apple and Imagination strike GPU deal after briefly parting ways
Apple has struck a deal with UK-based Imagination Technologies that will allow the Cupertino giant to use a wider range of Imaginations patented IP in its mobile GPU and AI processor designs. The companies had been close partners with Imagination supplying Apple with its Power VR mobile GPUs for use in its iPhones and iPads. However, a licensing deal fell through after Apple decided it would make its own GPUs in house. At the time, Imagination claimed that it would be “extremely challenging” for Apple to design its own GPUs without violating Imagination’s patents.
Following the loss of Apple, easily its biggest client, Imagination was bought out by a Chinese-based investment group. Apple subsequently released its first in-house designed mobile GPU as part of the A11 Bionic SoC that powered the iPhone X. It has since continued using its own GPUs in subsequent iPhones and iPads. It hasn't been made clear if Apple managed to develop its own GPU IP or was reliant on Imagination's IP for the past couple of years even though an official deal doesn't appear to have been struck during this period.
The new “multi-year license agreement” gives Apple official access to much wider range of Imagination’s mobile GPU IP as well as its AI technologies. The A11 Bionic also included the first neural processing engine in an iPhone and the new agreement will undoubtedly help Apple continue to develop this technology as well. Apple already licenses ARM technology for its custom A-series chips with the new deal allowing Apple to use Imagination’s underlying technology but further optimize it for its own purposes. Silicon differentiation has been a key part of Apple’s mobile strategy having been formulated under the late Steve Jobs.