SAN JOSE, Calif. Apple Inc. has confirmed the company hired Bob Drebin, a former chief technology officer of the graphics group at Advanced Micro Devices with deep roots in graphics chips for videogame consoles.
The hire adds to the company's growing prowess in silicon at a time when some observers have said Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch are becoming increasingly interesting as game platforms
An online news site was the first to recognize Drebin changed his LinkedIn profile, listing his job as a senior director at Apple. Drebin helped develop the graphics chip used in the Nintendo GameCube while at startup ArtX, acquired by ATI Technologies in 2000. He remained with ATI through the acquisition by AMD in 2006 rising from engineering director to graphics unit CTO.
Drebin joins a growing host of silicon talent at Apple. The company hired Mark Papermaster, a top IBM engineering manager who took charge of Apple's iPod and iPhone engineering groups in January. The hire sparked a legal dispute with IBM which designed silicon for all the latest Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony videogame consoles.
Last spring, Apple acquired for about $278 million P.A. Semi, a startup that designed a low power PowerPC chip for networking. Apple chief executive Steve Jobs later confirmed to the New York Times the group will help design next-generation chips for the iPhone and iPod.
To some extent, the hires are an influx of new blood. Tony Fadell, who lead the development of the original iPod, and Jon Rubenstein, Apple's longtime vice president of hardware engineering, left the company in the past year for personal reasons. Rubinstein has since re-emerged at Palm as the driving force behind its upcoming Pre handset.
Drebin's hire comes at a time when at least one analyst said he has seen a prototype Apple device he called a media pad that looked similar to the Amazon Kindle2 but sported a color high definition screen and a touch-screen interface. Rumors have circulated for months that the company is working on its own version of a netbook, a mobile system in between a smart phone and notebook computer.
Drebin's hire highlights Apple's need to grow its expertise in "multi-stream visual computing on multicore processors," across everything from high-end professional workstations to pocket-sized consumer devices, said Richard Doherty, principal of Envisioneering (Seaford, NY).
"They all require massively parallel visual computing capabilities that evolve faster than competing systems based on Microsoft Windows," Doherty said.
On the mobile front, "the iPhone could be a leading game platform in a few years," he said. "People at Sony and Nintendo have seen their hair go gray watching what's been happening with the iPhone and games," he added.
Drebin brings Apple expertise in multicore graphics processors, skills that could help accelerate the time to market for such systems, Doherty said. Apple has long been a user of both AMD and Nvidia graphics chips, a trend that won't likely change with the new hire, he added.