Jim Keller, up until now the head of chip design operations at Apple, is leaving to return to one of his past employers, AMD. At Apple, Keller was primarily responsible for the A4 and A5 system-on-a-chip lines that are used in iOS devices, including the iPhone and iPad. So yeah, important. Keller will join AMD as corporate vice president and chief architect of AMD’s microprocessor cores. Arik Hesseldahl reports for AllThingsD:
The hiring is full of historical threads: Keller’s primary job had been to work on Apple’s A4 and A5 processors, the ones that go inside the iPhone and the iPad. Remember that Apple for a long time relied on South Korea’s Samsung — the same Samsung with which it is in an epic legal battle right now — to design and manufacture the chips that went into later generations of the iPod, and then the first iPhone.
Apple picked up Keller back in 2008 when they paid $278 million to acquire Keller's employer, PA Semi. Interestingly enough, Keller's boss at AMD will be Mark Papermaster who also left Apple about 2 years ago. Keller's previous position was senior vice president of iPhone engineering. Back in 2010 Apple also lost another one of their key chip executives, Dan Dobberpuhl, to a chip startup Agnilux who was later acquired by Google. Dobberpuhl was originally a co-founder of PA Semi, and and came to Apple through that acquisition along with Keller.
Keller's main position will involve taking some of the technology we see in mobile processors and bringing it back to the PC arena.
Apple will no doubt get someone talented and passionate to take over system-on-a-chip design. But this also marks yet another fairly prominent departure in the last few months, including senior vice presidents Bertran Serlet and Ron Johnson. Others who joined Apple through acquisition, like Andy Miller of Quatrro Wireless (iAd) and Dag Kittlaus of Siri have left as well. Some have retired, some have changed companies.
It's possible we're just hearing more about these lately, and certainly major executives like Tony Fadell, Jon Rubenstein, and Avie Tevanian left years ago. Is this just the normal comings and goings of any large company, or with new CEO Tim Cook on board, could we also be seeing a changing of the guard?