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Apple ramping up hiring to bolster in-house camera hardware, software teams

The number of open positions in Apple's camera engineering group has risen dramatically in recent weeks, as the company looks to maintain its lead in an increasingly competitive mobile imaging market.

Apple advertised 9 openings in February and has added at least 15 more just 12 days into March, with a majority located at the company's Cupertino, Calif. corporate headquarters. A smattering of other positions, mostly related to manufacturing and vendor relations, are available in Tokyo, Taipei, Shanghai, and Tel Aviv, AppleInsider discovered.

While the camera modules that make it into Apple products are manufactured by partners like Sony, Apple is said to make significant contributions to the components' design. The unique five-element lens system that debuted in the iPhone 5, for instance, is an in-house innovation.

More than half of the positions have been posted in the last two weeks.

In that spirit, recent postings touch on nearly every facet of the camera design process. Sensor design, lens metrology, camera module integration, mechanical engineering, firmware, and computational imaging software positions are all among those represented.

One posting in particular, for a camera prototyping engineer, gives a unique insight into the way Apple develops its products.

"The Camera Experience Prototyping team is responsible for the early prototyping of the potential experience of new products or features to the wider team," the posting reads. "The technologies used for the demonstrations do not have to be representative of what will be used in production. They should be able to provide a real demonstration of the user experience defined by the User Experience Leader that allows the user value of the feature to be correctly assessed."

This process is representative of late Apple CEO Steve Jobs's goal "to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology," and likely explains Apple's desire to bring as much of its component development as possible in-house rather than relying on off-the-shelf hardware from third-party suppliers.

Among the mobile imaging upgrades Apple is known to be working on are interchangeable lenses, refocusable light-field modules, multi-device synchronized flash, and multi-sensor, multi-lens cameras. The company has also made a number of acquisitions in the field, most notably last year's $360 million deal for Israeli 3D imaging company PrimeSense.