Apple: Investments in Japan breached US$100bn, with Sony being the biggest supplier
- Apple shared that it had invested more than US$100 billion in its Japanese supply network over the last five years, while admitting that Sony is its biggest supplier.
- CEO Tim Cook confessed that the iPhone maker has been using Sony image sensors in its smartphones for over a decade, deducing the rumors that the tech giant is only now considering the Japanese company’s tech.
Within the industry, it is known that Apple is typically tight-lipped about its suppliers — but the tech giant had just unveiled that “to create the world’s leading camera sensors for iPhone”, Sony Group have been supplying them with image sensors for over a decade. When CEO Tim Cook shared it in a tweet, it was quite a revelation, considering that there were talks suggesting Apple will include the Japanese giant’s latest state-of-the-art image sensor in its next lineup of iPhones.
“We’ve been partnering with Sony for over a decade to create the world’s leading camera sensors for the iPhone. Thanks to Ken and everyone on the team for showing me around the cutting-edge facility in Kumamoto today,” Cook tweeted, after visiting the epicenter of the country’s semiconductor industry. Cook also indicated that Sony has in fact been one of its biggest suppliers in Japan.
He visited Kumamoto prefecture in southwestern Japan, home to factories of many semiconductor and leading technology firms, including one under construction by the world’s biggest chip maker, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC). Apple largely keeps tight-lipped about the specifics of the hardware components that go into each iPhone, as hardware specifics have tended to matter less in the age of computational photography.
Great to be back in Japan! Visited the historic Kumamoto Castle and learned about their work to restore this incredible landmark. 🇯🇵 pic.twitter.com/SOGAqnfud4
— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) December 12, 2022
Over the years there have been reports and industry rumors that pointed towards Apple’s use of Sony hardware. Even past iFixit teardowns have referenced specific Sony model numbers from Apple’s iPhones. For context, Sony is regarded as a leader in the image sensor market, commanding 44% of the market share for CMOS image sensors as of last year, Nikkei Asia noted. Samsung comes in second with 18.5% market share.
That said, Cook’s visit to Sony’s facility suggests the partnership is very much alive and it doesn’t seem like it will cease soon. Even a recent report in Nikkei Asia had indicated that Sony will supply Apple with its “latest state-of-the-art image sensor”, with the component expected to feature in the next series of iPhones that go on sale next year.
For context, Sony is said to have developed a new image sensor that uses a new semiconductor architecture to capture more light and reduce both over- and underexposure. Codenamed “LYTIA,” the Sony stacked CMOS image sensor has been available in Sony Xperia smartphones since 2021 and is capable of doubling the saturation and dynamic range of each pixel so that it allows more light to be captured by the sensor, even with a strong backlit condition.
The result is that the sensor reduces clipping caused by overexposure, and pulls out details, particularly with the human face, in low light conditions that could cause a normal smartphone camera to underexpose. For Apple, it will likely be a second-generation model of the new sensory by Sony.
For Apple, Japan is no small feat — and it’s not just all about Sony
During his visit in Japan this week, Cook also unveiled that it had invested more than US$100 billion in its Japanese supply network over the last five years. In a later statement, Apple said it had boosted its spending on suppliers in Japan by more than 30% since 2019, with a network spanning nearly 1,000 companies, from multi-nationals to family-run businesses.
The tech giant also mentioned medium- and small enterprises including textile firm Inoue Ribbon Industry Co and mold manufacturer Shincron Co as partners. In total, Apple said 29 Japanese suppliers have committed to converting to renewable energy for Apple-related businesses by 2030, including Sony, Murata Manufacturing Co, Keiwa Inc, Fujikura and Sumitomo Electric Industries.
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