Preferential treatment for Apple means TSMC has no 3nm capacity left for Android phones

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Preferential treatment for Apple means TSMC has no 3nm capacity left for Android phones
The chips inside most current top flagship smartphones are based on TSMC's 4nm process but it looks like only Apple's iPhone 15 Pro will have a 3nm chipset this year.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 which fuels premium Android phones and the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max's A16 Bionic have been manufactured on TSMC's 4nm node, which is a derivate of the 5nm tech.

The 3nm process, on the other hand, is a full node jump. The first 3 nm-class node is known as N3 and it will offer up to 15 percent improvement in performance at the same power or 30 percent more efficiency at the same speed when compared to 5nm.

Taiwanese outlet DigiTimesreports (via Dan Nystedt) that Apple has booked the entire N3 supply. The company's A17 chip, which will likely underpin the iPhone 15 Pro and Ultra, and the M3 processor, which will allegedly fuel the next MacBook Air and iMac, will be based on the 3nm tech.

Apple's A16 and M2 chips are already faster than the competition, despite being based fabbed on the same node as Android chips. A 3nm chip could extend that lead further.

TSMC's yield for N3 is also said to be better than expected, meaning the percentage of non-defective products is lower than anticipated. Per an earlier report, 3nm yields could be as high as 80 percent. 

TSMC started mass production of 3nm-based chips late last year so it's safe to assume that the 3nm A17 will be ready in time for iPhone 15's launch in September. 

Earlier reports had indicated that Qualcomm and MediaTek weren't sure if the new process was worth it and whether they should bring out 3nm chipsets in 2023. Today's report implies that Qualcomm and MediaTek will use the second generation of TSMC's 3nm tech, which is called N3E. Its mass production is expected to start later this year.

Apple is TSMC's largest customer and accounts for 25 percent of its revenue, so it's no wonder that it's getting the priority treatment. Flagship chips of today are ridiculously fast for most use cases, so it won't matter too much if Android phone makers stick with 4nm chips.

The price of chip wafers has increased from $16,000 for 5nm to $20,000 for 3nm. This may lead to a price bump and make the iPhone 15 Pro more expensive than the iPhone 14 Pro.

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