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Apple has hired Soonho Ahn, an executive from Samsung SDI, Samsung’s battery development arm, presumably to head up Apple’s efforts to bring more of its component manufacturing in-house.
According to a report by Bloomberg, Soonho Ahn actually joined Apple last December as “global head of battery developments.” Ahn previously served as a senior VP at Samsung SDI for over three years, leading development of lithium battery packs and emerging battery technologies, according to his LinkedIn Profile.
While Samsung SDI is technically a separate company from Samsung Electronics, the latter is both its largest shareholder and biggest customer, according to Bloomberg. The company also supplies batteries for other applications, notably including carmakers, suggesting a possible link to Apple’s car project as well.
Neither Apple nor Ahn responded to requests for comment, however Samsung SDI is counted among the manufacturers that Apple has used batteries from in the past, so there’s an existing supplier relationship between the two companies, in much the same way that Apple purchases OLED displays from Samsung.
Apple has long been working to reduce its reliance on components from third-party manufacturers, while at the same time increasing efficiency and reducing environmental impact, and with Apple now designing almost all of its own core chips, a move into developing its own in-house battery technology seems like the next logical step. The company is also reportedly working on developing its own MicroLED displays and cellular modem chips, which would reduce its reliance on suppliers such as Samsung, Intel, and Qualcomm, the last of which Apple has been embroiled in a year-long legal battle with.
It was also revealed early last year that Apple has been looking to purchase cobalt — a key component used in lithium ion batteries — directly from mining companies, and trying to secure long-term contracts for several thousand metric tons of the mineral per year. According to Bloomberg, Samsung SDI has also been trying to secure its own sources of cobalt, with the market becoming more competitive as prices surge.
Apple’s attempts to secure its own sources of cobalt — and develop its own batteries — are also likely tied to its desire to ensure that all of its components are ethically produced, especially in light of revelations that much of the world’s cobalt supply comes from child labor. While Apple makes more effort than most large corporations to ensure that its entire supply chain uses ethically and environmentally responsible sources, this is even easier to accomplish when Apple controls the supply chain directly.
Apple has also been experimenting with different battery technologies and designs in order to produce not only more energy efficient devices, but to make better use of the limited space inside a mobile device such as an iPhone or Apple Watch. Apple reportedly called upon LG to produce a unique single-cell L-shaped battery that appeared in this year’s iPhone XS, and it seems likely that more such innovations will be required as Apple continues to pack more technology into the iPhone while still trying to keep it to the smallest form factor possible.