During Drosophila eye development, differentiation initiates in the posterior region of the eye disk and progresses anteriorly as a wave marked by the morphogenetic furrow (MF), which demarcates the boundary between anterior undifferentiated cells and posterior differentiated photoreceptors. However, the mechanism underlying the regulation of gene expression immediately before the onset of differentiation remains unclear. Here, we show that Apontic (Apt), which is an evolutionarily conserved transcription factor, is expressed in the differentiating cells posterior to the MF. Moreover, it directly induces the expression of cyclin E and is also required for the G1-to-S phase transition, which is known to be essential for the initiation of cell differentiation at the MF. These observations identify a pathway crucial for eye development, governed by a mechanism in which Cyclin E promotes the G1-to-S phase transition when regulated by Apt.