"Do you know the speed of an A-X processor? Does it really matter at the end of the day? You want a fabulous experience when you use the product."
-- Tim Cook, February 2013
Historically, the competition in the world of consumer electronics has frequently boiled down to technical specs. For the most part, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has been able to avoid spec wars. That's not to say that it can entirely, but Apple is more capable of shifting the basis of competition away from pure specs.
The latest example is a new report that offers possible details of Apple's upcoming A8 chip. The new processor will reportedly remain a dual-core affair but will see its clock speed increase to above 2 GHz. That would be up from the 1.3 GHz to 1.4 GHz speeds found in the A7, depending on device. The A8 will be manufactured on a 20-nanometer process, compared with the A7's 28-nanometer process, and Taiwan Semiconductor (NYSE:TSM) is again named as a manufacturing partner to complement Samsung.
Nowadays, most companies have transitioned to quad-core chips (read: spec war). Some, like Samsung, have even made the jump to octa-core chips. Octa-core chips aren't really as impressive as it sounds, as it's usually an implementation of ARM Holdings' big.LITTLE, where four low-power cores are combined with four high-power cores. Only four cores are active at any given time.
Even Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) gave in to peer pressure earlier this year, announcing an octa-core Snapdragon also built on big.LITTLE. That was a big departure for the mobile-chip giant, since it has long argued that focusing on better performance on a fewer number of cores is a more sophisticated and effective approach.
The reality is that most apps today don't fully utilize all of the computing power available. Within Android, quad-core processors are nearly ubiquitous, but developing apps to take full advantage of more than two cores is difficult. Even within iOS, most apps don't take advantage of the A7's full dual-core potential, so it makes no sense for Apple to go quad-core.
In fact, Apple never even officially disclosed how many cores are in the A7. Apple also never talks about A-chip clock speeds. The details were only discovered after it shipped and was subsequently torn down. One of the testaments to Apple's all-powerful marketing machine is that it can choose not to disclose some of the most important specs of one of the most important components.
It just tells consumers the bare minimum, such as performance gains or the adoption of 64-bit architecture, but promises a "fabulous experience." The good news is that Apple delivers on its promise, so consumers keep on buying.