Apple Inc. is spending $390 million to boost production from a maker of laser technology that’s critical for new iPhone X features such as facial recognition.
Apple, whose products can stretch the manufacturing capabilities of suppliers, will invest the money in Finisar Corp. from a $1 billion manufacturing fund announced earlier this year with the aim of creating more American jobs. Finisar will use the funds to reopen a plant in Sherman, Texas, that will employ 500 people. Finisar’s shares surged as much as 32 percent, the biggest intraday gain since 2009. Apple stock rose less than 1 percent.
The design process at Apple balances creating ground-breaking technology against the manufacturing challenge of finding suppliers who can provide the number of components needed to put new features inside hundreds of millions of handsets.
Many of Apple’s new facial-recognition features including one in which emojis mimic a person’s facial expressions require lasers that track tiny movements. The technology, which uses vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers, is also part of the company’s emerging augmented reality efforts. Apple said it will purchase 10 times more of the technology this quarter than has ever previously been manufactured over a three-month period.
Gene Munster, a longtime Apple analyst who now serves as a partner at Loup Ventures, said the deal gives Apple a competitive advantage for smartphone-based augmented reality products.
“This investment shows the company is doubling down on AR again, and locks down the VCSEL market, which will make it tough for other smartphone players to compete in AR,” he wrote. The deal also suggests Apple will include these sensors in additional products. The iPhone X is currently the only Apple product with a facial recognition sensor. Apple is working on a new iPad with the feature for next year, Bloomberg News has reported.