Home > Mobile > There’s a storm brewing over the graphics…

There’s a storm brewing over the graphics chip inside the iPhone

Why it matters to you

A future iPhone may have a custom Apple-designed graphics chip inside, but a patent battle may precede it.

There’s a storm brewing over the graphics processor (GPU) used in the Apple iPhone, the iPad, and various other Apple mobile devices. At the moment, Apple uses a PowerVR chip from Imagination Technologies, usually alongside its own custom A10 processor; but this is likely to change in the next two years, and it’s believed Apple may be designing its own GPU for use in future devices.

It’s speculation for now, but the new information comes from Imagination Technologies itself. In a press release, the company stated, “Apple has asserted that it has been working on a separate, independent graphics design in order to control its products and will be reducing its future reliance on Imagination’s technology.”  Apple will stop using Imagination Technologies chips in 15 months to two years time, the statement further says.

Where’s the problem? If it happens, the existing license agreement between the two will end, and when the time comes, Apple will stop paying royalties to Imagination Technologies. It’s bad news as Imagination takes around half of its revenue from Apple, which has an eight-percent stake in the company.

However, Imagination believes Apple is mistaken if it thinks that in developing its own chip, it can avoid using Imagination’s patents, intellectual property, or information previously shared. It has asked Apple to provide evidence proving it doesn’t need Imagination’s technology to build its own chips, but apparently none has been provided thus far.

This means Imagination Technologies and Apple may be on the brink of a patent war, in the event Apple can’t defend its own chip design, or a new agreement between the two cannot be reached. Imagination makes it clear that, “alternative commercial arrangements” are being discussed with Apple, ensuring licenses and royalties continue in the event the pair split up. Imagination says more announcements on the matter will be made in the future.

This represents a drastic reversal of the events of last year, when Apple confirmed it had discussed an acquisition deal with Imagination. No offer was made, but we now have evidence that Apple has been considering the idea of designing, or at least controlling, its own GPU for some time.