Apple Inc. is aggressively hiring engineers in Qualcomm Inc.’s home base of San Diego, seeking designers to develop wireless components and processors that would further weaken the chipmaker’s chances of supplying chips for the iPhone maker’s future devices.
This month, Apple published 10 job listings on its website for chip design-related positions located in San Diego, marking the first time the technology giant has publicly recruited for such roles in the Southern California hotbed for chip design. Apple is advertising for engineers to work on multiple types of chip components, including its Neural Engine artificial intelligence processor and wireless chips.
Apple is seeking hardware and software engineers to work on wireless components, implying that it may be adding a new location for its efforts to produce wireless chips. It already houses chip designers in several locations, including in prime areas for poaching from chip-designing rivals.
Apple’s chipmaking operations are still based at its Cupertino, Calif., headquarters. The company has increased the number of components it designs itself over the lifetime of the iPhone. That gives it the ability to differentiate its flagship products from those made by rivals that rely on a shrinking pool of chipmakers for standard components produced on their schedule. It also gives Apple greater control over costs.
The company has released wireless chips for AirPods and the Apple Watch, but it hasn’t produced its own complete wireless systems for the iPhone, its bestselling device. Apple is seeking engineers with experience in mainstream wireless protocols such as LTE and Bluetooth, and those with experience in newer technology such as 5G and millimeter wave.
The most important wireless component in the iPhone is the modem, which enables the device to connect to cellular towers to access the internet and make phone calls. Beginning in 2011, Apple used Qualcomm modems, but in 2017 the iPhone maker started to break away by also using modems from Intel Corp. This year, amid its ongoing patent and royalties fight with Qualcomm, Apple stopped using Qualcomm modems in its latest devices.
The move to hire wireless technology experts in Qualcomm’s backyard only intensifies that fight, indicating Apple is moving to even further reduce its reliance on external chipmakers and could be gearing up to launch more wireless chips in house. Apple already makes several of its own chips, including those for the main processor of its devices, graphics engines and specific functions for Mac computers. It has also started shipping its own power management components in some products and plans to replace Intel chips in Macs in at least some computer models as early as 2020.
Apple declined to respond to requests for comment on its chip production efforts. Qualcomm declined to comment.
It’s unclear whether Apple has already opened a new office in San Diego for a new hardware engineering group or whether it is placing the engineers in offices it acquired with the purchases of Shazam and artificial intelligence start-up Emotient.