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Friday, June 26, 2009, 06:00 am PT (09:00 am ET)

Apple ups stake in iPhone graphics chip designer

Apple has increased its holdings in Imagination Technologies, the chip designer responsible for the graphics technology inside the iPhone and iPod touch, and now holds a combined 9.5% stake in the company.

The British firm said Friday that Apple subscribed to 2.2 million new shares at £1.4275 per share — the mid market close price on 25 June 2009 — shortly after purchasing another 11.52 million shares on the open market. Combined, the investment of nearly US$5.2 million, brings the iPhone maker's total ownership interest in the company to 9.5%, up from 3.6%.

Apple is a "multi-year, multi-IP, multi-use" licensee of Imagination's current and future portfolio of PowerVR mobile graphics components, including the next generation PowerVR SGX VXD video IP cores.

That agreement is part of a broader, triangular deal orchestrated by the Cupertino-based electronics maker, shortly after acquiring fabless chipmaker PA Semi, that will allow it to internally develop its own next-generation mobile SoCs for future multi-touch handhelds that incorporate Imagination's latest graphics technology and then use Samsung to manufacture the chips.

Earlier this month, AppleInsider was first to report that the new iPhone 3GS achieves its OpenGL ES 2.0 support through the use of the PowerVR SGX graphics processor core, confirming predictions it made as early as April 2008 when news first broke of the secret deal struck between Imagination, Samsung, and Apple.

Apple's move to increase its holdings in Imagination comes just days after Intel over a period of two weeks upped its own stake in the chip designer to just over 16% by gobbling up tens of millions of new shares of its own. Like Apple, Intel is also a licensee of Imaginations technology, which it plans to incorporate into its Atom processor for netbooks and other mobile internet devices (MIDS).

The continued investment in Imagination by both tech heavyweights underscores the chip designer's position as a leader in mobile graphics technology, for which there is no equal. Although both companies have gradually increased their holdings in the UK-based firm, neither has shown signs of entertaining a serious takeover bid for the company, despite recent activity in Imagination's share price that would suggest otherwise.