One thing that I have come to admire about Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) over the years is the company's prowess in chip design. The company builds, arguably, the world's highest performance and most forward-looking mobile processors on the market.
It would seem that, if a recent leak is to be believed, Apple isn't going to disappoint with its next generation smartphone applications processor, the A10.
A10 delivers A9X CPU performance
Apple typically launches two processors in a given year. An iPhone-bound chip branded Ax where x is some positive integer (such as A7, A8, and A9), and a more powerful iPad-bound version of that chip with an X following the number (such as A8X and A9X).
According to TechTastic, the upcoming Apple A10 processor will offer single-core CPU performance on-par with last year's A9X chip in the popular Geekbench 3 performance test. If this figure is legitimate, then this means that Apple will be able to announce that the A10 offers approximately 20% greater CPU performance than the prior generation A9 chip.
Though hardly the biggest generation-over-generation jump between iPhone processors, a 20% boost in performance from the already very impressive A9 chip won't be anything to sneeze at.
Graphics could get an even bigger boost
With each generation, Apple tends to get bigger jumps in graphics performance than it does in CPU performance. In that light, I expect that the A10 will deliver an even larger leap in terms of graphics performance over the A9 than it will in terms of CPU performance. I'm looking for at least a 40% boost.
If Apple decides to move to higher resolution displays in the new iPhone (something that would be long overdue), then the additional graphical horsepower would be most welcome, particularly for intense 3D games.
Expect bigger leaps in 2017 and 2018, though
With the iPhone 7, Apple is expected to utilize the same TSMC (NYSE:TSM) 16-nanometer manufacturing process that was used to build a portion of the A9 chips used in the iPhone 6s/6s Plus. This means that all of the performance improvements that Apple brings will need to come from better architecture, rather than from a better manufacturing process.
However, given TSMC's public statements, it's reasonable to expect that the 2017 A11 chip will benefit from a transition to a 10-nanometer process and that the 2018 A12 chip will benefit, once again, from a transition to a 7-nanometer manufacturing technology.
Since I doubt that Apple is going to let up on the architectural side of things (the company has hired many of the industry's best architects, as far as I can tell), I'm confident in my belief that the A11 and A12 chips will offer even more impressive generational leaps than the A10 will.
Apple's business challenge
Apple clearly has serious technical chops, but all of that doesn't mean much if the company can't actually convince customers to buy new phones. The A9 chip inside of the iPhone 6s/6s Plus offered a massive jump in terms of both CPU and graphics performance relative to the prior generation A8 chip. The A8, in contrast, was a fairly modest improvement over the A7.
Yet, the A8-powered iPhone 6/6 Plus sold like hotcakes while the A9-powered iPhone 6s/6s Plus saw disappointing sales figures.
Apple's challenge going forward will be to get users to want or, better yet, need the improved processing performance that future iPhones will deliver. It'll be interesting to see if the iDevice maker will be successful in doing so.