Entrepreneurs, Technology

How Melbourne-based cinema and TV company Blackmagic Design landed an exclusive partnership with Apple

Dominic Powell /

Blackmagic Design Apple

Grant Petty, founder of Blackmagic Design. Source: Supplied.

A Melbourne-based cinema software and hardware company has landed a coveted product partnership with global tech giant Apple, which has given its seal of approval to Blackmagic Design’s new external graphics processor, the Blackmagic eGPU.

The eGPU is a graphics card that can be plugged into a laptop via either HDMI, USB 3.0, or Apple Thunderbolt connection, and provides the device an extra boost in processing power, akin to what you would get from a desktop computer.

Apple announced it would support external graphics chips over Thunderbolt last year, and since then a few developers have thrown their hats in the ring and started to develop compatible devices. However, Blackmagic is the only company that’s gained Apple’s official tick of approval.

For any company, a partnership with the $US951 billion ($1.2 trillion) Apple would be a dream come true, but for Blackmagic, an Australian business founded in 2001, it’s a total tour de force.

The local company’s usual playing field is in the TV and cinema industries. It boasts a long line of products in both software and hardware relating to video capture and playback, editing, colour adjustment, cameras, and visual effects, all priced with the aim of cutting down barriers to entry to the expensive world of video production.

Speaking to SmartCompany, Blackmagic chief executive officer and founder Grant Petty says the partnership with Apple came about thanks to his company’s previous experience working with Thunderbolt connections — and his award-winning design team.

“We had a lot of creative customers that needed more power on their computers, with high-end TV customers doing intensive colour corrections and edits,” Petty says.

“They needed a way to take their laptop they’d been working on all day, and take it home and plug this in and get desktop-level performance, so that’s what our focus was.”

Exclusive Apple license

Blackmagic’s eGPU will be exclusively licensed to be sold through Apple for the next six months, before becoming available to be sold through other retailers after that period. The product retails for $US699.00 ($943.00).

The global tech giant is the largest company Blackmagic has worked with, says Petty, whose $300 million company has completed seven acquisitions over its lifetime. Partnering with Apple for the eGPU allowed Blackmagic to test its systems and capabilities, says Petty, and also meant the traditionally video-focused company could branch out into other markets such as virtual reality and high-end gaming.

Asked how it feels to not only be a rare Apple partner but an Australian one at that, Petty says it’s a demonstration of the power of viewing business globally — something he believes the Australian business community could get better at.

“The Australian business community has an obsession with just doing it how it’s done overseas, and you get slapped down for not doing things the ‘right way’,” he says.

“It’s not the guy who learns how to do new things that succeeds, it’s the guy that learns how overseas has done it first.”

Source: Blackmagic Design.

“A lot of Australian businesses think they have to just sit there and get noticed by the world, but in reality, we should be involved, scattered, and connected across the world to do things together.

“This project is one big message that it doesn’t matter that you’re based here, you need to let your brain fly.”

Sleek design with a “dash of supercomputer”

Petty says one of the more interesting aspects of working on the eGPU with Apple was getting the design right, with Blackmagic not used to designing a consumer-level product at the same scale as the eGPU.

“It had to have good aesthetics, but not look like an Apple product. At the same time, it needed a dash of supercomputer, but we also had to keep in mind how much heat GPUs produce,” he says.

“Right from the first meeting I understood we had to make something quite special, in a very specific way.”

Thinking back on his experience working with Apple on the eGPU, Petty believes the biggest lesson for him and the Blackmagic team was the importance of flexibility.

“Our and Apple’s companies are very different, and they have a massive global footprint in hundreds of different regions, and each one of those regions has different requirements,” he says.

“There was so much variation and different local jurisdictions, and we had to learn a lot about the many different laws that cover consumer products in Taiwan, Germany, all different regions.

“So we had to be flexible, but no one’s’ ever lost a war because they were too flexible.”

NOW READ: Blackmagic Design founder Grant Petty on how a “burning revelation” led him to create his $300 million video technology company

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.

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