This year, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) released three new iPhones: iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X. All three of these devices shared the same basic internals, including, most prominently, the new A11 Bionic applications processor.
Apple positioned the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus as the company's new flagship devices, with the iPhone X seemingly positioned as an ultra-premium device that's supposed to give customers a glimpse into the future of the iPhone.
Next year, Apple is also expected to introduce three new iPhones: an entry-level model with a 6.1-inch liquid crystal display (LCD) as well as two premium models with more advanced 5.85-inch and 6.46-inch organic light emitting diode (OLED) displays.
While Apple positioned the three new iPhones this year as flagship models, I believe that there's a good chance that only the two OLED models will be positioned as flagship devices.
Indeed, at this point, I think I can make a compelling case that the LCD iPhone that Apple introduces next year won't be positioned as a flagship device and, as such, will recycle much of the internal specifications of this year's iPhone X -- including the A11 Bionic chip.
The A11 Bionic can handle it
The key assumption that I'm making here is that Apple will opt to recycle the same basic camera subsystem used in either the iPhone 8 Plus or the iPhone X in the 6.1-inch LCD iPhone. If this proves to be the case, then the A11 Bionic chip, which successfully powers the camera subsystems of the iPhone X, can power the camera subsystem of next year's 6.1-inch LCD iPhone.
If it doesn't and Apple introduces an all-new camera subsystem with the 6.1-inch LCD iPhone, then the use of the A11 Bionic becomes far less likely as camera performance in Apple's iPhones depends heavily on the capabilities of a dedicated processor, known as an image signal processor (ISP), that's embedded in each of Apple's A-series chips.
But, for the sake of this analysis, let's assume that I'm right that Apple won't endow the 6.1-inch LCD iPhone with the same new camera subsystems that it includes in the new OLED models.
The CPU performance of the A11 Bionic is already best-in-class, so the general performance of an A11-based LCD iPhone in web surfing as well as in any app present in the Apple App Store should be quite snappy.
In terms of graphics/display performance, the A11 Bionic should have an easier time driving the 6.1-inch LCD iPhone's display than it does pushing the displays on either the iPhone 8 Plus or the iPhone X.
Since the resolution of the display of the LCD iPhone should be somewhere in the ballpark of 1822-by-840 pixels (this is an estimate based on KGI Securities' pixel density claims), the chip inside of the 6.1-inch LCD iPhone will only need to draw about 1.53 million pixels (the more pixels the chip needs to draw, the more performance is required of the chip).
The A11 Bionic inside of the iPhone 8 Plus must draw about 2.07 million pixels, while that same chip inside of the iPhone X must draw a whopping 2.74 million pixels.
The A11 Bionic should therefore handle the graphics and display needs of the 6.1-inch LCD iPhone with ease.
Such a move wouldn't be unprecedented
If Apple were to give the new 6.1-inch LCD iPhone an older chip, it certainly wouldn't be an unprecedented move. For example, Apple's successful low-cost iPad includes a relatively dated A9 chip, while the two higher-end iPad Pro tablets use the company's latest A10X Fusion chip.
Now, next year's 6.1-inch LCD iPhone will, by no means, be positioned as Apple's lowest-end iPhone, so it still needs a modern, fast applications processor. But I think the A11 Bionic is more than good enough to power the experience that Apple wants to deliver with that device, and I believe it will reserve the A12 for the higher-end iPhones and use it as a selling point for those devices.