Surprise: Next iPhone will be even faster than anything else

Surprising no one, it turns out that the next-generation iPhone will put an even bigger performance gap between itself and the rest of the industry.

Apple, iOS, iPhone, A12, A11, iPhone Xi, TSMC
Daniel Masaoka

Surprising no one, it turns out that the next-generation iPhone will put an even bigger performance gap between itself and the rest of the industry, as TSMC begins mass production of powerful 7-nanometer A12 chips for use in Apple’s next-generation iPhones.

Smaller is better

TSMC announced volume production of 7-nanometer chips in April 2018 but did not say who it was producing these processors for. Bloomberg claims those chips are Apple’s.

Why does this matter?

It’s like this — a nanometer is one billionth of a meter. In chip design, it represents the distance between the transistors that comprise the processor.

Smaller is better — you can squeeze more computational power into a chip, so the new 7 nanometer chip should provide significantly more transistors than Apple’s (already industry-leading) 10-nanometer chips. For the rest of us, this means better battery life and better performance.

Apple continues to leap ahead the industry in mobile processor design. If the report is true, the new chips will be among the first 7-nanometer processors to ship in mass market quantities inside the world’s most popular smartphones.

A few nanometers less

What kind of performance boost can we expect? Think of it this way: Apple’s 10-nanometer, six-core A11 Bionic series processors as used in iPhone 8, 8 Plus and iPhone X offered significant performance advantages (around 25 percent) in contrast to the A10 chip.

Geekbench shows the most recent iPhones all offer single-core scores between 4,206-4,218 and multi-core performance in the region of 10,125-10,185. In contrast, the souped-up 10-nanometer A10X processor used inside iPad Pros delivered c. 3,906 (9,289-9,305 multi), while the 14-nanometer A10 chip in the iPhone 7 gave 3,391 single-, or 5,704 multi-core.

As you can see, the move from 14-nanometer to 10-nanometer process design delivered significant performance enhancements, so it is logical to expect similar levels of improvement as iPhones transition to 7-nanometer chips.

It’s good news for TSMC, of course.

It is thought to have secured a contract as the sole manufacturer of Apple’s new chips.

Apple’s biggest competitor, Samsung, has said it won’t begin manufacturing 7-nanometer chips at scale until 2019 — that’s even assuming the OS it uses in its smartphones can exploit the hardware.

Apple is quite clearly pulling ahead of the entire industry when it comes to mobile processors — and it shows.

A history of performance enhancements

Apple has delivered significant performance improvements within every chip upgrade. Here’s what you need to know:

  • A10-A11: This processor delivered 25 percent better performance in single-core tests and an astonishing 80n percent performance boost in multi-core. It also delivered 30 percent better graphics performance.
  • A9-A10: Apple claimed 40 percent greater CPU performance and 50 percent better graphics performance with this upgrade.
  • A8 to A9: Apple claimed 70 percent improvement in CPU performance and 90 percent improvement in graphics performance.
  • A7 to A8: Apple claimed a 25 percent improvement in CPU performance and 50 percent improvement in graphics performance.
  • A6 to A7: Apple claimed the A7 delivered twice the CPU and graphics performance.

It’s no surprise these great leaps forward in chip design continue to generate speculation Apple will eventually use A-series chips inside Macs.

The A11 chips already offer performance on par with that of the current MacBook Pro, so how much performance will Apple eventually be able to squeeze out of next year’s A12X series chips?

Up next: New iPhones

Apple had been expected to introduce a new iPhone SE 2 configuration this side of summer, but consensus opinion now favors the introduction of three new iPhone models in September. These are thought to include a 6.5-inch OLED iPhone, a 5.8-inch OLED model, and a 6.1-inch LCD device.

Apple is clearly doing something right. iPhones currently dominate new smartphone sales in most key territories, including the U.S., Europe and Taiwan. We’ll find out much more about its direction of travel very soon at WWDC 2018.

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