Tim Cook visits Israel to open Apple's new R&D center

Apple, it turns out, is already a major presence in Israel's tech economy - and is set to get bigger.

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Tim Cook does a selfie with Apple Israel employees. Image: Apple

From zero presence just a few years ago, Apple has become entrenched in the Israeli tech economy. And after acquiring two Israeli startups - Anobit in 2012 and PrimeSense in 2013 - Apple now has some 700 employees in the country, with 250 hired in just the last year, according to industry sources.

Speaking to Apple employees in Israel on Thursday, CEO Tim Cook said that Israel is now Apple's second largest engineering facility in the world.

Now, those workers - and the additional 50 the company is seeking to hire, the sources said - will be housed in a brand spanking new facility in Tel Aviv's tech suburb, Herzliya. Inaugurating the new Israel facility yesterday, Cook told Apple employees that "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."

A day earlier, Cook met with government officials, including Israeli president Reuven Rivlin. "Your contribution to humanity is unprecedented," Rivlin told Cook. "It's clear even to me, who prefers to write with a pen and paper, what a great miracle you have created when I see through my staff, and my grandchildren" using iPads and iPhones. Cook thanked the president for his welcome and said, "we have an enormous admiration for Israel, not just as an important ally for the US, but as a place to do business."

Although Apple has fewer than 1,000 employees in Israel - so far - the company actually has many more thousands of "affiliates" who belong to Apple's Paid Developer Program; there are over 6,500 members in Israel.

According to recent research from app research firm Vision Mobile, at least 20,000 jobs in Israel's app economy are directly attributable to iOS. That puts Apple close to the top of job-creating multinationals in Israel - bested only by Intel, which claims to be responsible for 30,000 Israeli jobs when suppliers and service personnel are taken into account.

According to the sources, most of Apple's direct employees in Israel are engineers. Among them are about 150 the company hired last year when Texas Instruments let some 250 engineers go after it closed its Israeli R&D site down. Apple hired most of them, beating out Intel, which was vying for the engineers as well.

According to sources quoted in the Israeli media, Apple "saw its opportunity and took it, hiring dozens of some of the most talented communications engineers in the world. They are bringing with them knowledge that Apple does not currently possess, and they will get a finished product almost specifically made for them." The sources quoted weren't referring to a specific product, but to designs that the TI engineers had been working on when they were laid off that they could easily reproduce for Apple. "It's part of Apple's new strategy of developing the technology it needs in-house, instead of relying on outside companies and contractors."

Apple's New Herzliya R&D center Image: Olivier Hess Photography

Along with the congratulatory statements, Rivlin and Cook discussed some of the other issues that concern Israel and Apple, such as diversity. "Diversity for us is part of how Apple achieves what it achieves," Cook said. "Employing people for who they are and not because of their ethnicity or background. When we work like this, we celebrate diversity, and benefit on all sides."

And for Rivlin, one symbol of diversity is Apple's VP of hardware technology Johny Srouji - an Israeli Arab born in the northern Israeli city of Haifa. The government in Israel has been on a major campaign to convince companies to hire more Israeli Arabs, and has set up numerous programs, including a salary subsidy scheme, as well as a sort of 'finishing school' in Nazareth, where university graduates can pick up tips on working in Israel's tech culture, polish their resumes and their English, and perfect their interviewing skills.

As such, Srouji, said Rivlin, could be a real role model for Israeli Arabs, and other minorities in the country. "Imagine what the world would be like with another five Johny Sroujis," said Rivlin. "We are proud of him, and all he has achieved."

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Apple CEO Tim Cook (L) with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin Image: Amos Ben Gershom/Goverment press office

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