Star chip designer Gerard Williams III departs Apple after a nine-year stint

Gerard Williams III, Apple’s senior director in platform architecture, left the iPhone maker in February after spending nine years with the Cupertino technology company.

The departure is significant in that Williams led the design of every Apple chip core from the A7 that debuted in the 2013 iPhone 5s to the newest A12X Bionic powering the 2018 iOS devices.

According to Williams’ LinkedIn profile which he’s yet to update, he was Apple’s chief architect for all custom CPU and system-on-a-chip (SoC) development. Specifically, the profile states that he led architecture work on Apple’s custom 64-bit CPU cores powering iPhone and iPad models, code-named “Cyclone”, “Typhoon”, “Twister”, “Hurricane”, “Monsoon” and “Vortex”.

This has been exclusively reported by CNET over the weekend.

In recent years, Williams’ responsibilities had grown beyond leading the design of the custom CPU cores for Apple’s chips to overseeing the layout of the various parts of the system-on-a-chip, or SoC, inside the company’s mobile devices.

It’s standard for chip designers to pack more and more features—like the CPU brains of the device, GPU graphics and memory—onto the same physical package to improve battery life and reduce the size of the chips. In the case of Qualcomm, its Snapdragon processors also integrate its wireless modem onto the SoC.

He’s listed as an inventor on more than 60 Apple patents.

The report prompted some bloggers to spell doom for Apple. In reality, Gerard’s departure could very well be an ordinary exit for such an accomplished engineer. He joined Apple in 2010 after a twelve-year stint at the British fabless semiconductor designer ARM Holdings.

Prior to that, he was design team lead at Texas Instruments.

Williams’ work at the Cupertino tech giant began just as the company was finishing designing its first fully custom chip, the A10 processor that debuted in the original iPad and appeared a few months later in iPhone 4. Fast forward ten years later and Apple now has full control of its chip destiny in mobile, thanks in no small part to Gerard’s expertise.

Speculating, I’d say that Williams’ work at Apple is largely finished now. And due to the nature of his work, we are likely to see fruits of his unreleased project—namely custom chips for Mac computers—this or next year. Meaning, now’s the perfect time for an exit.

In 2017, Apple lost Manu Gulati, another chip architect. He was poached for a similar role at Google. Following Manu’s departure, Williams took over his role overseeing SoC architecture. All of Apple’s custom semiconductor projects are headed by Johny Srouji, who at one point was rumored as a candidate for the Intel CEO position.

Apple’s efforts to design more and more chips of its own than ever before have been actually accelerating in recent years as the company ramped up hiring around the globe.

While Williams’ departure is a loss for Apple, he hasn’t yet joined another company. That’s hardly a surprise: his contract with the Cupertino firm surely includes a clause preventing him from working in the semiconductor business for a few years.