Inside each of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) new iPhones is a chip that the company dubs the A11 Bionic. The A11 Bionic is a clear technical tour de force, with major improvements in key areas as well as the addition of all-new technologies like the dual-core Apple Neural Engine.
One thing that was particularly noteworthy about the chip was the graphics processor inside of it. Apple says that the A11 Bionic features the very first Apple-designed graphics processor; Apple had traditionally licensed graphics processor technology from Imagination Technologies for its prior-generation processors.
Apple says that the A11 Bionic delivers up to a 30% boost in graphics performance compared to the A10 Fusion (though I suspect that Apple is underselling its capabilities).
A 30% boost is great for the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, both of which feature displays with the same number of pixels as their predecessors. This means that the increased graphics performance in the A11 Bionic translates directly into better performance in graphics tasks on the iPhones 8 and 8 Plus.
But, for the iPhone X, the situation is different. The iPhone X has a display resolution of 2,436 x 1,125 pixels, for a total of 2.74 million pixels. By contrast, the iPhone 8 has a 1,334 x 750-pixel display, for a total of just a million pixels, and the iPhone 8 Plus, with its 1,920 x 1,080-pixel display, must push about 2.07 million pixels.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, the iPhone X's display has about 32% more pixels than the iPhone 8 Plus' display does. This means that in terms of effective graphics performance, the iPhone X, rendering content at its native resolution, should be no faster than an iPhone 7 Plus.
On top of that, Apple is rumored to be launching an iPhone X with a 6.46-inch display and, quite possibly, a resolution of 2,800 x 1,242 pixels, which would mean a total pixel count just shy of 3.5 million. That'd be 69% more pixels than on the iPhone 8 Plus and 26% more pixels than on this year's iPhone X.
All this leads me to believe that Apple will, driven by pure necessity, deliver a huge generational boost in graphics performance with next year's A12 chip.
How big of a leap?
Apple says that the A11 Bionic includes a tri-core graphics processor. For next year's A12, I expect Apple to leverage the power efficiency gains and transistor area reductions that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company's (NYSE:TSM) upcoming 7-nanometer technology delivers compared to the 10-nanometer tech that the A11 Bionic is built with to increase graphics core count.
Indeed, I would be shocked to see anything less than a six-core graphics processor in the A12.
Moreover, I expect Apple to make advancements in the quality of the cores themselves for higher performance and power efficiency so that Apple has a reasonable path to a doubling of graphics performance generation over generation without sacrificing battery life.
In fact, I think it's fair to say that the A11 Bionic was designed first and foremost for the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, while the A12 will be the first Apple chip designed from the ground up for the iPhone X series of phones.