A refreshed iPhone 5S this year will most likely be thin on hardware upgrades, but an easy, consistent assumption that Apple will bump up the processor to the A7 chip. However, recent reports suggest that the A7 chip may be slated for the iPhone 6 in 2014.
In a rash of new stories outlining that Samsung will in fact be excluded from manufacturing the A7 chip, bringing instead Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) into the fold (I thought we already knew that?), analysts are pegging the A7 for 2014, not this year with the 5S. According to the Korea Times:
“Apple is sharing confidential data for its next A7 system-on-chip (SoC) with the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). TSMC has begun ordering its contractors to supply equipment to produce Apple’s next processors using a finer 20-nanometer level processing technology,’’ said an executive at one of Samsung’s local partners in Korea by telephone, Wednesday.”
Adding to this report, Apple Insider stated that, “Apple’s so-called “A7″ processor will debut in the first half of 2014, and development for the chip is underway” at TSMC.
If we think about the “A” processors in terms of overhauls and refreshes — similar to how iPhone iterations work — it would seem that there is a bit of confusion over how to characterize the A7, and whether it will be remarkably more powerful than the A6 and/or A6X, or a more tweaked version that is set up for improved power consumption. We have no idea what the iPhone 6 is going to look like or feature in terms of hardware, but if Apple chooses to expand the screen size once again, include NFC and iWallet, and incorporate some kind of biometric security hard piece, all of these things would conceivably require more processing power.
Andrew Cunningham at Ars Technica, however, is not prognosticating the A7 chip to be incredibly more powerful, but rather more focused on power economy:
On the CPU side, we’d bet that Apple will focus on squeezing more performance out of Swift, whether by improving the architecture’s efficiency or increasing the clock speed. A quad-core version is theoretically possible, but to date Apple has focused on fewer fast CPU cores rather than more, slower ones, most likely out of concern about power consumption and the total die size of the SoC (the larger the chip, the more it costs to produce, and Apple loves its profit margins). As for the GPU, Imagination’s next-generation PowerVR SGX 6 series GPUs are right around the corner. Since Apple has used Imagination exclusively in its custom chips up until now, it’s not likely to rock this boat.
For as much as Apple may be able to keep squeezing high performance out of the “dual core toothpaste tube,” it’s really hard to imagine that in 2014, while all of its heavy-duty competitors are running quad core CPUs, that Apple will stick to their dual-core guns. Even if the Apple R&D guys can manage to get quad core-like performance out of a dual-core A7, geeks will want the “quad core” moniker on their device.
I’m a little confused.
If Cunningham is right about the A7, this looks more like a chip that would be featured on this year’s iPhone 5S. Perhaps all the confusion has to do with nothing more than some jumbled-up naming conventions, but since I’m doubtful that Apple would reprise the use of the A6 on the 5S — they have to update something on the hardware side — I remain less convinced that the A7 is slated for 2014.