Last week (June 9th) Geektime Code 2022, Geektime’s annual development conference, went on its way. The opening lecture was given by Rony Friedman, CEO of Apple Israel, who revealed to the 1,200 developers from around the country that attended the event, the latest developments coming out of Apple’s Research and Development center in Israel, including those announced just a few days ago.
Generally, Apple doesn't reveal what it's working on, except today
"Usually, Apple does not divulge about what they are working on," said Friedman, but expanded on the key role that the company's Israeli center takes in its various developments: from the SoC and communication components in the Apple Watch, through the much-loved Face ID system of the iPhones and iPads, all the storage solutions for Apple products, the cameras of the iPhone Pro, and of course, the development of Apple's flagship ‘M’ processors. "We have had the opportunity to contribute to many of Apple's products and technologies, and we are very excited about that opportunity."
Friedman reviewed one of the most interesting developments in the new iPhones, that was developed in Israel, their depth cameras (or LiDAR). These cameras can measure the distance of objects from the camera, and so can enable the creation of depth maps. Friedman explained that the development uses stereoscopic cameras that calculate the depth combined with standard RGB cameras, and the use of machine learning and an array of object tracking. The result is one that allows you to take better portrait shots, focus on objects quickly, place objects in AR and use the Measure app when you forget to bring a tape measure to a furniture store.
The development of the LiDAR system also plays an integral part in the Cinematic Mode feature that Apple has highlighted when launching the iPhone 13. For those who don't know, this mode is a pretty cool feature– the new iPhone’s camcorder allows you to switch between different focus centers in a cinematic way, both while shooting, but also after. "I'm sure you can think of other ways these basic technologies can be used,” Friedman said.
How to increase performance without increasing energy consumption?
Friedman didn't just speak about Apple’s LiDAR. He also spoke about Apple's new flagship processor, the M2, which was unveiled at WWDC 2022, just three days prior to the Geektime’s conference. Since Apple made the transition from x86 processors to homemade ARM processors, it impressed all those in the tech world thanks to the processor's performance, energy-saving, and battery life. Moreover, the M2 is also expected to be continued for use in MacBooks but also in future iPads.
Friedman says that the M2 will have more than 20 billion transistors to deliver the expected performance but claims that Apple has an "almost religious focus" when it comes to energy and performance efficiency: "If you want a thin, light, Form Factor with a long battery life, you need to increase performance but without increasing power." Friedman explained that this focus started in the initial design, and continued to the production processes, where the company aims for efficient circuits; it then moves to the architectural processes of the main processor and the graphics processor so that its performance is efficient, with low power consumption and more. Friedman also says that, among other things, the team in Israel worked on a memory access system that includes different levels of caching, which leads to a minimization of the output to the external memory and improves performance while minimizing power consumption. "At every SoC we also design a Harbor Accelerator that accelerates a host of algorithms related to security, media or imaging, and ML. When you use the accelerator, you get 10 times the power unit improvements. In addition, Apple performs a type of optimization for processing so that different units in the SoC operate on different types of tasks, while other parts of the chip that aren't relevant for that task are turned off, so they thereby consume almost no energy. Of course, toward the end of the process, the optimization between software and hardware occurs.
The result of this intense development process is that the new MacBook Air shows tens of percent improvements in performance compared to the previous generation (which was powerful enough), with a bright Liquid Retina display, battery life of up to 18 hours, and is still lighter and thinner than ever. In other words, it is the ‘religious discipline’ that Friedman is talking about that motivates the Israeli team to find the balance between powerful performance and energy efficiency.
Roughly 2,000 workers here in Israel
Apple Israel is celebrating a decade of activity this year. It currently employs about 2,000 workers in its development centers in Haifa and Herzliya; Friedman revealed that 350 of the workers were brought on as a result of acquisitions of Israeli startups and the rest joined thanks to organic growth. "Why did Apple come to Israel?" Friedman asked, "The answer is clear: innovation and creativity. If you are looking for a place where you can find a high concentration of very good engineers, like those who you see in Apple, Israel is the place." When asked about how Apple Israel addressed the issue of diversity, Friedman said that relative to Israeli high-tech, Apple is in the highest percentage of employing Arab engineers, and Orthodox women and that the company continues to work to increase inclusion with different programs they initiate.