Apple Started Developing A11 Bionic Chip When A8 Chip Was Released Three Years Ago

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Shortly after Apple's iPhone X event this week, the company's silicon chief Johny Srouji and marketing chief Phil Schiller sat down for an interview about its new A11 Bionic chip with Mashable's editor-at-large Lance Ulanoff.


One interesting tidbit mentioned was that Apple began exploring and developing the core technologies in the A11 chip at least three years ago, when the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus launched with A8 chips.
Srouji told me that when Apple architects silicon, they start by looking three years out, which means the A11 Bionic was under development when Apple was shipping the iPhone 6 and its A8 chip. Back then we weren't even talking about AI and machine learning at a mobile level and, yet, Srouji said, "The neural engine embed, it's a bet we made three years ahead."
Apple's three-year roadmap can change if new features are planned, like the Super Retina HD Display in iPhone X.
"The process is flexible to changes," said Srouji, who's been with Apple since the first iPhone. If a team comes in with a request that wasn't part of the original plan, "We need to make that happen. We don't say, 'No, let me get back to my road map and, five years later, I'll give you something."
Apple senior executives Phil Schiller, left, and Johny Srouji

In fact, Schiller praised Srouji's team for its ability to "move heaven and earth" when the roadmap suddenly changes.
"There have been some critical things in the past few years, where we've asked Johny's team to do something on a different schedule, on a different plan than they had in place for years, and they moved heaven and earth and done it, and it's remarkable to see."
A11 Bionic six-core chip has two performance cores that are 25 percent faster, and four high-efficiency cores that are 70 percent faster, than the A10 chip in iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. Early benchmarks suggest the A11 Bionic is even on par with the performance of Apple's latest 13-inch MacBook Pro models.

The A11 chip is more efficient at multi-threaded tasks thanks to a second-generation performance controller that is able to access all six of the cores simultaneously if a particular task demands it.
Gaming might use more cores, said Srouji, but something as simple as predictive texting, where the system suggests the next word to type, can tap into the high-performance CPUs, as well.
The A11 chip also has an Apple-designed neural engine that handles facial recognition for Face ID and Animoji, and other machine learning algorithms. The dual-core engine recognizes people, places, and objects, and processes machine learning tasks at up to 600 billion operations per second, according to Apple.
"When you look at applications and software, there are certain algorithms that are better off using a functional programming model," said Srouji.

This includes the iPhone X's new face tracking and Face ID as well as the augmented-reality-related object detection. All of them use neural networks, machine learning or deep learning (which is part of machine learning). This kind of neural processing could run on a CPU or, preferably, a GPU. "But for these neural networking kinds of programming models, implementing custom silicon that's targeted for that application, that will perform the exact same tasks, is much more energy efficient than a graphics engine," said Srouji.
Apple's new iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X are all equipped with an A11 chip.

In related news, Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science has announced that Srouji will take part in a distinguished industry lecture on Monday, September 18 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. local time.

Full Interview: The Inside Story of the iPhone X 'Brain,' the A11 Bionic Chip

Article Link: Apple Started Developing A11 Bionic Chip When A8 Chip Was Released Three Years Ago
 

enzoso

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Jun 28, 2017
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All this makes me think is imagine how advanced the tech they're working on NOW is? They're probably lightyears ahead of what people think.

I always say this but Apple knows where they're going, even though it may take years to get there. Removing the home button was something we knew they were working on for years but people still swear the only reason they decided to do so was because Samsung did it a couple months ago.
 

iLoveDeveloping

macrumors 6502
Sep 24, 2009
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Amazing they are so far ahead. It's kinda weird how all these companies then come out with the same kind of tech even though a lot of it takes up to 3 years to reach market. Is that a mole sharing sercrets or some weird tech serendipity. Imagine going into their labs now and seeing the iPhone 11 (or iPhone 13 depending on how you are counting with the X) already taking shape with new tech, or even things no one has even thought would be in an iPhone. They could already have fricken apple watches measuring and alerting for heart attacks high blood pressure and diabetes. Dam I would love to work at apple..
 

tkukoc

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Sep 16, 2014
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Wish I Was In Space!
That's not all they've been working on, there's plenty of things in the background that even Steve Jobs had his hand in. Eventually those items will come out, some tech takes a long time.. others just hit right out of the gate. This chip is just the tip of the iceberg of what Apple could do. But they also need to bring their software up to a futuristic state, it's pretty stale these days.
 

Return Zero

macrumors 6502a
Oct 2, 2013
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To me, mobile chip design has become Apple's bread and butter. It's really ironic considering their storied history with chip providers :D

Seriously, they are killing it in this area, and now that they are expanding to other series (S and W), all to huge success, my perspective on Apple's future has never been more optimistic.
 

adamjackson

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Jul 9, 2008
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I feel like this headline isn't surprising though. Intel also works on chips 5+ years in advance as does AMD. A lot of the design is theoretical until the processes can catch up but if you're not putting things together years in advance, you're going to fall behind.

Great article but I don't think anyone is disputing Apple's chip-game is on point.
 
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lolkthxbai

macrumors 65816
May 7, 2011
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wow, mashable, they interviewed senior executives exclusively after the reveal and they couldn’t supercut the face ID gaffe from the video posted on the top of their page

savages
 

gsmornot

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Sep 29, 2014
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No surprise. We talk about projects with the view of a year or more out. What we are working on today would not be if we were just talking about it. Large business moves much too slow to react on the fly. It has to be done with the view of years to come to get everyone in line.
 
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v0lume4

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Jul 28, 2012
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I'm really impressed with Apple's approach to 2+ core chip design. Instead of trying to create a four core, or in this case a six core, chip with all six cores running at the same clock speed and largely unutilized; why not try and create two ultrafast cores for the heavy lifting, and then four additional, lower-power cores for additional and specialized tasks? It's brilliant.
 
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