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article imageApple invests $390m in TrueDepth supplier Finisar

By James Walker     Dec 13, 2017 in Technology
Apple's announced it will invest $390m into Finisar, the company that manufactures components for Apple's TrueDepth iPhone cameras. Finisar's technology is behind many of Apple's latest innovations, including Face ID and Animoji on the iPhone X.
Finisar is being awarded the investment as part of Apple's wider $1 billion Advanced Manufacturing Fund to help component makers. Apple said it will lead to new job opportunities and innovation at American manufacturers. Finisar will hire 500 skilled staff to work at a new 700,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Sherman, Texas.
Finisar intends to "exponentially increase" the production of its vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs). These provide optical communication functionalities and are a vital component of Apple's new TrueDepth sensors. VCSELs enable devices to sense depth and the 3D world around them. They're crucial to technologies such as augmented reality and Apple's AI-enabled Face ID biometric authentication.
It's clear why Apple's decided to invest in Finisar. The company needs to ensure a ready supply of TrueDepth components for its new iPhone X. It's likely to add the tech to more devices going forward, including all of next year's iPhones and iPads. Finisar's already near the limits of its capacity though and there are few other suppliers of VCSEL components. Apple's investment will be vital to ensure there's enough parts to enable the mass availability of depth-sensing tech.
Apple will invest $390m in Finisar
Apple will invest $390m in Finisar
Apple/Finisar
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Apple said it will purchase 10 times more VCSEL wafers this quarter than have been previously manufactured worldwide over a "similar" time period. Apple's not the only company interested in VCSEL technology either. It's likely Android manufacturers will demand similar capabilities next year, placing additional stress on an already pressurised supply chain.
"VCSELs power some of the most sophisticated technology we’ve ever developed and we’re thrilled to partner with Finisar over the next several years to push the boundaries of VCSEL technology and the applications they enable," said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer.
"Technology is only as good as the people behind it, and Finisar is a company with a long history of putting its employees first and supporting the community it’s a part of. We’re extremely proud that our involvement will help transform another American community into a manufacturing powerhouse."
Apple's widely believed to have already faced setbacks with obtaining VCSEL wafers. The original batch of iPhone X handsets reportedly contained less than 50,000 units. There were significant delays in launch shipping times as Apple failed to meet initial demand. Although new orders are now being shipped more quickly, it's thought problems with the TrueDepth camera's depth-mapping features were responsible for the manufacturing difficulties.
Finisar should have its new plant in Texas fully operational during the second half of 2018. The company has already begun hiring staff to work at the facility, which is expected to provide a significant economic boost to the local economy. Sherman Mayor David Plyler said he's "thrilled" at the news, describing the area as the "industry and commerce hub of North Texas."
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