Apple plans far into the future and a new report suggests part of those plans involves a 4nm manufacturing process for the iPhone 14’s A16 chip.
A recent report suggests the 2022 iPhone 14, presumed to be powered by an Apple A16 processor, is likely to use a 4-nanometer node. Apple uses an advanced 5-nanometer process for its iPhone 12 and the iPhone 13 is expected to use a performance-enhanced version at the same scale, called 5NP. With each reduction in size, chips get faster and use less energy.
Apple is the first to use 5-nanometer chips in its smartphone. The iPhone 12 would already have been a difficult device for any Android system to beat in terms of speed, but the advantage of the new manufacturing process helps keep ahead of the competition. Apple has the benefit of integrating customizations to the A-series processor that have a holistic view of both iPhone hardware and software. While companies like Huawei are following a similar path by looking to take greater control of the design of the chip, the phone, and the operating system, Apple has been doing this since the first iPhone in 2007. Due to this, it has a significant advantage in experience of that synergy.
The iPhone 12 launched in October of 2020 and, if Apple follows its established pattern, the iPhone 13 will come at the end of 2021, with the iPhone 14 appearing near the close of 2022. It may seem like that is looking too far ahead, but large corporations do plan well into the future and so do supply chain partners. In a recent TrendForce report, the market intelligent and consulting firm that tracks supply chain activity suggests that the iPhone 14 is expected to use TSMC’s 4-nanometer manufacturing process. TSMC is the semiconductor manufacturer that produced Apple’s A14 SoC, which powers the iPhone 12.
What’s Next For Chip Production?
TSMC’s manufacturing capabilities are in high demand. Samsung is the only other foundry currently to mass produce at the 5-nanometer node, the latest and best process for integrated circuits. Each reduction in size comes with more challenges to minimize defects during mass production. Considering nanometer scale means transistors packed within five millionths of a millimeter of one another, it’s understandable that this can be difficult. Simply keeping the system clear from particles must be an enormous undertaking. 5NP is a performance-enhanced process that uses the same scale, but results in 5-percent better speed and 10-percent less energy use, so modest improvements are inherent with this update coming in 2021.
4-nanometer will be another leap in performance and efficiency since it comes from a physical reduction of size, and therefore density. The closer electronics are packed, the less distance electrons must travel, losing less power to electrical resistance, and passing through the circuit quicker. Hence, better speed, less heat, and more efficiency. While this is a well that chip manufacturers keep dipping into, there is some concern that the ability to keep reducing size will hit a plateau soon. However, new research is taking place on three-dimensional packaging that will help bring more computer components into the system-on-a-chip design, allowing ongoing improvements to drive innovation for several years to come. In the meantime, the path to a faster iPhone 14 is already starting to become clearer.
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