On Sept. 12, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is going to announce a hotly anticipated trio of new iPhones. At the heart of all three of those phones will be a custom applications processor, likely to be marketed as the A11 Fusion, developed by Apple's ultra-sharp chip-development teams.
I'd like to put out a final set of predictions about the new chip before Apple takes the curtain off the new iPhones and, accordingly, the A11 Fusion chip.
A substantial increase in graphics performance
I believe, based on reporting from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, that Apple will adopt a fast ProMotion display in at least one of its new iPhone models, if not all of them. ProMotion is Apple's marketing term for high-refresh-rate displays, which makes virtually everything on the device appear smoother -- it's a huge user experience upgrade.
Including an upgraded display block in the A11 Fusion chip to merely support ProMotion technology in basic applications should be rather trivial. However, for Apple to deliver the full benefit of ProMotion in more graphically intensive applications such as 3D games, the graphics processor inside the A11 Fusion needs to be quick enough to render games at a whopping 120 frames per second.
Current iPhone displays update their contents at just 60 times per second, putting less strain on the graphics processor; in fact, it is a common optimization technique in mobile game development to artificially limit rendering speed to 60 frames per second, even if the hardware can do more, to lessen the load on the graphics processor, ultimately conserving battery life.
To that end, I believe that Apple will deliver a dramatic increase in graphics performance in the A11 Fusion chip compared with that in the A10 Fusion -- I'm expecting at least a 50% bump, but a 100% increase wouldn't surprise me.
Apple Neural Engine
Bloomberg reported a while back that Apple was testing a so-called Apple Neural Engine to handle artificial-intelligence tasks. Though Bloomberg wasn't 100% sure that this feature would make it into the final devices, if I had to make a call on it, I'd say the Apple Neural Engine will be in the next iPhone.
If the technology, which promises to improve a device's efficiency in handling common tasks, delivers, it could either lead to either better battery life, or to performance and feature improvements that would've chewed up too much battery life to include otherwise.
Further, while I'm sure the initial implementation of the Apple Neural Engine will mainly be to improve power consumption, I can see future iterations of the technology enabling fundamentally new features and use cases that simply would've been impractical without it.
One advantage for Apple is that once it introduces the Apple Neural Engine, it won't be long before a large part of the iPhone installed base will have phones incorporating the Neural Engine. This situation should allow software developers to freely add features to their apps requiring the hardware, something that would by no means be guaranteed on Android-based devices.
More than 6 billion transistors
With the A11 Fusion, Apple will be moving from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company's (NYSE:TSM) 16nm technology to its 10nm technology, which means that each transistor becomes a lot smaller. Apple's A-series chips, for a point of reference, are made up of billions of transistors.
Put another way, Apple will be able to fit about twice as many transistors -- and thereby features and functionality -- into a given physical footprint using the 10nm technology than it could with its 16nm technology.
The A10 Fusion consisted of 3.3 billion transistors and fit in an area of about 125 square millimeters. I suspect that Apple will try to keep the chip size roughly the same, or maybe make it ever so smaller than the A10 -- but thanks to the new manufacturing technology, it'd be able to pack at least 6 billion transistors into that area.
The A11 Fusion probably won't be cheap to make, but Apple doesn't sell cheap phones. Only the best in chip technology goes into Apple's highly important iPhone product line, which made up more than 60% of the company's revenue in its last fiscal year.