To get an idea of how small the electronic items are on the Apple A12 Bionic chip in the heart of the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR, first hit a human hair.
It's thin, obviously. But it's still strong enough to fit around 10,000 of A12's electronic components across the width. The miniaturization is a major breakthrough, says Apple Schiller, Marketing Manager on Wednesday, saying that A12 is the industry's first chip to be built using a 7-nanometer manufacturing process.
One nanometer is one billionth of a meter, so when Apple moved from the 10-pin A11 chip to 7thm A1
You do not necessarily need to understand the nuances of transistor sizes or how little a nanometer really is. The bottom line is that the momentum will let iPhone XS and XS Max run graphics 50 percent faster than 2017's iPhone X, while artificial intelligence will work 8 times faster. And perhaps most importantly, the battery will not be drained.
A12 "is so far ahead of the industry that it will still be competitive with the best Android smartphones in two years, and massively more powerful than lower phones," says stratechery analyst Ben Thompson.
Apple sees the 7nm process and features it allows as a big advantage.
"The A12 Bionic is the industry's first 7nm chip. It's a major breakthrough, "Schiller said. On the iPhone XS launch event." This A12 Bionic is by far the smartest and most powerful piece in any smartphone. "
But Apple won 7nm horse racing by a nose.
Huawei, who recently took over Apple to pick up second place in smartphone shipments by top ranked Samsung, will send its Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro phones in October, a few weeks after Apple's iPhone XS and XS Max began to arrive. The Mate models use the Huawei Kirin 980 processor, which is also built with a 7nm process.
Qualcomm, which supplies processors to many advanced Android phones, uses the processor's 10nm processes today. Its next generation model, probably called Snapdragon 855, will be built with 7nm production. You can almost see Apple, who is in the midst of a legal dispute with Qualcomm, thumbs nose on the mobile chip giant.
Such a bragging is common in technology circles, but it's a subtitle here.
"Apple wants it clear that they have early access to the latest process," said analyst Kiri Kevin, analyst at Tirias. The year-long shift to 7nm production has been difficult, but Apple has money and complains to claim many of the first chips rolling out of the fabs.
Although Apple designs its own chips, it relies on Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. (TSMC) to build them right now. Qualcomm's next generation Snapdragon prototype board is also built by TSMC, but it's Apple's phones to be sent by millions this month.
The real benefit of the 7nm process is that Apple can do everything without flattening the battery. "The lower power can extend battery life, or allow Apple to push performance up by 20 percent when the user needs extra boost," said Linley Group analyst Linley Gwennap.
New AI Brains in Apple's A12 Chip
The chip industry has been in a jam more than a decade ago, the previously steady progress in faster processor clock speeds sputtered. It is compelled chipmakers to find other ways to try to make chips better because no longer the same software runs faster with each new chip generation.
Special circuits have been a primary mechanism. First, graphics processing units, or GPUs, that accelerate not only game effects like cloudy air and shiny chrome, but also physics calculations that make the explosions look real. Apple's A11 chip had three GPU engines called kernels, but the A12 has four.
More recently, chipmakers have begun to add chip technology to accelerate artificial intelligence. AI – also called machine learning and neural networks these days – can let devices understand voice commands, take better pictures and recognize unhealthy heartbeat patterns. A12's built-in AI circuit can perform 5 trillion operations per second, an eight-fold increase over the A11, said Schiller.
Checking the entire device
Apple is in a strong position compared to any phone rival because it not only controls the processor but the operating system and other software such as voice recognition and image editing. The company can ensure that all parts of the system work well together.
Google added its own separate AI chip,to its Pixel 2 phones in 2017. One reason: AI management enabled Google to provide flexibility for all software that relies on it, Its engineers said at the latest Hot Chips conference.
But Apple's AI brains are built right on the A12 chip. Technology called the smartcompute system is "able to analyze the neural network data and determine whether to run it on the CPU, GPU or Neutral Motor," Schiller said.
Analysts agree that AI is a key new foundation for data processing. It will "touch every bit of modern software," analyst Ben Bajarin said in a research report Thursday. And Apple has the lead when it comes to AI in mobile devices.
"Apple becomes dangerous close to bringing a great deal of science fiction into reality," said Bajarin, "and the effort they make with machine learning is at the center."
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