Why the iPhone could outperform Android flagships significantly next year

Why the iPhone could outperform Android flagships significantly next year
Moore's Law is an observation made by Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel. In 1965, Moore wrote a paper noting that the number of transistors inside an integrated circuit doubles every year. Ten years later, he revised the law by saying that the number of transistors inside an IC will double every other year. Over time, this has been more or less reliable. We can track this by looking at the process node used by chip foundries to manufacture integrated circuits; the smaller the process number, the larger the number of transistors that can fit inside.

More transistors inside a chip increase its performance and make it more energy efficient. And currently, flagship application processors (AP) like the Snapdragon 855 and the Apple A13 Bionic are produced using the 7nm process by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world's largest independent foundry. Next year's Snapdragon 865 Mobile Platform will be manufactured by Samsung using its 7nm EUV process. EUV stands for extreme ultraviolet lithography, which is a way to mark up chips for transistor placement more precisely; this allows additional transistors to fit inside an integrated circuit. To understand what is at stake here, consider that Huawei's Kirin 990 SoC is made using the 7nm process. The version of this chip that comes with an integrated 5G modem contains more than 10.3 billion transistors. Next year's 5nm chips will have as many as 171.3 million transistors per square millimeter.

TSMC plans on starting volume production of 3nm chips by 2022


TSMC is sure to benefit from the transition to 5G that will start picking up speed next year. JK Wang, the firm's senior vice president for fab operations says that the foundry is on track to start production of 5nm chips in the first half of 2020. That means that the A14 Bionic SoC powering the 2020 iPhones will be produced using the 5nm process which could give next year's iPhone models a performance lead over 2020 Android flagship phones.

And according to Digitimes, Moore's Law will continue to be valid in 2022 when TSMC will begin volume production of 3nm chips. Back in October, we told you that TSMC has started construction on facilities that will be used to churn out these integrated circuits in a couple of years. While Samsung has a similar roadmap to 3nm, its chips will have a lower density than TSMC's. That means that the latter's 3nm chips will pack more transistors into a small space than its rival's 3nm chips.


In the U.S., Intel failed to become a player in smartphones and earlier this year it sold its smartphone modem chip business to Apple for $1 billion. Eventually, Apple will design its own 5G modem chips, but for now, it is depending on Qualcomm's component. Intel vows to take over process leadership, but considering that its Ice Lake-U mobile processors are produced using the 10nm process, it is going to take quite an effort on the chipmaker's part. 

So what happens in 2028? Will Moore's Law come to an abrupt end? Many thought that chip manufacturers were never going to get past 5nm. TSMC will build its 3nm chips in Hsinchu, Taiwan. And that is where it will conduct R&D for the development of 2nm chips according to the foundry's senior director Zhuang Zishou. At this point, there is no reason to expect the law to be repealed even when the foundries get down to 1nm which, in theory, could take place by 2026. But TSMC is working on some things to keep the law alive. One option is to stack transistors vertically instead of horizontally. The company is also investigating alternatives to silicon packaging by looking at the periodic chart. The right element could be the answer to the question that opened this paragraph.

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68 Comments

1. GeorgeAF

Posts: 91; Member since: Feb 25, 2014

Would Android chip manufacturers not have the technology to produce the same 5nm? Weird article but okay

4. vincelongman

Posts: 5817; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

The next Kirin will be N5 N5 wasn't ready in time for the 865 Even N7+ didn't have enough capacity for the 865 Both the A13 and Kirin 990 4G were N7P (DUV), only the Kirin 990 5G was N7+ (EUV) The 875 will be N5 or N5P (probably N5) But I'm concerned for Samsung's Exynos SoCs As Samsung Foundry have fallen behind TSMC Samsung both 5LPE (2020 H1) and 4LPE (2020 H2 to 2021) are behind TSMC's N5 (but slightly ahead of TSMC's N6)

5. GeorgeAF

Posts: 91; Member since: Feb 25, 2014

I understand how the A14 might have superior process in Q3/Q4 of 2020. My whole point is, the technology will only be advanced cause thats the next step. By end of 2020, Qualcomm would have announced 875 which be on the same node as the A14. Granted that it wont be faster but it will be at the same realm of processing prowess.

