When Apple releases the new iPhone 15 Pro this fall, it could offer a significant jump in performance and power efficiency than the past few models. That’s because of the A17 chip, which is almost certain to use a new 3nm chip-making process that is significantly faster and more efficient than the current 5nm process.
And it could be a while before any other chip comes close. According to DigiTimes, Apple is going all-in on 3nm for the iPhone in 2023, reportedly snatching up TSMC’s “entire initial 3nm supply.” Apple is a priority customer for TSMC, and it pays a premium to get first dibs on new manufacturing process technology–prior reports have said that TSMC charges $20,000 per wafer, which typically yields several hundred chips.
It’s not unusual for Apple to grab all, or nearly all, of the initial supply of a new process technology out of TSMC. We don’t know how big “initial supply” is or how long Apple’s order will last, but as we’ve seen in other years, Apple will almost certainly be the only company with a mass consumer product using this manufacturing technology for several months.
Apple’s order sets up the company for a 3nm A17 Bionic chip in the iPhone 15 Pro as well as the Mac’s M3 processor that will likely arrive in late 2023 or early 2024. The move to 3nm is an improvement over the current enhanced 5nm process that increases the transistor density significantly and allows for more and more powerful processing cores, more cache, more everything while having a lower power demand. So we could see jumps in performance that are more than the typical increase from year to year. Apple first moved to a 5nm process with the A14 chip in the iPhone 12.
The new 3nm A17 Bionic will likely be exclusive to the iPhone 15 Pro, with the iPhone 15 using the 5nm A16 Bionic, which will further differentiate the pro and non-pro phones. On the Mac side, there’s a chance Apple could make the jump to the 3nm M3 at an October event, though recent reports claim the first M3 Macs wouldn’t arrive until 2024. We’re also expecting Apple plans to ship a new 15-inch MacBook Air this spring as well as a new Mac Pro, both of which would likely stick with the 5nm M2-series chips.
According to reports from TSMC, the gains from the 3nm chips are bigger than expected. That would be welcome news to iPhone and Mac fans, who were somewhat disappointed by the A16 and M2.
Apple isn’t the only company moving to 3nm. Qualcomm and MediaTek will make 3nm chips eventually, but not in time for any 2023 Android phones. Intel plans to do 3nm, too, but it will be at least another year before it makes the move, according to DigiTimes.