Apple’s new flagship SoC is here and it’s hot. However, I strongly feel that Apple may be dropping the ball on this one. To prove my point, I want to take you on a journey through Apple’s SoC history, focusing on their latest release, the A17 Pro. This one is titled: Apple’s A17 Pro SoC: Evolution and Challenges Ahead
Early Days: Apple’s Custom SoCs
Apple’s venture into custom SoCs began in 2007 with the release of the original iPhone. Back then, their chips were nothing extraordinary, they simply adapted existing Samsung designs to make new SoCs. However, they stood out thanks to Apple’s innovation, software, and marketing prowess.
A Shift in 2012: 64-bit Architecture and NVMe Storage
In 2012, Apple decided to shake things up. They transitioned to 64-bit architecture, leaving Android competitors in the dust, still stuck in 32-bit land. Apple’s quest for PC-like storage speeds was ambitious, considering the hardware and software constraints of the time. This strategic move ensured a decade-long lead for Apple as Android manufacturers played catch-up.
Performance Leap: A7 to A11 Bionic
By the time iPhone 5S rolled out in 2013 with the all new (at the time) Apple A7, Qualcomm and Samsung had no answer. Qualcomm’s first response was, in fact, a total disaster that should have destroyed the company. Thankfully it did not.
Each new installment of the Apple’s SoCs brought great leaps in performance and speed that made the previous SoC look like a calculator. From the A7 (28nm) to the A8 (20nm), to the A9 (16nm). The changes were huge. When Apple decided to drop Samsung in favour of TSMC in 2016, things got even better. The A10 Fusion (iPhone 7, 7+) is approximately 50% faster than the A9 on the iPhone 6S and 6S+
Apple pulled another innovative masterstroke when the A11 Bionic came along the next year (2017). They made their own Apple GPU, dumping IMG Power VR, upgraded from quad core to hexa core and moved to a 10nm process. The A11 Bionic today, despite being 6 years old is better than the latest Helio G99, Dimensity 800, Snapdragon 695 etc.
A Series of Departures: Apple’s SoC Woes
But recently, Apple has been facing challenges in retaining top talents in their SoC division. In 2019, key Apple engineers left to form Nuvia, which was later acquired by Qualcomm, signaling a shift in the industry.
To make matters worse, Jeff Wilcox, the brain behind Apple’s move from Intel to ARM-based CPUs has left to join Intel. A lot of the brains that are responsible for making the Apple Bionic into the beast that it once was have either left or are probably planning to leave.
The A14 and A15 Pro: Incremental Upgrades
As a result, in the last two years, Apple’s SoCs have seen limited innovation. The A14 and A15 are essentially the same chip, with changes in manufacturing processes and minor upgrades to clock speeds and cache. This falls short of the giant leaps Apple made in the past.
Apple’s A17 Pro SoC: Evolution and Challenges Ahead
While Apple has kept details about the A17 Pro under wraps, it does bring some noteworthy features. It offers improved GPU performance capable of running AAA titles like Resident Evil 4 and Assassin’s Creed, LPDDR5 RAM, enhanced battery life, and cooler temperatures thanks to TSMC’s 3nm process.
They added an extra core to the Apple GPU to make it 6 cores, included hardware based ray tracing (2 years behind Samsung/AMD and a year behind Qualcomm and ARM/MediaTek) and added native support for AAA titles.
Apple’s new 16-core AI Neural Engine and ISP improvements promise better photography and image processing.
Despite the A17 Pro’s strengths, Apple faces growing competition from Qualcomm and MediaTek, who are rapidly catching up. To stay ahead, Apple needs to invest in talent and innovation to maintain its reputation for groundbreaking SoCs. Otherwise, it might be a downhill journey from here.
In the ever-evolving world of smartphone SoCs, only time will tell how Apple responds to these challenges.
Thank you for reading to the end of this article, Apple’s A17 Pro SoC: Evolution and Challenges Ahead.