Why A12 chip will be best fea­ture in this year’s iPhone

Ap­ple’s smaller chip is a big deal, writes

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS - Michael Si­mon

WWDC may be over, but once the iOS 12 dust clears all eyes will be on the next iPhone. With ru­mours sug­gest­ing three new mod­els, in­clud­ing a 6.5in hand­set, Face ID en­hance­ments, and faster charg­ing, there’s a lot to be ex­cited about, but a new re­port from Mark Gur­man at Bloomberg sug­gests that the new iPhone could be rev­o­lu­tion­ary in a way most peo­ple might not even re­al­ize: the

pro­ces­sor. iPhone sup­plier Tai­wan Semi­con­duc­tor Man­u­fac­tur­ing Com­pany has re­port­edly be­gun pro­duc­tion on the pro­ces­sor for the next iPhone, and it could be an in­dus­try‑first.

While we know that the iPhone will have an A12 chip, fol­low­ing the pat­tern of an­nual chip up­grades, the new pro­ces­sor will re­port­edly use an 7‑nanome­tre de­sign. That ob­vi­ously means it’s sig­nif­i­cantly smaller than the 10nm A11 Bionic, but it would also rep­re­sent a break­through for both Ap­ple and the in­dus­try, as other mo­bile chip­mak­ers are work­ing on 7nm die shrinks, but those aren’t ex­pected to launch un­til next year. Af­ter all, Ap­ple only just launched its own 10nm die process with the A11 (fol­low­ing Qual­comm’s Snap­dragon 835 ear­lier in 2017), so mov­ing to 7nm just a gen­er­a­tion later is pretty im­pres­sive.

But along with brag­ging rights, the new man­u­fac­tur­ing process will bring im­prove­ments to the next iPhone. Here are ar­eas where the A12 could dra­mat­i­cally change the next crop of iPhones.

Per­for­mance and speed

Ap­ple al­ways de­liv­ers a healthy speed boost when it launches a new iPhone, but the new 7nm chip could bring a huge jump over the A11. This year’s pro­ces­sor brought a 25 per­cent in­crease in per­for­mance cou­pled with a 30 per­cent graph­ics boost, but those num­bers don’t tell the whole story. Since the iPhone X has so many more pix­els to push, the new chip is ac­tu­ally much more pow­er­ful than the A11 Fu­sion.

There’s a rea­son why Ap­ple is mov­ing so quickly from 10nm to 7nm, and I sus­pect it’s due

to a ma­jor break­through in speed and power. With the ‘all‑screen’ ex­pe­ri­ence re­port­edly com­ing to all three mod­els this year, in­clud­ing with a 6.5in mon­ster, the new chip will need to de­liver se­ri­ous graph­ics power to keep ev­ery­thing run­ning smoothly. With the 7nm process, Ap­ple could make the jump from three GPU cores to six, which would dra­mat­i­cally up gam­ing and app per­for­mance. Bat­tery life In sim­ple terms, the smaller the chip, the more power ef­fi­cient it is. But with the A12, it could go way beyond that. With the A11’s 10nm process, Ap­ple saw in­cred­i­ble bat­tery gains, even if they weren’t nec­es­sar­ily re­flected in the real world. Take a look at the iPhone X as com­pared to the 7 Plus to see what I mean.

Bat­tery Ca­pac­ity iPhone X: 2,716mAh iPhone 7 Plus: 2,900mAh

Talk Time iPhone X: Up to 21 hours iPhone 7 Plus: Up to 21 hours

In­ter­net use iPhone X: Up to 12 hours iPhone 7 Plus: Up to 13 hours

Video play­back iPhone X: Up to 13 hours iPhone 7 Plus: Up to 14 hours Even with a smaller bat­tery on the iPhone X, the two phones are pretty much equal. But when you con­sider

how many more pix­els the 2,436x1,125 iPhone X has to push com­pared to the 1,920x1,080 iPhone 7 Plus, the power ef­fi­ciency of the A11 chip starts to come into view. Ac­cord­ing to TSMC’s own web­site, the 7nm die shrink re­sults in 40 per­cent power re­duc­tion, so the new 7nm chip could lead to a real break­through in power ef­fi­ciency that pushes the next iPhone into mul­ti­ple days of bat­tery life, es­pe­cially if Ap­ple fi­nally puts 3,000mAh bat­ter­ies in the new iPhones. Cam­era Okay, we al­ready know that the next iPhone will have an im­proved cam­era, but the new chip could rep­re­sent a huge jump in Ap­ple’s home­grown im­age sig­nal pro­ces­sor. Ap­ple gen­er­ally keeps the tech­ni­cal im­prove­ments of its ISP pretty close to the vest, but it’s easy to see the en­hance­ments the A11 chip brought, in­clud­ing im­proved low-light aut­o­fo­cus and noise re­duc­tion, along with stu­dio light­ing ef­fects and bet­ter por­trait pro­cess­ing.

With the 7nm A12, how­ever, the cam­era on the next iPhones could be vastly im­proved, as Ap­ple uses the new ar­chi­tec­ture to fur­ther re­fine the sys­tem with faster HEIF and HEVC en­cod­ing, su­per-slo-mo video record­ing, and what­ever else Ap­ple has been cook­ing up in its labs. A new die process will in­clude en­hance­ments to all of Ap­ple’s chips, and top­ping the list is the ISP, ar­guably the most im­por­tant piece of sil­i­con in the whole phone. AI and ma­chine learn­ing Shrink­ing the die isn’t just about mak­ing a chip more ef­fi­cient, it’s also about mak­ing it smarter. For the first

time with the A11 Bionic, Ap­ple built a ded­i­cated du­al­core neu­ral en­gine in­side the iPhone’s main pro­ces­sor de­signed for ‘spe­cific ma­chine learn­ing al­go­rithms and en­ables Face ID, An­i­moji and other fea­tures’. The re­sults were quite good, but with Google con­tin­u­ing to turn up the AI heat, the A12 pro­ces­sor will need to be a whole lot smarter to com­pete. With Google Lens and AI cam­eras, An­droid phones are able to use their viewfind­ers to iden­tify ob­jects and ad­just on the fly, and I sus­pect the new A12 chip will bring some ma­jor new fea­tures to Ap­ple’s neu­ral en­gine.

5G and Gi­ga­bit LTE

The first Gi­ga­bit net­works are likely to launch some­time be­fore the next iPhone lands, and the com­pe­ti­tion to de­liver Wi-Fi speeds on cel­lu­lar net­works is shap­ing up to be a fierce one. It won’t be long be­fore all of the ma­jor car­ri­ers are of­fer­ing Gi­ga­bit LTE and 5G plans, and the new mo­dem on the A12 chip will likely be able to take ad­van­tage of them, pos­si­bly via a cus­tom Ap­ple‑de­signed mo­dem.

And since Ap­ple will be launch­ing its own new video ser­vice soon, those blaz­ingly fast speeds will be even more im­por­tant.

Ap­ple’s A11 Bionic was a big deal for the iPhone X, but the A12 could blow it out of the wa­ter

The A11 Bionic pro­ces­sor is the brains be­hind the iPhone X and its awe­some cam­era, but the A12 will be even bet­ter

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