Apple's $390M for iPhone laser chip maker will 'push boundaries'

The investment in Finisar will fund the production of chips that power iPhone features such as Face ID and animojis.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read

The laser chips power features such as animoji.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Everyone gets spendy in the run-up to Christmas, even tech giants such as Apple.

The company announced Wednesday that it's investing $390 million in laser chip maker Finisar.

Finisar will use the money to refurbish a manufacturing plant in Texas, where it will build chips designed to power iPhone features including Face ID, animojis and portrait photography. The 700,000-square foot plant in the town of Sherman, which was closed in 2012, will provide jobs for 500 skilled workers and start shipping in the second half of 2018.

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The investment comes from Apple's $1 billion Advanced Manufacturing Fund, announced back in May. It's the second time the company has put its hand in its pocket this week, after announcing its acquisition of music recognition app Shazam on Monday.

Apple does acquire companies from time to time, but its investment in Finisar is different. Rather than buying the company outright, it is funding research and development in a show of its commitment to providing tech jobs in the US.

The iPhone maker came under fire in 2016 from President Donald Trump for basing much of its manufacturing in China. Apple CEO Tim Cook defended the company, pointing to its creation of millions of jobs in the US. The announcement of the Advanced Manufacturing Fund, which specifically invests in US manufacturing companies, followed shortly after.

Finisar isn't the first company to benefit from the fund -- that honor went to Corning, which makes the durable Gorilla Glass displays found on many phones. Finisar's specialty lies in making chips known as vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers, or VCSELs. These power many of the newer features Apple has introduced in the last few generations of iPhone, such as the proximity-sensing capabilities of AirPods and the TrueDepth camera on the iPhone X.

"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, in a statement.

"We're extremely proud that our involvement will help transform another American community into a manufacturing powerhouse."

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