Ex-Apple executive joins startup aimed at banishing smartphone cables

(This October 31 story adds dropped word ‘he’ in final paragraph)

Keyssa Inc Chief Wireless Strategist Ruben Caballero and CEO Eric Almgren in one of the company’s labs in Campbell, California, U.S., October 18, 2019. REUTERS/Stephen Nellis

By Stephen Nellis

CAMPBELL, California (Reuters) – For over 14 years at Apple Inc, Rubén Caballero had to include a cable with every iPhone design whose wireless engineering he oversaw, from the first prototypes in 2005 to iPhone 11 models on shelves now.

Now, as chief wireless strategist for Silicon Valley startup Keyssa Inc, Caballero hopes to cut the cord for good – for all smartphones. His new position has not been previously reported.

Every iPhone since the first released in 2007 has come with a cable as a failsafe way to transfer data, as has virtually every other brand of phone.

Keyssa wants to end that with its chip that can transfer data nearly as fast as a wire by placing two devices next to each other. Early customer LG Electronics Inc uses the chip to connect the second screen of its LG V50 smart phone.

Wireless charging has taken hold in phones, but wireless data connections like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi remain too finicky to discard cables altogether.

Keyssa has raised more than $100 million from the venture groups at Intel Corp, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, Foxconn parent Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd and Future Shape, a fund run by Tony Fadell, another former Apple executive who helped create the iPod and then hired Caballero for the original iPhone team.

“Every single consumer product would love to solve the external connector,” Caballero, who left Apple earlier this year, said in an interview at Keyssa’s headquarters in Campbell, California.

Caballero, a retired Canadian Air Force captain who favors all-black attire, also has his eyes on the inside of phones. There, cables cause engineering headaches.

Camera modules connect to main circuit boards with a thin cables. Bend them enough and they break, creating an unintentional “beautiful antenna” that interferes with cellular data connections, Caballero said.

With Keyssa’s chips, camera modules could touch the circuit board to transmit data wirelessly. The chips use high frequencies that cause no interference inside the phone or with nearby devices.

“What’s beautiful about this is the frequency,” Caballero said. “It just fixes a lot of problems.”

Aside from phones, Keyssa is testing chips with video display makers and at least one maker of lidar sensors, the electronic eyes of self-driving cars.

“Ruben is a powerhouse when it comes to commercializing great technology,” Fadell told Reuters.

Caballero brings with him experience overseeing more than 1,000 Apple wireless engineers in a department with a budget of $600 million for testing equipment alone.

Slideshow (3 Images)

Before joining Apple, Caballero worked at two startups and relished the frenzied pace there and during his early days at Apple working with Fadell.

When Fadell brought him to Apple in 2005, Caballero asked where all the test equipment and labs were for the group.

“He said, ‘We don’t have anything, but we’ll get it done,’” Caballero said. “You know when he has something in his eyes – you can see the vision. After that, I was hooked. I used to sleep under my desk. When you have that passion, it’s incredible. And I feel it here.”

Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Richard Chang

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