Why the Next iPhone Doesn’t Need a New Chip

It’s already too fast

  • Apple may use last year’s A15 chip in this year’s iPhone.
  • The iPhone is already fast enough for anything.
  • There may be several advantages for customers with this new strategy.
Person holding four iPhone 11 Pros in multiple colors

Daniel Romero / Unsplash

For the first time ever, Apple will put a newer, faster chip in its next iPhone Pro model but leave the regular non-pro model languishing with this year's chip. And it doesn't matter.

Superstar analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says that this fall's new iPhone 14 will keep the current A15 chip, while the iPhone Pro models will use the next-gen A16 chip. This could be a deliberate strategy to further differentiate the two lines, or it could be down to the supply difficulties affecting the world. Either way, it doesn't really make a difference for most of us because iPhones—and iPads—have been too fast for a while now. 

"Honestly, I don't think the standard iPhone 14 [needs to] have an A16 chip. [And] retaining the previous year's chipset does not diminish the power and performance of the world's most popular and highly coveted phone models," tech explainer Victoria Mendoza told Lifewire via email.

Why, Apple?

The famous world chip shortage doesn’t really affect custom production lines like Apple’s A-series and M-series that much. The shortage is primarily with smaller commodity chips, years-old designs used alongside custom processors.

So there’s not necessarily a shortage of A-series chips. Why, then, would Apple stop putting the latest chips in all its iPhones? 

Take a look at the way Tim Cook’s Apple does business. It likes to keep old models around for years after they’re replaced in the lineup. You can still buy a 2019 iPhone 11 today, for example. Gadgets get cheaper to produce over time, and those savings can be passed on to the buyer, kept by Apple, or split. 

It’s also easier to keep making the same product rather than gearing up for a new one every year. By setting the base iPhone a year behind the Pro model, Apple gets to always use a year-old design in its (presumably better-selling) mass-market model. That could make the company more money, and it may also make it a lot easier to deal with the massive demand when the newer models launch each fall. 

And, if Apple combines the introduction of this change with a fancy new exterior design, then who will even notice?

Old Model

The iPhone chips are fast. Absurdly fast. The A15 that powers the current lineup is already one generation beyond the A14, the chip that Apple’s M1-series Mac and iPad are based on. The M1 has a lot of extras, but the takeaway is the A15 is no slouch. 

In fact, it could be said that the current chips are already too fast for the iPhone and even the iPad. The M1 iPads (currently the iPad Pro and Air) have trouble using all that power. Their simplified operating systems cannot push the boundaries in the way a more flexible Mac can. I have a 2018 iPad Pro, and it’s not even close to needing a replacement. That iPad runs on the A12X Bionic, three generations behind the A15. 

Forget about staying ahead of the competition. Apple is already too far ahead of itself. It can afford to let the regular iPhone slip back a generation, and in return, we’ll get several benefits.

Person holding an iPhone 5

Giorgio Trovato / Unsplash

One benefit, as mentioned above, is that it may be easier to satisfy demand when new phones launch. Another is that it will be possible for Apple to get more creative with its chip designs. 

One huge problem when you work at iPhone scale is getting enough parts. Say you decide you want a fancy new camera on your next phone. Your supplier needs to be able to make them in the tens of millions. That rules out a lot of cutting-edge tech. Apple already puts the latest cameras in the iPhone Pro models and adds them to the more popular iPhone the following year. Perhaps the same holds for chip design.

And finally, it might make it a little easier to hold onto your old phone for another year if you know it still has the "latest" chip inside. 

"This would [certainly make me] feel better about a late iPhone 13 Mini purchase," said Apple nerd Neoelectronaut on the MacRumors forums

The result of this change is that tech journalists may grumble when it happens, but after that, nobody will notice. After the transition, the iPhone will still be on a yearly chip-update cycle, just a year behind the Pro model. And that's just fine.

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