A report from The Information highlights employee retention issues inside Apple’s silicon group, with some employees sourced citing extremely long hours and stressful workloads. Apple is currently embroiled in litigation with at least two startups, Nuvia and Rivos, who have poached dozens of engineers from Apple, and who Apple claims stole proprietary information about its chip designs.
The most interesting anecdote is the claim that Apple was working on a next-generation GPU for the iPhone 14 Pro, but an engineering design mistake was found late in development which meant the plans had to be scrapped …
The report says engineers were “too ambitious with adding new features” and prototypes had much higher power draw than the simulated estimates expected. This meant the GPU would have impacted battery life too much to be usable, and incurred thermal issues. As a result, it couldn’t be used for the iPhone 14 Pro line.
The shipping iPhone 14 Pro GPU cores use a similar architecture to the cores found in the A15 chip from iPhone 13 Pro, without any big leaps to speak of. (During the September iPhone keynote, Apple briefly mentioned that the 5-core GPU had 50% higher memory bandwidth.) The new GPU would have supported advanced features such as hardware-accelerated ray tracing, according to The Information.
The Information uses that anecdote as an example of cracks in Apple custom silicon’s effort, which has given Apple’s products significant market advantages up to now, across iPhone, iPad and Mac. The GPU mistake is described as ‘unprecedented in the group’s history’.
The division, headed by Apple SVP Johnny Srouji, is facing challenges to continue delivering industry-leading performance and power efficiency improvements. The Information notes that many of Apple’s top chip engineers have departed the company in the last few years.
For instance, top CPU designer Gerard Williams III left to run his own startup, Nuvia, in 2019. Apple replaced his post with Mike Filippo. However, Filippo is said to have clashed with engineers and left earlier this year to join Microsoft. Since then, Apple has not named a replacement.
The article also says Apple has tried to reduce the amount of brain drain in the unit, by showing presentations to engineers that highlight the riskiness of chip startups and warning that most fail. A job at Apple is positioned as the safer choice in the face of economic downturn. Read The Information report in full here, which dives deeper into the ongoing lawsuits with Nuvia and Rivos.
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