Chip Shrink Could Dictate Apple Upgrades

 The second-generation iPad Pros, above, were updated June 2017. Their processing chips are two generations behind those released Sept. 12 in new iPhones. Their Touch ID and bezels are more than a year behind the Face ID and minimal bezels of the iPhone X-series phones. (Apple)

The second-generation iPad Pros, above, were updated June 2017. Their processing chips are two generations behind those released Sept. 12 in new iPhones. Their Touch ID and bezels are more than a year behind the Face ID and minimal bezels of the iPhone X-series phones. (Apple)

Series: Apple’s Absentees

Part 1 of 2

At its Sept. 12 product event, Apple limited its major announcements to a redesigned Apple Watch and a Big Three iPhone X series.

An important part of production will focus on the A12 Bionic processing chip. This is the first chip Apple has designed for fabrication at a size of 7 nanometers.

Often, reductions in fab size result in production bugs that take time to work out.

The challenge is that Apple needs to reach full production right away, having begun prior to the Sept. 12 announcement. Such tight timing is required to meet demand for the new phones and to do so within the holiday season that ends with the year.

The production pressure makes a gap before announcing additional A12 Bionic devices wise.

It allows the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., which makes these chips for Apple, to work out any kinks that arise in early production.

Once TSMC can ensure production that meets iPhone demand, Apple will be free to introduce more new A12-based hardware.

The next new product with an A-series chip should be the iPad Pro in both sizes, with an expanded processor, the A12X Bionic.

Indeed, Guilherme Rambo found “iPad2018Fall” in a code string within the new iOS 12.1 beta when it was released Tuesday. Rambo reported his find on the 9to5Mac website.

Apple has much to upgrade on the iPad Pro, if only to bring it in line with features of the iPhone XR, iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max.

It needs Face ID and the ability to unlock when in landscape mode, in addition to portrait mode.

Reducing the bezels in the manner of the X-series iPhones would allow a larger screen, say 11 inches, in a body the size of last year’s 10.5-inch iPad Pro. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro should fit in a more compact body.

If the third-generation iPad Pro follows precedent from previous generations, its A12X Bionic chip would have increased general and graphic processing power through an expanded CPU and GPU.

The June 2017 second-generation iPad Pro A10X chips use three high-power CPU cores and three low-power cores, versus two each in the iPhone 7’s A10. The GPU has 12 cores versus six cores in the A10.

TechInsights identified fabrication of the A10X as the first of Apple’s 10 nm chips produced by TSMC.

The first-generation iPad Pros — announced June 2015 at 12.9 inches and March 2016 at 9.7 inches — used the A9X chip. It had a dual-core CPU, as did the A9. It also had a 12-core GPU, compared to the six-core GPU of the A9 in the iPhone 6s. Apple increased memory bandwidth of the A9X to meet the demands of the large GPU.

APPLE WATCH’S S4 CHIP

For the Apple Watch, last year’s S3 processor was a system in a package. This modular housing of integrated circuits included a dual-core Apple application processor, as did earlier versions except the single-core processor of the original S1 SiP.

Apple limited its S4 information Sept. 12 to the fact that the processor is 64-bit for the first time. Apple said it doubled the processor’s speed without affecting battery life.

Unless Apple releases manufacturing or design details for the S4, or others such as TechInsights tear down the watch and find a different processing arrangement, there is no reason to assume that it contains a 7 nm TSMC chip, in the manner of the A12 Bionic.

As such, the Series 4 watch would not affect production of the A12 iPhone chip or rollout of additional A12-based products.

ANOTHER EVENT

On the Sept. 13 episode of the Upgrade podcast (in Overcast player), Myke Hurley suggested an event Oct. 16 “because the iPhone XR ships on the 26th. So, I reckon they will have more products to ship on that day.”

Hurley’s suggestion fits well from a scheduling standpoint, five weeks following the iPhone event and one week before iPhone XR shipment.

The final determinant, however, is likely to be the state of TSMC’s A12 Bionic chip for the new iPhones. When production is strong-and-steady, the next stage of Apple product releases will have cleared an important requirement.

Series:

Part 2: Replace iPhone SE with iPhone XR Mini