Apple reinvented the mobile devices we now know today as smartphones in 2007 with the release of the original iPhone. The announcement of the iPhone by Steve Jobs caused all smartphone companies to throw all their plans into the dustbin and began scrambling afresh to meet up with the then leader in the market, Apple.
Apple only makes premium phones to service the top end of the market. They are not bothered about the other tiers because some old iPhones could pass as Midrangers or Flagship killers these days and Apple still supports their 6 year old iPhone 6S which is the oldest apple device to receive iOS 13.
Apple Silicon is the collective name for all SoCs designed by Apple using ARM architecture. They outsource all manufacturing to either Samsung or TSMC. Their SoCs are mostly package on package (PoP) SoCs. Apple initially used Power VR GPUs but now they use an in-house designed Apple GPU.
The journey begins in 2007 with the APL0098, a 90nm single core chipset running at 412MHz. This chip powers the iPhone, iPhone 3G and the iPod. The next year (2008), an update to the APL0098 called the APL0278 was released. It is a 65nm single core chip running at 533MHz and was used in the iPod touch. In 2009, a new single core 65nm ARM cortex A8 chipset running at 600MHz called the APL0298 was released. It is used in the iPhone 3GS.
The A series is born
In 2010, Apple decided to do a naming system change and the new chipset is called the A4. The A4 is a 45nm single core ARM cortex A8 running at 1GHz which is used in the iPhone 4, the iPad and the iPod touch. In 2011, Apple released the A5 which is used in the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S. The A5 was a dual core 45nm single core ARM Cortex A9 running at 800MHz to 1GHz. In 2012, a revision to the A5 called the A5X was used in the iPad 3. The A5X was the first Quad core SoC designed by Apple. It is also the biggest ever SoC made by Apple, a huge 165nm quad core ARM Cortex A9 running at 1GHz.
In September 2012, the first Apple SoC running with Apple’s new Custom cores were released. This new chipset was called the A6 and it was used for the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5C. The name of the new custom cores were called Swift. The A6 was built on 32nm process, with a dual Swift cores running at 1.3GHz. Swift cores were built on ARM’s ARM v7-A architecture. Their performance is comparable to any ARM cortex cores between A9 to A12. The next month, an updated SoC called the A6X was released for the for the iPad 4. The A6X and the A6 were identical but the A6X has a faster clock speed of 1.4GHz.
In 2013, Apple announced a new 64-bit chipset called the A7. This was the first chipset on any smartphone to use a 64-bit architecture. Up until that point, all phones ran on 32-bit architecture. The A7 was built on 32nm process and used a dual core custom core called Cyclone running at 1.4GHz. The A7 was used for iPhone 5S, iPad Air and the iPad Mini 2 and 3. The Cyclone was built on ARM v8-A with instruction sets A64 and A32. Their performance is comparable to any chipset between A35 and A73. The A7 could perform as well as a modern Helio A22.
In September 2014, Apple released the A8, built on a 20mn process, with dual custom Typhoon cores clocked at 1.4GHz. The A8 is found in the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus and the iPad Mini 4. In the next month an upgraded A8X with tri cores and a faster clock speed of 1.5GHz was used in the iPad Air 2. The Typhoon is built on ARM v8-A with instruction sets A64 and A32. Their performance is comparable to any chipset between A57 and A73. The A8 can be compared to a modern Helio P22.
The next year (2015), a new chipset called the A9 was released for the iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus, iPhone SE and the iPad (2015). It was a 16nm SoC with dual core custom Twister cores running at 1.8GHz. It was released alongside its updated version called the A9X which was identical to the A9 but ran at a much faster speed of 2.26GHz. the A9X can be found in the iPad Pro. The Twister was built on ARM v8-A with instruction sets A64 and A32. Their performance is comparable to any chipset between A72 and A73. The A9 is as good as a Helio P90 or SD670.
The year 2016 brought the A10 Fusion. The size of this SoC remained at 16nm but it was a quad core SoC with custom Hurricane and Zephyr cores arranged in a 2+2 big.LITTLE arrangement. They ran at a blazing fast 2.34GHz. The A10 Fusion powers the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPad (2016) and the iPod touch. In 2017, the updated A10X Fusion had shrunk significantly to 10nm, and it had 6 custom Hurricane and Zephyr cores (Hexa core) arranged in a 3+3 big.LITTLE arrangement and ran faster than the original at a speed of 2.38GHz. The Fusion was built on ARM v8.1-A with instruction sets A64 and A32. Their performance is comparable to any chipset between A72 and A73. The A10 Fusion is comparable in performance with a Helio G90T, SD720G or an SD835 today.
iPhones 8, 8+ and X
Later that year (2016), in September, the next instalment of the Apple Silicon line called the A11 Bionic was announced. The A11 Bionic was built on a 10nm process with a Hexacore custom Moonsoon and Mistral cores arranged in a 2+4 big.LITTLE arrangement running at 2.39GHz and 1.6GHz. The A11 was Apple’s first SoC to use the in house Apple GPU as Apple were no longer using Power VR GPUs. The Phones using the A11 Bionic are the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 plus and iPhone X. The custom cores Moonsoon and Mistral are built on ARM v8.2-A with instruction sets A64. Their performance is comparable to a Cortex A65AE. The A11 is around the same level as the SD845 or SD 765G.
In September 2018, the next iteration of the Bionic SoC called the A12 Bionic was released. The A12 Bionic was built on a 7nm process and is a hexa core SoC just like its predecessor. It houses Vortex and Tempest custom cores in a 2+4 big.LITTLE arrangement running at speeds of 2.49GHz and 1.6GHz.
iPad Pro (2018)
The next month, the updated A12X was released for use in the iPad Pro (2018). It was identical to the original A12 but had a better GPU (Apple GPU 7 core). In March 2020, another updated iteration of the A12 called the A12Z was released for the iPad Pro. It is identical with the A12 but ships with an 8 core Apple GPU. The custom cores Vortex and Tempest are built on ARM v8.3-A with instruction sets A64. Their performance is comparable to a Cortex A78. The A12 is still among the best SoCs in the world despite being over 2 years old.
The A13 made it’s debut in 2019 and can be found in the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, IPhone 11 Pro Max and the iPhone SE. It is built on a 7nm process, has hexa custom cores (Lightning and Thunder) arranged in a 2+4 big.LITTLE configuration running at 2.66GHz. The custom cores Lightning and Thunder are built on ARM v8.4-A with instruction sets A64. Their performance is comparable to a Cortex A78.
The latest Apple Silicon SoC is the A14 Bionic. Apple claims it is 16% faster than the A13. The A14 powers current Apple Flagships such as the iPad Air, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max. It is built on a 5nm process and has a hexa core (big.LITTLE) arrangement of 2+4. The new custom cores are Firestorm and Icestorm. They are built on ARMv8.4-A architecture. By comparison, the nearest Android processor cores (Arm Cortex A78 and X1) are built on the ARMv8.2-A. This should give you an idea of how advanced the A14 is.
Apple have some of the best smartphone SoCs in the world with a caveat. iOS is a closed system. Therefore, everything is streamlined and optimized to squeeze the very best out of their hardware. There is no way of knowing how their SoCs would perform if they were to run an Android OS with a mishmash of parts from different companies.
Although other companies are starting to catch up with the former leader in the market, Apple still remains a force to be reckoned with.
This brings us to the end of Apple Silicon line up, I must admit that it looks more technical than the previous ones but the comment section is always open for questions. Thank you for reading.