Apple’s A15 speed may not appear on the benchmarks, but the chip supports advanced features that go beyond what the iPhone 12’s A14 can achieve.
appealThe new iPad mini and iPhone 13 series are powered by an A15 processor that offers more upgrades than the A14 chip used in the previous generation models. Although significantly faster, the degree of improvement is not as great as the boost seen last year. Chip designers need to consider more than just determining the speed benchmark when developing new products, and the new features of the iPhone 13 certainly play a role in these decisions.
Apple designs its iPhone and many of the most advanced components used in the phone. The development of the system-on-a-chip (SoC) that serves as the central processor, graphics chip, and neural engine of the iPhone is entirely under Apple’s control, although it uses Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) to provide the actual silicone chips. By marrying chip design with iOS and app development, the iPhone is a complete stack of complementary systems that work together holistically that are rarely matched by other tech companies.
Apple’s latest mobile SoC, the A15 that accelerates the iPhone 13 through its various tasks, follows a long line of powerful leading processors. If it is built using TSMC’s N5P process, it means that it does not get an automatic increase in speed and efficiency which happens when the transistor size is reduced. It is instead on a scale of 5 nanometers, just like the A14 processor. Apple claims that this new silicone delivers up to 50 percent better performance than the competition, but it did not actually give a comparison with its own A14 chip. Since Apple’s A14 in multicore Geekbench tests is about 29 percent faster than a Samsung Galaxy S21 + with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 chip, this indicates a modest improvement in CPU speed, as expected, perhaps about 16 percent. There are many performance methods that are harder to quantify, and this is where the magic happens.
The new features of iPhone 13
Apple’s iPhone 13 has a feature called Cinematic mode, which uses the more advanced neural engine of the A15 processor to identify faces within a video scene to see if the subjects are looking at the camera, turning the lens, or looking away. With this app, it mimics the actions of a Hollywood camera operator who manually shifts the focus in real time, to draw the eye to the relevant portion of the frame. This is the first time for a camcorder, regardless of the cost. It’s almost certain that this feature does not come with the iPhone 12, as the A14 neural processor may not fulfill the task.
The A15 manages this impressive portrait blur effect with Dolby Vision, but only with a 1080p resolution, indicating that Apple is pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Apple would like to offer it in 4K quality, but it may have to wait another year. Another advanced A15 feature available on the iPhone 13 Pro models is low-compression ProRes video recording. With 15 billion transistors, a 27 percent increase over the A14, Apple’s latest processor has enough room to optimize multiple processes that may not appear on a scale, but will make a difference across the system. Speaking of which, the A15 actually comes in two variants, with the iPhone 13 Pro getting five GPU cores, one more than the cheaper models. This probably helps to explain the different software features between the standard iPhone 13 and the Pro models.
Last year’s A14 was incredibly impressive, setting a new standard and providing the basis for Apple’s M1 chip that powers its new Macs. No matter how good it is, Apple is a master at taking incredible amount of performance from its ARM processors, while maintaining excellent efficiency and the A15 represents the latest stand in 2021.
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