If BuzzFeed is to be believed, Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) next generation iPhone -- widely referred to as the iPhone 6s -- will be unveiled in a little under a month and will go on sale shortly after that. Soon, consumers and investors alike will know just about everything that there is to know about the upcoming phones as benchmarks and teardowns will certainly abound.
Ahead of the iPhone 6s launch, I'd like to give my final predictions of the specifications of Apple's next generation system-on-chip, likely to be known as the A9.
Two cores, or three?
Many smartphone applications processor vendors now include anywhere from four-to-eight processor cores in their chip designs. However, Apple's designs since the A5 have featured just two cores.
That being said, Apple's cores tend to offer greater performance than competing cores. Given that very few mobile applications (outside of artificial benchmarks) can take full advantage of a bunch of cores, Apple's approach seems superior.
It stands to reason, then, that the A9 will yet again pack two cores. That doesn't mean that performance can't go dramatically up; indeed, the expected migration from TSMC's (NYSE:TSM) 20-nanometer manufacturing process used to bake the A8 to 14/16-nanometer foundry processes from Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) and TSMC, respectively, should allow Apple to deliver higher peak and sustained clock frequencies, delivering better performance.
Additionally, Apple has generally made yearly improvements to its CPU designs to allow the chip to do more work per clock cycle. It seems more than likely that this trend will continue with the A9.
When all is said and done, a combination of higher frequencies and improved micro-architecture should lead to a pretty impressive boost in CPU performance.
A next generation graphics processor
Apple has long licensed graphics processor intellectual property from Imagination Technologies (NASDAQOTH:IGNMF), and there's very little reason to expect that to change with the A9.
Imagination announced its Series 7XT graphics IP late last year and claimed some pretty significant architectural enhancements compared to the Series 6XT design utilized in the Apple A8.
In fact, in an Imagination marketing slide comparing a Series 6XT graphics processor with a Series 7XT graphics processor running at the same clock frequency, Imagination claims anywhere from 35% to 61% performance uplift in three "industry standard" performance tests.
With the move to the more advanced manufacturing technology, the A9 should see increases in peak and sustained graphics clock frequency in addition to the architectural enhancements intrinsic to the Series 7XT graphics processor designs.
In the A7 and A8 processors, Apple opted for four "cluster" configurations of Imagination's Series 6 and Series 6XT graphics processors, respectively. For die area, and ultimately cost, reasons, it doesn't seem likely that Apple will move to a larger graphics configuration with the A9.
Brand new image signal processor
Rumors suggest that Apple will deliver substantial improvements to the camera subsystems in the iPhone 6s/6s Plus, with one of the major improvements being a move to a 12 megapixel sensor.
In order to accommodate a major improvement in camera performance and features, I believe the A9 will include a substantially overhauled image signal processing block on die -- potentially the largest generation-over-generation leap in this area yet.
Lots more memory bandwidth
This year, Apple is expected to move from LPDDR3 used in both the iPhone 5s and 6 to newer LPDDR4 memory. This technology promises better energy efficiency and substantially improved memory bandwidth.
This increased memory bandwidth should allow Apple to scale up the performance of its CPU, graphics, and other subsystems without having any of them "starved" for memory bandwidth. In a nutshell, improvements in memory technology should allow Apple to deliver the full benefits of the A9 processor to customers.
Expecting a leadership applications processor
Apple has consistently delivered applications processors that provide leadership performance among all smartphone applications processor solutions, and given how aggressive the company has been in building out world class chip design teams, I don't expect this to change with the A9.
In fact, I'm going to take my prediction a step further: not only will the A9 deliver best-in-class performance, I believe there is a strong chance that it will deliver the biggest generation-over-generation jump in terms of applications processor performance from Apple.