Apple buys photo-tech firm LinX for its third Israel acquisition

A local start-up may be able to help the tech giant build a better smartphone camera

LinX technology in action (Photo credit: Courtesy)
LinX technology in action (Photo credit: Courtesy)

On his recent trip to Israel, Apple CEO Tim Cook predicted that the company would make new acquisitions in the near future – and on Tuesday, that prediction came true, as Apple confirmed that it was buying Israeli digital photography tech firm LinX Imaging. The deal was worth about $25 million according to industry insiders quoted in the Hebrew media. LinX could not be reached for comment.

If the iPhone has been slipping in the race for the best camera against competitors from Samsung, LG, and others, as some in the media claim, the LinX acquisition could give Apple a major edge over others. Using advanced algorithms, LinX claims to have solved many of the problems inherent in the additional of small SLR-type cameras to smartphones.

“There are many attempts by various companies to develop multi aperture cameras but many of them suffer from serious artifacts,” the company said in a recent presentation. “We leveraged the multiple channels to boost the sensitivity of the camera which allows us to capture stunning images at very low light levels and keep exposure times short at normal indoor light levels. Our array cameras capture SLR like images in normal lighting conditions with very low noise levels.”

The LinX tech is very photography-oriented, taking into account lux levels (intensity of illumination), sensor pixel size (measured in microns), CMOS, image depth, and other technical distinctions that go over the head of most users but are important to the smooth functioning of a camera. One of the main problems LinX seeks to solve is compensating for the ever-shrinking size of pixels on smartphone sensors (the smaller the pixel size, the more pixels can be fit onto a sensor, and the higher the megapixel level the phone’s manufacturer can claim).

The cost to the user is lower quality photos, due to the lower levels of light that hit the sensor because of the smaller pixel size. “Single aperture traditional cameras as used in all mobile devices do not perform well with such small pixels due to pixel cross talk and other physical effects which occur when the pixel size approaches the wavelength of light,” LinX said.

Using its technology, the company said, manufacturers can develop cameras that are “less sensitive to cross talk and are more tolerant to low SNR of the pixels as the camera collects more photons per pixel generating images with low noise levels,” resulting in higher quality snapshots.

Based in Caesarea, LinX was founded in 2011 by Ziv Attar, who has had over 15 years of experience developing & commercializing EO products for various markets and applications mainly in the consumer, medical and defense fields; and Andrey Tovchigrechko, a mathematician who has worked in the field for over a decade and a half.

Apple in February opened an R&D center in Herzliya, hiring dozens more engineers in recent months to fill positions there. According to sources in Apple’s Israeli operation, Apple has hired dozens of engineers who are “bringing with them knowledge that Apple does not currently possess, and they will get a finished product almost specifically made for them.”

Apple’s R&D relationship with Israel goes back to 2012, when the US tech giant bought out Haifa-based Anobit, a maker of the flash memory controllers used in many Apple products, and in 2013, the company again expanded in Israel, buying motion tech firm PrimeSense.

On his recent trip here, Cook told Apple Israel’s 700 employees that its activity in the country is “very important” to the company. “Apple is in Israel because the engineering talent here is incredible. You guys are incredibly important to everything that we do and to all the products that we build.”

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