09/18 Update below. This post was originally published on September 15
Apple’s iPhone 14 range delivers a controversial first: it is the first iPhone range to be released with different chipset generations. Many believed this was a one-off, a consequence of the global chip shortage, but the first iPhone 15 leak has a shock in store.
Yes, the iPhone 14 is just one week old, but Apple works years in advance, and a new report from Nikkei Asia states that the company has already decided to limit its next-generation A17 chip to the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max. And this matters more than it did for the iPhone 14 lineup.
While performance differences between the A15 and A16 are minor, both chips are head and shoulders above the competition, which makes the differences less important. The real downside is no noticeable improvement in battery life from the A16, but this looks set to change with the A17.
According to Nikkei, the A17 will be Apple’s first 3-nanometer fabricated chip after 5nm variants were used for the A14, A15 and A16. This is bleeding edge technology and, compared to its predecessors, 3nm enables the A17 to run faster, cooler and with reduced power draw. Yes, this is shaping up to be the first chip in four years that delivers significant year-on-year performance and battery life gains — but only for Pro buyers.
“Apple is likely to use the different levels of production tech to introduce greater differences between its premium and nonpremium models,” explains Dylan Patel, chief analyst with Semianalysis, speaking to Nikkei.
09/17 Update: Despite only shipping to customers yesterday, the first iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max teardowns have been completed, inadvertently giving away a key detail of the iPhone 15.
Performed by YouTuber WekiHome, the teardowns reveal that both iPhone 14 Pro models feature Qualcomm’s X65 modem. Compared to the iPhone 13’s X60, it supports wider bands in the high-speed 5G ‘mmWave’ spectrum and improved efficiency thanks to Qualcomm’s ‘PowerSave 2.0’ technology. It was also announced way back in May 2021.
Given the delay, there was speculation that the iPhone 14 lineup may come with Qualcomm’s newer ‘X70’, which was announced in May 2022. Qualcomm claims the X70 can achieve mindbending download and upload speeds of 10Gbps and 3.5Gbps respectively, but the real headliner is the company’s claim that it is 60% more power efficient.
With the X60 and X65 providing a clear pattern, the X70 is now a lock for the iPhone 15 range. Moreover, the combination of the X70 and a 3nm A17 chip suggests this lineup has the potential to deliver game-changing battery life. Throw in the expected move to USB-C for Pro models, and 2023 already looks like it will provide some of the fireworks missing from the 2022 models.
09/18 Update: speaking to me, display specialist Ross Young has revealed that Apple will bring the pill-shaped cutout and ‘Dynamic Island’ functionality to all iPhone 15 models. The big caveat is Young still doesn’t expect 120Hz/LTPO ‘ProMotion’ to come to standard iPhone 15 models as the “supply chain can’t support it.”
First, the good news. Dynamic Island stole the show at Apple’s iPhone 15 launch this week. In classic Apple fashion, the company transformed the physical disadvantage of a large cutout through clever software into arguably the most compelling reason to buy an iPhone 14 Pro model. It’s slick, intuitive and the best notification and status system iPhones have ever had.
Bringing it to all iPhone 15 models is a no-brainer, and anyone put off by iPhone 14 Pro prices (which, excluding the US and China, increased in most countries worldwide) now has a good reason to skip a generation.
Second, the bad news. High refresh rate displays have been standard on flagship and even midrange Android phones for years. For Apple to release an $800 iPhone 15 in 2023 without it seems extraordinary.
Young went on to explain that he believes 2024 is more likely as Apple supply chain partner BOE gradually increases the production of the LTPO displays Apple uses for ProMotion. Given his remarkable track record, Young is likely right, but I have no doubt that Apple could reconfigure its supply chain demands if it really wanted to bring the feature to all users.
Either way, the ongoing exclusion of ProMotion makes a lot of sense strategically for Apple as it looks to drive an ever-increasing wedge between its Pro and non-Pro iPhones. After all, the iPhone 14 has already shown that Apple is happy to leave its standard models virtually unchanged if it will serve this goal.
There is a justification for this strategy, too: Cost. Patel estimates a cost increase of “at least 40% for the same area of silicon when moving to 3-nm chips from the 5-nm family.” All of which sounds like classic Apple: if you want the best, we will make it, but you’ll have to pay the premium.
And this is Apple’s new ‘Pro’ strategy in a nutshell: continue to widen the gap between Pro and non-Pro devices in all categories (iPhone, iPad, Mac and MacBook) to create clear division and motivate upsell. It is a tactic which already seems to be working. Influential analyst Ming Chi-Kuo reports that pre-orders of iPhone 14 Pro models far outstrip their non-Pro equivalents.
Nikkei says TSMC, Intel and Apple (unsurprisingly) declined to comment on its information, but it cites three different sources for the information. Which suggests we should take it seriously.
With USB-C also hotly tipped for iPhone 15 Pro models, Apple’s next-gen iPhones are already shaping up to be breakthrough devices. But don’t be surprised if their prices reflect this.
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