Taiwanese semiconductor manufacturer TSMC has officially started mass-producing 7-nanometer (nm) chips intended for Apple’s 2018 iPhones, Bloomberg reports, setting the stage for annual performance and power efficiency improvements. The new processors are expected to carry Apple’s A12 name this year and to continue at the 7nm size through at least 2019, with the debut of the A13 next year.
Previously considered difficult to manufacture, 7nm chips are expected to debut in new Apple devices ahead of their use in Samsung phones next year, as well as in products using Qualcomm Snapdragon processors. Qualcomm has announced that its first 5G phones will use 7nm chips when they debut in early 2019.
Reducing the nanometer size of chips is commonly called “shrinking,” with a million nanometers fitting into each single millimeter. Current top-of-the-line Apple products — and most of their competitors — use larger 10nm chips that require roughly 30 percent more energy and physical size to deliver the same performance as 7nm parts. Chipmakers can choose between 7nm chips that are functionally equivalent but markedly smaller than 10nm versions or those that offer superior performance at the same size.
Apple was previously reported to be preparing for bi-annual chip manufacturing process jumps that will enable its A-series processors to continuously shrink. While the A12 and A13 are expected to feature a 7nm process, TSMC has promised to debut a 5nm process in 2020 and 3nm process in 2022, enabling even incredibly complex CPUs and GPUs to become fingernail-sized.
Though not covered in the Bloomberg report, A12-series processors will certainly appear in upcoming iPads, as well, though Apple often offers larger and higher-performance tablet versions of the chips with the “X” suffix, such as the “A10X Fusion” found in the current iPad Pro. The A10X Fusion was notably TSMC’s first 10nm chip to be used in a consumer device. Current top-of-line iPhones use the 10nm A11 Bionic chip, which debuted last fall.