The newly launched iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and the iPhone X are noticeably different-looking from the previous generation iPhone models. But it is what driving these new iPhone models that is arguably far more exciting and displays company’s major ambitions. Apple says the new iPhone models – all three of them – are powered by the Apple A11 Bionic SoC, its custom chip that features a ‘neural engine’ to handle machine learning or artificial intelligence based tasks, powering Face ID, Animoji, and other features.
Smartphone companies, including Apple and Huawei, are increasingly placing bets on artificial intelligence for a range of new capabilities that were only a few years ago unimaginable. Huawei, for instance, recently announced Kirin 970, its own custom built chipset featuring “neural processing unit” that it claims will help accelerate image and voice recognition.
Apple took its time to reveal what it has in store, but if the demonstration onstage at the event this week is any indication, the company’s ambitions with AI are far bigger than any of its rivals’. Here’s everything it said about the A11 Bionic at the event.
Most powerful and smartest chip ever in a smartphone
Apple is not mincing word when it describes how powerful it thinks the A11 Bionic chip is. It’s a six-core CPU design with two performance cores that are 25 percent faster than the company’s A10 Fusion, which it has previously used in older iPhone generations.
The other four cores are for efficiency that are 70 percent faster than the A10 Fusion, it said. Coupled with these cores is a new, second generation performance controller that makes use of all the six cores simultaneously, delivering up to 70 percent greater performance for multi-threaded workloads.
The efficiency is also improving the battery life, Apple claims. Compared to the iPhone 7, the A11 Bionic-powered iPhone models will last two hours longer. The A11 Bionic chipset is also integrated with an Apple-designed GPU with a three-core design that delivers up to 30 percent faster graphics performance than the previous generation.
Use in facial technology
The dual-core neural engine chip onboard the A11 Bionic powers can accurately map and recognise a face, Phil Schiller, Apple’s SVP of Worldwide Marketing said onstage at the iPhone 8 launch. The A11 Bionic chip works in tandem with Face ID, the facial recognition feature Apple announced, to use the depth technologies to allow users to unlock the iPhone X as well as make use of it in Apple Pay services by just staring at the phone.
Taking better images
While the cameras on the iPhone X take pictures, A11 Bionic CPU works to recognise the surrounding and background in the image. Coupled with the GPU, the new iPhone is able to perform the image signal processing in real-time, the company said.
At the event, Apple also announced Animoji, which makes use of the TrueDepth camera on the front-facing side to track over 50 muscle movements on the human face to mimic those expressions in emoticons. The company said these processing and capabilities are possible because of the A11 Bionic SoC and its neural engine chip.
All processing on the device
The neural engine on the A11 Bionic chip can handle 600 billion operations per second. This is essential for Apple, which is reluctant to use any cloud processing power. The company doesn’t want any sort of information to be sent to its servers for processing. Everything the A11 Bionic chip does happens locally on the device, which would be music to the ears of customers who care about privacy.