Apple A16 Bionic will remain a 5nm chip – TSMC’s 3nm is difficult to achieve


chip shortage Apple flagship processors

This year’s iPhone 13’s A15 Bionic processor uses TSMC’s N5P process, which is a 5nm enhanced version. Over the past two years, Apple’s A-series chips on the iPhones uses the 5nm manufacturing process. Thus, the expectation is that next year’s iPhone 14 will come with a 3nm process chip. However, do not get your hopes too high, the recent reports claim that 3nm is not quite ready. According to speculations, Taiwanese chip maker, TSMC is struggling with the 3nm manufacturing process. This means that Apple may have to stay on the same process technology for the third year. 

tsmc's 3nm and samsung 3nm process technology

This is the first time that Apple will be using chips from the same manufacturing process for three consecutive years. By extension, this is also suggesting a manufacturing bottleneck as we seek more advanced processes. Apple’s “staying in place” also means that it is giving competitors time to overtake. However, this will most likely not make any difference just as we have seen in the past. Apple was over a year late with 5G, what difference did it make? The American manufacturer has a market that is so loyal and they are ready to wait 10 years if need be. 

Apple will still use 3nm process before Qualcomm

Despite Apple’s delay, there are reports that the Bionic chip will use the 3nm manufacturing process before Snapdragon. Apple is currently a “VIP of the VIP” customer to TSMC because it contributed a quarter of TSMC’s revenue last year. This means that the company has a very strong voice when it comes to its business with TSMC. For instance, a front desk employee revealed that last year, Apple put pressure on TSMC to supply more iPhone 12 A14 chips without increasing the total contract price. In addition, in the early days of the cooperation, Apple had “pointed out” the location of TSMC’s plant for fear of an earthquake. Subsequently, TSMC had to make some adjustments to suit Apple’s needs. 

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Of course, there is no conclusion to this report because it is still a bit too early to conclude. According to TSMC, its N3 3nm manufacturing process will enter risk trial production this year. However, this manufacturing process will commence mass production in the second half of 2022 and actual revenue will be obtained in the first quarter of 2023. If mass production commences in the second half of 2022, then Apple may have the chance to have a 3nm A16 Bionic processor.

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