Do you think any mobile company can beat Apple in its performance?

Not in near future. The problem isn’t with what other companies lack but with what Apple has.

And I’m talking chip level — not at device levels (because iPhones never used any fancy cooling systems like VC or liquid metal) which otherwise will allow most gaming phones to edge ahead of an iPhone in endurance — Despite having lower “cold performance”, the cooling will allow the sustained performance to be more stable.

So why won’t companies catch up at chip level?

  1. Lots of money : Chip design and manufacturing isn’t cheap. In fact, it’s one of the most expensive business on earth, simultaneously very sophisticated one at that. Apple has lots of cash to burn.
    1. Apple has one of the best silicon teams in the mobile market. The employees are ex-Intel, ex-IBM and so on. To avoid poaching and switching, people are paid damn well.
    2. Design itself is not easy — Apple uses 2 new μarch every year with the new iPhone. One for performance cores, one for efficiency cores. That alone should put into perspective how much work is going on.
      1. On the other hand, Qualcomm has been using the same ARM cortex A55 since 2017. Only the performance cores have been updating annually — the A76 (‘18), A77 (‘19), A78 (‘20) and X1 (‘20).
    3. This money also allows them to literally book all of the manufacturing capacities at TSMC, the best chip fab.
      1. They made the 7nm chips, for AMD, Huawei and Qualcomm.
      2. However, Apple paid TSMC billions to reserve 5nm chip production (A14/M1) which is why Samsung SLSI had to be the (second and only) choice for Qualcomm’s chips.
  2. They’re not a vendor : Apple uses all chips the design by themselves. They don’t have to sell it to other OEMs.
    1. They don’t care about costs of production (paying TSMC to reserve process nodes, and chip design itself)
      1. This is so as they don’t have to sell the chips once built, unlike Qualcomm’s/Mediatek’s whole business model.
      2. When you have to sell it, you will care for price because the other vendor (ex Qualcomm vs mediatek) might have a cost advantage that an OEM (Xiaomi/Vivo) will willingly sacrifice for your performance advantage.
    2. Remember, per chip prices are not decided per unit. It is decided by the projected sales over XYZ units. So X OEM might be able to buy 10,000 chips at $20 vs Y OEM, due to purchasing 15,000 units, got them for $18.
      1. Apple only cares about having the fastest processor, bar none. They don’t care about profit margin per chip as they’re not selling it, and they’re going to earn profit on whole device as one unit than each component.
  3. Modularity : The architectures are highly scalable, a key point they always emphasised on.
    1. The same μarch, once developed, is shared between other product lines too.
      1. For example the AnX series which are higher core variants for iPads, and now the M series mac processors.
      2. This offsets some of the “cost of development burden” on the design team as once the design is made, it can be used for a wide spectrum of lineups.
    2. This modularity, in turn, actually allows them to make an iPad G8/iPad mini at $330/$350 and still with an A12 chip, and so on with the iPhone SE with A13 at $400 and a Mac mini M1 at $700.
    3. The parallels in the market — Qualcomm have majorly only one market ie mobile.
      1. Their laptop market share is almost negligible. Thus they can’t take advantage of modularity even if they want — no wants to buy them.
      2. Apple has the advantage of making the Mac first, then it’s chip. People bought Macs powered by multiple silicons. IBM, Intel, and now Apple. The Mac itself has a buyer base. The buyer base was never the chip — it was the Mac.

The truth be told, optimisation of hardware and software does play a role, but then, you can optimise only first party software — Apple developers won’t be optimising PUBG Mobile or Genshin Impact for Krafton or Mihoyo.

They can only optimise apps they make — iMovie, GarageBand, iOS itself. That doesn’t change performance. iOS only controls how much it can leverage the power of the new chip.

For example shifting load of Machine learning from GPU to NPU when they shifted from A10 Fusion to A11 Bionic (A10 didn’t have any specific AI cores, while A11 had a specific AI cores) needed to be enabled through software[1].

That was optimisation — iOS optimisations handle battery usage and RAM usage primarily. It doesn’t effect hardware performance as opposed to what

Footnotes

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