Apple has unveiled the latest iteration of its smartphone chip: the A12 Bionic SoC (system-on-a-chip). The company made the announcement yesterday at its annual product showcase event in Cupertino, California, hailing the A12 as the industry’s first ever 7nm chip (the smallest current transistor scale). It will be embedded in Apple’s new XR, XS, and XS Max iPhones.
The A12 Bionic adopts the same six-core fusion CPU architecture of its predecessor the A11 Bionic, with two performance cores that are up to 15 percent faster and four efficiency cores that are up to 50 percent more efficient. A12 Bionic’s four-core GPU is up to 50 percent faster than A11’s three-core GPU.
The A12 Bionic’s next-generation Neural Engine is a standout feature. The AI-dedicated processor is designed to speed up the iPhone’s AI capabilities for Apple’s facial identification system FaceID, ARKit, and other machine learning tasks. The A12 Neural Engine adopts an eight-core design, which enables it to run up to five trillion operations per second compared to the A11 Bionic’s 600 billion.
Apple also announced that Core ML — an Apple tool that helps developers integrate machine learning models into mobile apps — can run on the A12 Bionic Neural Engine with nine times the speed and one-tenth the energy consumption of the A11.
Apple is trumpeting the A12 Bionic as the “smartest and the most powerful chip ever in a smartphone” — which is exactly what Huawei CEO Richard Yu said two weeks ago when he unveiled his company’s new Kirin 980 at the IFC 2018 in Berlin. Huawei also proclaimed the Kirin 980 as the world’s first mobile 7nm chipset. The chip is expected to power Huawei’s upcoming Magic 2 and Mate 20 smartphones, which will be unveiled this October in London.
Kirin 980 is the world’s first chipset to adopt ARM’s Cortex-A76 CPU. The chipset has an eight-core ARM big.LITTLE CPU architecture comprising two 2.6GHz A76, two 1.92GHz A76, and four 1.8GHz A55, enabling a 75 percent increase in performance and 58 percent increase in power efficiency compared to its predecessor Kirin 970.
The Kirin 980’s GPU is a high-end Mali G76 based on new ARM architecture that shows a 76 percent performance increase over its previous generation. Its innovative dual Neural Processing Unit (NPU) can process 4500 pictures per minute, 2.2 times faster than the Kirin 970 NPU. Huawei says the dual NPU performance is almost two times higher than the Snapdragon 980 and three times higher than the Apple A11.
Both of the tiny chips are capable of tackling huge tasks, but how do they stack up against one another? Although directly comparing the A12 and Kirin 980 is difficult as the chips run on different operating systems and their smartphones have not yet shipped, Synced has compiled a list of known parameters for both chips and their predecessors.
Huawei and Apple’s smartphone battle is certainly heating up. In 2018 Q2 the Chinese manufacturer outsold its American rival for the first time to become the world’s second largest smartphone vendor, trailing only Samsung. Immediately after yesterday’s A12 chip unveiling, Huawei CEO Yu posted “We got this (稳了)! Let’s meet in London on October 16” on Chinese social media website Weibo.
The A12 Bionic and Kirin 980 were both realized thanks to breakthroughs in 7 nanometer transistor technology and are designed to boost deployment of maturing AI technologies on state-of-the-art smartphones.
The A12 Bionic-powered iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max will be available on September 21, starting at US$999 and US$1099 respectively.
Journalist: Tony Peng | Editor: Michael Sarazen