It's already as fast as many laptops
Fact checked by Jerri Ledford
The next iPhone Pro will use a new three-nanometer chip process.
This means faster chips that use less energy.
Apple may spend this power "budget" on new machine-learning features and maybe better battery life.
The next iPhone Pro will be absurdly powerful, but won't all that potential go to waste?
iPhones have been as capable as laptops for years now. Their custom chips can crunch through trillions of calculations in a second, processing your photos in real-time, running high-end games, editing video, and doing anything else you can throw at it. The next-gen iPhone 15 Pro will use even more powerful 3-nanometer chips, but what's the point? It's not like the iPhone needs more power.
"The line between desktops and smartphones is blurring. As phones become powerhouses, we might witness a shift towards complete mobile computing, reducing our reliance on traditional computers. It's not merely about raw power but reshaping how we perceive and utilize mobile devices in our daily lives," software engineer Kenneth Jimmy told Lifewire via email.
The iPhone 15 will experience what is known as a "die shrink." No, that's not a rallying call from people who hate psychiatrists. It refers to the physical shrinking of the chips themselves, including all the circuits printed on them. This has some profound effects. Just shrinking a chip makes it run faster and uses less power. The current Apple Silicone chips run on a 5nm, or nanometer process. Switching to a 3nm process, almost half the size, will make a big difference. And that's before we consider any chip redesigns.
As mentioned, we don't really need faster chips. The days when a computer struggled to keep up with its software passed long ago. But that extra power can be budgeted in different ways.
One could use it all to increase battery life, for example. If Apple just shrank the current A16 iPhone system-on-a-chip (SoC) and did nothing else, the phone would run cooler and use a lot less power. But Apple's SoCs are not just general-purpose chips, like Intel's Core chips, for example. They are custom-built to work hand-in-glove with Apple's software, and that's where some of this power budget may get spent.
The A-series SoCs pack in more than just a CPU. They have a special image-processing chip engine, which allows such incredible real-time effects in the camera, including Portrait and Night modes. Then there's the Apple Neural Engine, which powers Face ID, allows Siri to recognize individual voices, lets the Photos app scan your pictures, and recognizes faces, plants, landmarks, and—soon—pets.
In short, it does AI and machine-learning tasks, and it does it up to 10,000 times faster than the CPU or GPU (graphics processor) could manage. Apple might not be using chatbot-style AI, but AI, aka Machine Learning, is everywhere on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
Instead of thinking about faster chips letting us do the same old things, just quicker, think about them allowing entirely new features. For example, Flash video, the way we used to watch video on the web, was so bad for battery life that Apple banned it from the iPhone. Instead, it used special hardware for decoding and playing videos that was way easier on the battery and paved the way for mobile YouTube and, eventually, TikTok.
"Super-powerful phones pave the way for exciting advancements, like real-time language translation, more realistic virtual reality, and AI-driven personalized services. Balancing power with energy efficiency remains key for prolonged usability. The future holds endless potential in this dynamic field," Nikita Sherbina, co-founder and CEO of AI software company AIScreen, told Lifewire via email.
Who knows what Apple has in store for the iPhone 15 Pro and its powerful new A17 chip, but it's going to use all that power for something, and it won't just be faster Excel spreadsheet calculations.
"Apple could strategically use the extra power for enhancing AI capabilities, refining camera processing, and enabling richer augmented reality experiences. This allocation would lead to more innovative and valuable features for users," says Sherbina.
This is the advantage of Apple's integration of hardware and software. Instead of wasting all that extra speed, it can use it to power brand-new features. We'll have to wait for the iPhone 15's expected fall release to find out just what.