10. tbreezy

Posts: 253; Member since: Aug 11, 2019

Do you not get it bro? The 875 will go into the 2021 devices, by that point Apple A14 will be already shipping in late 2020 into released phones! :’D Keep up!

46. Buttfrags

Posts: 15; Member since: Feb 28, 2019

Do you not get it bro? Both chips are only a few months apart. Just because it a different year doesnt mean that they are no in the same generation! ; ) Keep up!

57. Phullofphil

Posts: 1846; Member since: Feb 10, 2009

Sacking this crap is irritating. Same idiots justifying there side

43. sgodsell

Posts: 7624; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

I always thought that building any chip with only a few layers thick, was stupid. For years I was saying for chip OEMs to build their chips up. Think about it, if you took any SoC, and even made it four times thicker than it is today. It would still be wafer thin. Humans wouldn't even notice a thickness increase in that new SoC. Now even if all the OEM did was add a thick blank layer, and repeat the same SoC over again, only with some modifications to the bus, and address areas. Then they could completely include another SoC on top. Therefore making a real dual core SoC. So they could repeat the same A13 on top, over again. Or a dual version of the 865, or in other words a 16 core 865. But it doesn't stop there. What about now doubling that process again. Now you would have a 32 core 865, or an A13 with 24 cores. But we are just getting started. It would still be wafer thin in terms of humans looking at it. Now what about adding full RAM on board, like including 16 GB of say 6 GHz RAM as well, just by adding on more layers. What about adding on dedicated RAM for graphics, and instead of 4 core GPU, a 4096 core GPU with it's own 8 GB of RAM on that same wafer. As soon as OEMs add on a lot more layers, then the possibilities are almost endless.

61. Vokilam

Posts: 1459; Member since: Mar 15, 2018

You’re not considering heat dissipation on a thicker wafer. You’d have to slow it down, or throttle it at an earlier stage - would be a proverbial “buzz kill”. I think there’s more to just “doubling up” to make it work, bud.

62. sgodsell

Posts: 7624; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

I clearly know that it would involve a lot more than just doubling up. However I was try to give examples of things that could be done. I am fully aware that it's way more involved than just doubling up with the existing SoCs layout. As it stands today all SoCs are only a few layers within each chip. But think of the possibilities if they used 10 thousand layers instead. Now they could easily play with and install all the RAM they need, and even the storage on board that single chip. What about a 20, or 50 thousand layer chip. It would still be very thin with 30 thousand layers. I can't wait to see what happens in n the future.

70. vincelongman

Posts: 5817; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

They're trying, but at the there's no technology capable of cooling such a SoC The closest is Intel's Lakefield. Which is 3 layers: DRAM, 10nm compute die and 14nm IO die Will be interesting to see if they can stack more, but I doubt so until someone comes up with a revolutionary cooling system

7. RevolutionA

Posts: 529; Member since: Sep 30, 2017

Apple has always been outperforming Android phones for years. Nothing new

8. Papa_Ji

Posts: 914; Member since: Jun 27, 2016

They were always behind.... and still working hard to catch up android.

44. sgodsell

Posts: 7624; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

If only some of those Apple zealots would only open up their eyes. You just have to look at the new 865 or the new XR2 SoCs from Qualcomm, and know they smoke the A13. The A13 can't even come close to what the SD 865 can do or the XR2. The A13 is stuck using the slower DDR4 RAM, whereas the SD 865 and XR2 can use the newer an faster DDR5 RAM. But the real power comes from it's sustainable computing power. Please someone show me the A13 in any AR/VR/MR/XR headsets, and being able to sustain the same graphics rendering, and computing speeds. Apple has yet to prove it's computing power with something as intensive as an AR or VR headset. I don't mean AR on a single screen. I mean an AR headset with dual screens, and a lot more pixels than what Apple's current iPhones can do. Especially when the latest iPhone 11 pro is still pushing 1.7 million fewer pixels on it's display compared to an Android flagship that is using a QHD+ resolution display. For crying out loud an iPhone can't even run two apps simultaneously on it's own display. Apple has a lot to prove to the world.

