HLI becomes VCSEL laser supplier for AirPods

Vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL) parts are used in both the TrueDepth camera and AirPods, and now a new provider of VCSELs has entered Apple’s supply chain.

According to Wednesday’s headline published before going to press by Taiwanese trade publication DigiTimes, HLI has now officially become a VCSEL laser supplier for AirPods.

HLI will join Finisar, the current supplier of VCSEL parts for the iPhone X TrueDepth camera and AirPods. AirPods use VCSEL-based optical sensors for proximity sensing, which lets them automatically pause audio playback as soon as one of the earbuds is not in your ear.

TUTORIAL: How to use AirPods like a pro

This comes hot on the heels of today’s news that Apple is the largest customer of VCSEL wafers in the world, revealing its $390 million investment in Finisar. The investment will bring 500 manufacturing jobs and help transform Finisar’s shuttered 700,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Texas into the “high-tech VCSEL capital of the United States.”

A close inspection of a VCSEL wafer during production

“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 Apple’s operations chief Jeff Williams.

100% of the VCSEL components that Apple buys from Finisar will be made in Texas.

A set of Finisar-made VCSEL wafers

The iPhone maker claims it has led the development and production of the most advanced VCSELs used in the history of consumer electronics. It argues that VCSEL technology is a better performing, more compact solution compared to traditional edge-emitting lasers for things like depth mapping, 3D facial recognition, Animoji and more.

Photo top of post: a VCSEL component assembly tool on Finisar’s manufacturing floor