At first blush, Apple’s decision to leave the iPhone 14
and its larger, 6.7-inch iPhone 14 Plus
sibling powered by last year’s A15 processor may not sound fair to their future owners. It is the first time Apple will be fragmenting its annual iPhone upgrade into cheap and expensive handsets based on the chipset they are carrying, as the iPhone 14 Pro
and iPhone 14 Pro Max
will come with the latest 4nm A16 processor.
Typically, all of Apple’s iPhones released in a given year have been given the latest and greatest A-series processor, even the lowly ones with smaller displays and less pixel density that don’t really need them to run iOS and its apps without a hitch. Why now and what can we expect from the iPhone 14 series processing power?
iPhone 14 vs iPhone 14 Pro performance benchmarks
We already heard that the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus may be powered by a faster A15 chip than what’s in the iPhone 13 mini
and the iPhone 13
, and now Wall Street Journal
‘s Tim Higgins reiterates that the “base models will get an enhanced version of the current A15 processor
.” Now, what could that enhanced A15 be?
Well, there has been, in fact, processor fragmentation precedents in the same iPhone series and we can look no further back than last year’s iPhone 13 models. While the base $699 iPhone 13 mini and $799 iPhone 13 got the same Apple A15 processor with two high-performance Avalanche cores with peak 3.24GHz clock frequency, and four energy-efficient Blizzard cores clocked at 2.01GHz as did the $999 iPhone 13 Pro
and $1099 13 Pro Max
, there was a difference in the GPU core count.
The graphics subsystem of the A15 chipset in the Pro models uses a penta-core GPU, while in the iPhone 13 it has four active cores. That’s precisely the “enhanced” A15 that we may expect to land in the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus, soothing the FOMO of their owners as the difference in performance with the A16 will be rather negligible in terms of raw processing and graphics power.
In fact, TSMC’s 5nm production node on which the Apple A15 is built, makes it at most 11% slower than the second-gen 4nm one that the Apple A16 is likely to be taped out with, and with just 6% lower transistor density. This has been a trend with Apple’s processor families ever since the chip foundries started approaching these small sub-7nm nodes.
Before the Apple A15, the previous four generations of Apple processors offered at least a 20% performance boost over their predecessors, but from the A14 to A15 this shrank to 11%, and is now expected to be 11% again. Thus, the difference in performance between the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro will be very close to our iPhone 12 vs iPhone 13 benchmarks you see above, namely a single digit performance gain, so that’s hardly what Apple must have aimed for with the iPhone 14 series processor fragmentation.
The Apple A16 on iPhone 14 Pro is for 8K video, not peak clock speeds
Keep in mind that these are the maximum gains and Apple may opt to go for the 22% energy efficiency advantage of the N4P 4nm process that TSMC announced, instead of boosting peak clock counts that are the highest among its peers anyway.
Thus, the added value of the Apple A16 in the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max won’t be much faster speed compared to the A15 with penta-core GPU in the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus, but rather lower power consumption for the same clock speeds.
This is arguably more important, because the only tangible difference between the A15 and A16 chipsets in the iPhone 14 series that users will be able to discern is the A16’s image processing optimization for 8K video encoding and decoding. This is why Apple would upgrade the iPhone 14 Pro models’ main camera to a 48MP sensor and give them a new 4nm chipset.
Still, the Apple A15 in the iPhone 14 will be able to deliver the same unsurpassed high-def recording in 4K at 60fps or Cinematic video effects as the iPhone 13, but it will also add the ProRes mode of the 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max, which will bring the Pros’ higher color fidelity and detail quality to Apple’s cheapest 2022 iPhones, too.
In short, if you have no use for 8K video, you aren’t likely to notice any difference in processing power or everyday performance between the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro, moreso that you will likely be getting the ProRes video mode that was heretofore reserved for the Pro models only.