47. JCASS889 unregistered

That does not matter, the only thing that matters is benchmark scores....

48. sgodsell

Posts: 7624; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Wow! Proof that Apple has a following of ignorant users, that don't know their head from their butt. Yeah, like benchmark scores are real world. Give us a break.

11. tbreezy

Posts: 253; Member since: Aug 11, 2019

Absolutely. The Apple Haters just love to grasp at straws. This once again shows just how far ahead Apple is. It’s only going to get better when they put in their own 5G Modem and outstrip anything available! Cannot wait :D

18. tedkord

Posts: 17514; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

It'll probably go as well as when they put their own navigation app in.

29. koioz

Posts: 188; Member since: Nov 29, 2018

Their SOC is fast but their modem is trash.

65. Vokilam

Posts: 1459; Member since: Mar 15, 2018

As an iPhone owner as of late - I would 100% agree with that. Hoping Apple goes back to qualcomm for modems for good.

55. wickedwilly

Posts: 778; Member since: Sep 19, 2018

Have you forgotten Apple has been using outdated modems for the last few years and will be late to the game on 5G. No-one knows how good their chips will be when and if they finally come out. Probably behind, just as iPhones and IOS has been for generations.

14. androiduser

Posts: 558; Member since: Jun 18, 2014

Not at all, in general? No they haven't lol, in performance? Actually Android phones caught up, well the iPhone is only a little bit ahead in performance but you won't notice a difference between using a pixel 4 or an iPhone 11 pro, it's not really outperforming, more like just having a better chipset because iPhone is released at the end of the year with a new chipset. Still I prefer android, if you like iOS go ahead and buy an iPhone, good for you, it's a great phone but not everyone is a fan of ios.

17. tedkord

Posts: 17514; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

That explains why they always lose the real world speed tests...

38. stijnvbml

Posts: 78; Member since: Feb 20, 2013

Those are the worst. First, animation speed is important in them and iPhones have slower animation. Second, you can’t just say that the same apps are actually the same, maybe they show a different cover story etc which takes longer to load etc. Third, customers do not use their phone in the way represented by these test. And last, software can get better optimezed or learn via AI how you use your phone to optimize it. These test are just as reliable as benchmarks.

39. photo3

Posts: 33; Member since: Mar 11, 2016

Only one speed test actually shows processor speed and gpu. Check out Gary explains tests on YouTube.

2. pecapello

Posts: 108; Member since: Feb 19, 2015

They should be using graphene by 2026

3. vincelongman

Posts: 5817; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Obviously, the 2020 iPhone's A14 will be roughly 9 months newer than the SD 865/Exynos 990

6. Well-Manicured-Man

Posts: 731; Member since: Jun 16, 2015

Don’t think so. Galaxy launch is always in April and should be the first SD865 device like in the last years. That would make 5 months before new iPhones.

13. tbreezy

Posts: 253; Member since: Aug 11, 2019

865 is a 7nm SoC buddy, the iPhone 12 will rock a 5nm A14! The Snapdragon 865 is already outdated at this point as it does not even touch the A13 or Kirin990 5G.

15. androiduser

Posts: 558; Member since: Jun 18, 2014

You're high lol it destroys the Kirin 990 and it overall beats the a13, sure the single score on geekbench is lower but the overall chipset is better whether you like it or not, but that's to be expect since it's newer, it packs more and better features and has better ai. The snapdragon 865 is far from outdated. It seems to me like you're a troll, either that or you're just a blind apple fanboy.

50. sgodsell

Posts: 7624; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

The AI on the SD 865 is three times faster than what's found on Apple's A13. The RAM on the 865 supports LPDDR5, which is way faster than the A13 LPDDR4 RAM. The graphics is way faster on the 865 compared to the A13. Especially since it can sustain speeds necessary for AR/VR/ MR headsets. Something that Apple has yet to prove to the world that it can do.

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