Digital World: Snooping around for the Israeli clue

Just what do Israeli high-tech firms produce for the likes of Microsoft, Google, IBM, Intel, Sun, or Cisco? It's not easy to get the information.

Google office 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Google office 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Like beachcombers wielding metal detectors, or a kid poring through the latest Where’s Waldo book, people like me, who write about Israeli technology, pore through the announcements and news on the latest and greatest innovations, searching for a hint that the new big thing was created using Israeli know-how.
It takes a lot of sweat equity, but often the search yields a nice bonus: the revelation that a popular product or important technology was born due to Israeli know-how, providing us with another point of pride, and giving me something to write about! At times, though, it’s a challenge; not all Israeli companies are interested in letting it be known that they are responsible for a key technology, without which a major component of our modern world just wouldn’t be there, at least in the context we know it.
Some (very few, actually, based on my observations) prefer to keep this information quiet, to avoid getting into a political tug-of-war with the anti-Israel crowd, which has been known to occasionally target products and companies for boycotts, albeit usually very unsuccessfully (in fact, I can’t think of one successful boycott).
But there are other reasons as well.
An Israeli startup with a hot technology may be working out, or already have, a deal with a multinational that is planning to use the technology in a major product. It could be that the multinational doesn’t want it to get out that it did not develop the technology in-house, so they ask the Israeli supplier to keep the news in “stealth mode,” where it remains until the contract runs out, the partnership ends, or the Israeli company decides to sell itself to a third party.
There have been (and are) dozens of examples of companies like this. A relatively well-known example is a company called N-Trig, which I’ve written about before. N-Trig makes touchscreens that are used in laptops and smartphones (think Dell, Fujitsu, HTC, etc.). If you didn’t know the company was based in Israel, you wouldn’t realize it – there’s nothing on the N-Trig site that identifies it as an Israeli company. But a little sleuthing (i.e., checking the Chief Scientist’s website) shows that it’s based in Kfar Saba.
But there’s another category of Israeli hi-tech company that’s much more close-lipped about its technology, location, or just about anything else: the directly owned Israeli subsidiary or R&D lab of a large multinational.
For various reasons, nearly all big companies keep a lid on the specific technologies that are developed by their Israeli agencies.
Not that they try to hide their connection with Israel; it’s just the opposite.
In my experience, Microsoft, Google, IBM, Intel, Sun (now Oracle), Cisco and a slew of other tech giants are pleased as pie to let you know they work with Israeli companies, and that they are overjoyed with what their Israeli team produces. Ah, but just what do they produce? You won’t get that information out of Corporate – and neither will you get it out of the local Israeli office, even though you just know they would love to let you know what they’ve been up to. But corporate rules are rules, and no director of R&D is going to violate them just to give us Israelis a good feeling about how bright we are for coming up with such a great idea. Which is a bit sad, because big companies are often where the biggest – and most interesting – innovations are made.
Unless I had gotten an inside tip from a friend, for example, and he had not followed up on it with HQ, I would never have gotten the scoop on the Amazon Kindle’s very strong connection to Israeli technology. That’s the kind of thing we want to hear more about – and it’s precisely the kind of thing large corporations are very reluctant to let out, for their own reasons.
And so the hunt. If they won’t tell us what we want – need – to know, we’ll figure it out for ourselves, thank you very much. And so we comb through news reports, press releases, Linkedin bios and Facebook and Twitter postings to find that golden hint – the one that will tell us that this, too, is “our baby.”
The latest baby I’m working on is the one announced last week by Intel: the breakthrough 22-nanometer Tri- Gate (aka 3-D) transistor, which promises to further – far further – shrink the already quite small phones, handheld devices and other products, while making them far more powerful than they are now.
Without getting too complicated, the advantage of this transistor is that it’s vertical (as opposed to the horizontal found in current chips) fin allows conducting channels to form on three sides, meaning more power can get into a transistor more quickly, making it more powerful.
That’s great for Intel – but what about Israel? Were the Tri-Gate transistors the product of Israeli know-how, via one of the company’s eight centers here? Certainly it isn’t a farfetched question, given Intel’s history with Israel – and the amount of technology that has already been developed for Intel here. Just look at the list of Intel code names for its projects to see the many Hebrew terms and place names that pepper the Intel development culture.
So, the chase was on. News stories and websites were checked for hints, and I even spoke to Intel Israel spokesperson Koby Bahar, a very nice guy who, of course, played it cool and kindly directed me to the official press release for more information (and of course, the press release said nothing about where the transistors were developed). He did say, however, that as far as he knew, transistor research was done “elsewhere,” and had traditionally not been done in Israel.
Some more research yielded even more Web pages, including one from the real underside of Google (a cached page, half of it in Japanese), that seemed to indicate Oregon as the center of Intel transistors. That, and a few other hints, seemed to indicate that Israel, this time, was not at the center of this latest Intel development.
But not to worry: Israel will yet again have its day in the sun. Those transistors are being developed for the next iteration of Intel’s Sandy Bridge processor, called Ivy Bridge, which will proudly be made in Intel’s Kiryat Gat plant.
Intel just recently spent $2.7 billion to get the place ready for the new processors, meaning that Israel will be producing the company’s most advanced processor. And that’s nothing to sneeze at!