- Vinay Nair
Finding the crux behind Apple’s Silicon Strategy
Apple as a company has always been the talk of the town with its leading innovative products and software. This year, even though the pandemic has delayed some of the most exciting Apple product launches (iPhone 12, per say), there has been no difference in their zeal towards innovation.
Apple became the most valuable company, beating Saudi Aramco
What is the Silicon Advantage?
In its latest keynote address headed by CEO Tim Cook, Apple announced its new A14 bionic chip, a 5 nm ARM based chipset. This System on a Chip (SoC) from Apple is expected to power iPhone 12 and iPad Air (2020) models. The chipset integrates around 11.8 billion transistors.
For over a decade, Apple’s world-class silicon design team has been building and refining Apple SoCs. Using these designs Apple has been able to develop the latest iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch that are the industry leaders in terms of class and performance. In June of 2020, Apple announced that it will transition the Mac to its custom silicon to offer better technological performance.
Now, Apple Silicon is basically a processor made in-house akin to what is powering the iPhone and iPad family of devices. This ARM move will result in ditching their reliance on Intel chipsets for Future Macs. This transition to silicon will also establish a common architecture across all Apple products, making it far easier for developers to write and optimize their apps for the entire ecosystem. In fact, developers can now start focusing on updating their applications to take advantage of the enhanced capabilities of the Apple silicon.
Along with this Apple also introduced mac0S Big Sur earlier this year, which will be the next major macOS release (version 11.0) and includes technologies that will facilitate a smooth transition to the Apple silicon experience. This will be the first time where developers will be able to make their iOS and iPad OS apps available on the Mac without modifications. The Apple silicon powered Mac’s will offer industry leading performance per watt and higher performance GPU’s. To help developers get accustomed to the new transition, Apple is also launching the Universal App QuickStart Program to guide developers through the entire transition.
Apple plans to ship the new Mac by the end of the year and complete the transition in about two years. This being said Apple will continue to release new versions for Intel-based Mac for years to come.
Future Implications for the Industry
Apple has been explicit about how serious they are about machine learning-based SoC. Apple A14 includes second-generation machine learning accelerators in the CPU for 10 times faster machine learning calculations. The combination of the new Neural Engine, machine learning accelerators, advanced power management, unified memory architecture and the Apple high-performance GPU enables powerful on-device experiences for image recognition, natural language learning, analysing motion, and maybe a machine learning enabled GPS!
Yes! Global Positioning System.
According to a recent patent application by Apple, they have been working on a technology that implements a system for estimating the device location based on a global positioning system consisting of a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) satellite, and receives a set of parameters associated with the estimated position. The processor is further configured to apply the set of parameters and the estimated position to a machine learning model that has been trained on a position relative to the satellite. The estimated position and output of the model is then provided to a Kalman filter for more accurate location.
This technology may be significantly better than what a mobile device alone can perform in most non-aided mode(s) of operation. Apple’s patent to improve GPS in the upcoming 5G era might give them an advantage over existing resources.
Wow! The Apple Ecosystem is expanding
Apple’s move to its own ARM chips comes just as the company unveils macOS version 11.0 (Big Sur). That means ARM based Mac computers will continue to run macOS instead of switching to iOS 14, similar to the approach taken with existing Windows laptops that use Qualcomm ARM based processors. Apple apparently has its hardware and software team working together, given that they have found a way for all their applications functioning seamless from day one of the launch, through Rosetta 2 acting as an emulator and a translator that will allow Intel-made apps to run on Silicon-powered devices.
Moreover, the Apple ecosystem acts as the catalyst for innovation in the company and is not limited to the hardware and software products, but also around its services. Putting a foot forward in that direction is the Apple One Subscription.
Now, the Apple’s Point of View
Apple with its calm dignity, diligent market study and unflinching courage to innovate has taken its own time to come up with their strategic silicon move. Apple stayed focused on it’s long term goals instead of following the hype, trends and gimmicks set out by its competitors to gain customer attention. This ability to think differently is a driving force behind their success.
And owing to the current state of affairs Apple has played it relatively safe this year, sticking to their core offerings. We can expect an exciting iPhone, iMac and MacOS launch later this year.
Let’s gear up for another round of innovation sponsored by Apple.