So Apple’s new iPhone 5 is out, with a larger screen, 16:9 form factor, LTE support, and a new connector (we covered the launch live yesterday, and you can see that blow-by-blow coverage here if you missed it).
The smartphone also packs a new system on a chip (SoC) dubbed the A6. This new chip, also built by Samsung, supposedly combines a pair of Cortex-A15s and an unspecified GPU. Some sources have reported that the A6 borrows the SGX543 GPU from the iPad 3′s A5X, others claim that the new SoC uses PowerVR’s Series 6 graphics processor (codenamed Rogue).
It’s not strange for Apple to play coy where tech specs are concerned, but the company typically showcases a handful of benchmarks or applications where the new iPhone struts its stuff over the older version. Today, Apple went for just a single page of figures: The new iPhone 5 launches web pages 2.1 times faster, saves images 1.7 times faster, loads music 1.9 times faster, and can view a Keynote attachment 1.7 times faster.
You know what all those figures have in common? They’re often storage based. NAND flash performance has been demonstrated to be a significant factor in overall smartphone speed. From the end-user’s perspective, the question of why the phone is faster is irrelevant, but Apple had an opportunity to beat its own drum around the A6 SoC’s next-generation technology. Instead, it punted. The improved battery life figures the company quotes largely line up with what we’d expect the newer 28nm, single-chip Qualcomm LTE modem to deliver.
Myself and other folks have previously predicted that the A6 would use a dual-core Cortex-A15, but a great many people were also predicting that we’d see an iPhone Mini launch today. Given Apple’s silence on the matter, it’s possible that the A6 contains either a pair of Cortex-A9s at a higher frequency than the A5’s, or a pair of Cortex-A15s at a lower frequency than Apple might’ve liked. Manufacturing troubles and slow ramps could explain either outcome and, as we’ve previously noted, these sorts of issues are downright common these days.
Here’s what we can say for certain: The performance and battery life improvements Apple has pointed to thus far could all have been delivered via iOS 6 enhancements, an improved 28nm radio, and faster NAND flash or RAM. The current “Feature” sheet for the iPhone 5 leans heavily on improvements to Siri, better app integration, and a new Maps functionality.
Again, those are all significant, but there’s little indication of the higher-end CPU hardware we expected to debut. Even the “twice as fast” comment about graphics is a throwaway; you’d expect more fanfare if Apple was the first company to debut PowerVR’s next-generation Series 6 GPUs, particularly given that this would give Apple ammo as a trendsetter/trailblazer.
We’ll wait for shipping hardware before we draw our final conclusions. As things stand, the iPhone 5’s SoC looks a bit phoned-in. The iPhone 4S took heat for being an incremental upgrade rather than a major new device, but it felt like a much bigger launch than the iPhone 5. That might’ve been thanks to Siri, but the advent of a dual-core SoC and the dramatic graphics improvement sold us on the 4S in a way the iPhone 5 doesn’t really duplicate.