Earlier this month the Internet thought they had another “gate” to froth over when it came to the iPhone–this time “Chipgate”. In the iPhone 6s the A9 chip is designed by Apple, but the chip is actually manufactured by one of two companies: TSMC or Samsung. Early testing appeared to show that iPhones with the Samsung-made A9 chip had significantly worse battery life than the A9 chip made by TSMC. However, Arstechnica later put the kibosh on that.
Yet rumors had it that Apple wasn’t happy with the bad press and shortly after another rumor leaked that Apple is considering using Intel chips in next year’s iPhone. That sent the tech world into a tizzy. Could the iPhone 7 feature Intel Inside? Kinda. Here’s everything you need to know.
Are Apple and Intel working on a chip together?
Eh, kind of. VentureBeat, who broke the story, says that Intel has 1,000 engineers dedicated to working on a chip for Apple’s next iPhone. Yet they state that Apple hasn’t hired them to do this. Rather, Intel has so many people working on the chip to perfect it in hopes of getting it right and winning a contract from Apple.
So are they designing the next Ax chip?
No. When most people heard Intel and Apple were working on a chip for the iPhone 7, they assumed it was the CPU chipset. In the iPhone 7 this chipset will probably be called the A10 (the one that comes after the current A9 in the iPhone 6s). However, VentureBeat clearly explains that Intel’s team of 1,000 engineers is dedicated to working on the 7360 LTE modem chip.
What is the 7360 LTE modem chip?
It’s a chip designed by Intel that lets your device talk to carriers’ 4G networks so your device can send and receive data. Intel has stated this chip will ship to handset makers in 2016, but it appears they are trying to fine tune it with the iPhone’s architecture to win an LTE chipset contract from Apple.
Who currently supplies the LTE chips in iPhones?
That would be Qualcomm. Their 9X45 LTE chip is currently inside all iPhones–and they have been for years.
But if Apple is at least giving Intel a shot, doesn’t that mean there is something wrong with Qualcomm’s chips?
No. Matter of fact, the primary reason Apple is willing to work with Intel now to see if they can pull off an adequate LTE chip is so the company can pit Intel against Qualcomm.
Why would Apple want to pit Qualcomm against Intel?
Because–as it did with TSMC and Samsung, who both make the A9 chip–if there are two LTE chipmakers Apple can use it gives Apple a stronger hand in negotiations. If Intel and Qualcomm can both make the chip, Apple knows that will drive their prices lower as they compete to get the Cupertino company’s business. In short, Apple’s component costs will be lower, which means they’ll make more profits from the iPhone.
But wouldn’t Apple just choose one or the other?
Almost certainly not, for the exact reasons above.
That’s kinda crappy.
Hey this is capitalism.
So does that mean the iPhone 7 won’t have an Intel CPU?
Yeah, pretty much. Except that doesn’t mean that the iPhone 7s or iPhone 8 won’t have a CPU made by Intel. Matter of fact, Venturebeat alludes to the fact that this possible inclusion of an Intel LTE chip could be a test run to see if Apple should consider moving its system-on-a-chip (SOC) Ax series manufacturing over to Intel from Samsung and TSMC.
As VentureBeat points out: “While the SOC would be created from top to bottom by Apple’s formidable chip designers, Intel would get the job of fabricating the SOC using its 14-nanometer process. Samsung and TSMC, which currently share the fabrication of the iPhone’s A9 chip, also have 14-nanometer processes, but those foundries are said to compromise by making the interfaces with a 20-nanometer process. Intel’s foundry, by contrast, uses a 14-nanometer process ‘from front to back,’ as our source said. Intel’s process, our sources said, can create silicon chips with superior density and gate pitch.”
Matter of fact, Intel is saying they could have a 10-nanometer process SOC in just a few years time.
How would a 10-nanometer process SOC make the iPhone better?
Chips made with a 10-nanometer process would not only be smaller, but they would be more powerful and more power efficient. That means your iPhone would be more powerful and faster than ever, while also serving up better battery life.
Further, it’s believed that Intel could even combine their LTE chipset directly onto a possible future Ax SOC, which would make the iPhone even MORE power efficient. And that is something that would interest Apple very much.