How Apple Made the World’s Fastest Smartphone (without Sacrificing Battery Life)

Apple Event 091019 Iphone 11 Iphone 11 Pro 9224 Credit: Lexy Savvides / CNET
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Apple’s marketing VP Phil Schiller and chip engineer Anand Shimpi recently sat down with WIRED magazine to discuss the A13 chipset in the latest Phone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro models.

While they went over some of the specifications of the A13, Schiller and Shimpi also went over some of the lesser-known details about the chip — such as how Apple prioritized both performance and efficiency.

Performance and Power

On paper, the A13 Bionic is an impressive piece of silicon. It’s a six-core CPU with two high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores. It also packs a quad-core GPU, a proprietary image processor, and an octa-core neural engine for machine learning capable of performing one trillion operations a second.

Compared to the previous generation, the A13 sports 8.5 billion transistors, a 23 percent increase over the A12. It offers up to 20 percent better performance across all areas and is actually 30 percent more power efficient.

Those performance gains aren’t going to be easy to spot in day-to-day operations, but Schiller told WIRED that one of the most apparent examples is the text-to-speech performance on the new iPhones — which optimizes natural language processing via the neural engine and machine learning.

But Apple doesn’t just focus on performance. Efficiency also takes top priority. “We talk about performance a lot publicly,” Shimpi told WIRED. “But the reality is, we view it as performance per watt.”

The A13 chip even uses its neural engine and machine learning capabilities to manage battery life, optimizing both performance and power efficiency. “If you build an efficient design, you also happen to build a performance design,” Shimpi added.

A13 Benchmarks

While widespread benchmark testing of the A13 Bionic hasn’t really taken place, we do have what appears to be an early Geekbench 4 test of the chip’s power. And the results suggest that Apple’s chipmaking efforts paid off.

An iPhone 11 Pro with an A13 Bionic and 4GB of RAM clocked in with a single-core score of 5,472 and a multi-core score of 13,769. That’s both a significant improvement over the A12 Bionic, as well as the latest and greatest Android flagships.

We’ll have to wait for more benchmark testing to be sure what the A13 Bionic is capable of. But, for one, it does appear like Apple’s iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro are the fastest smartphones currently on the market.

Future Optimization

As you might expect, Apple’s efforts in the chipmaking sphere are far from over. The company is continuing its push toward becoming a chipmaking superpower — and its work on the A-series chips just proves that.

For the future, Shimpi and Schiller didn’t reveal too many plans. But the pair did note that Apple is taking a look at how iOS apps are being used now to further optimize chip designs in the future.

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