Hardware

With A11 Bionic, Apple's iPhone takes another big performance step forward

The new iPhones are the fastest iOS devices ever, thanks to Apple's A11 Bionic processor. Jason Snell breaks down what this likely means for AR app development, users' productivity, and more.

Apple introduced three new iPhones on Tuesday, and while most of the discussion is about the iPhone X, the announcement with perhaps the biggest impact on productivity yesterday is something that's inside all of these smartphone models: the Apple-designed A11 Bionic processor.

Apple has been designing its own processors for iOS devices for some time now. Part of Apple's secret sauce is that it controls the processor road map, the operating system, and the phone hardware itself. And as we've seen over the last few years, Apple has managed to continue increasing processor and graphics capabilities at a pretty rapid rate.

Packing more power into a phone isn't just good for bragging rights, nor will it make you prioritize your email faster. But that added processor power enables new features that Apple and app developers will take advantage of—and while games will always make for fun demos, there are also productivity-based applications for new technologies like augmented reality and advanced imaging based on depth-sensing technology.

SEE: Ebook—Executive's guide to the business value of VR and AR (TechRepublic)

The previous-generation iPhone processor, the A10 Fusion, managed to balance a smartphone's need for power and battery efficiency by having two banks of processor cores: two high-power cores that used a lot of power to work quickly, and two high-efficiency cores that worked more slowly but used much less power. The processor would dynamically switch between the banks depending on demand.

It was a clever idea, but the A11 Bionic does away with it in favor of a six-core design. On the A11, there are two high-power cores that Apple claims run 25% faster than those on the A10. There are also four high-efficiency cores, which Apple claims can run 70% faster than those on the A10.

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Image: TechRepublic/Brandon Vigliarolo

But here's the kicker: On the A11, the performance controller doesn't just analyze how much power your iPhone needs and flip between the high-power and high-efficiency cores—it can also run all six cores at once, if need be. That boosts the overall performance ceiling of the device, because now all six cores can be firing simultaneously in situations where every last bit of performance is needed. Apple claims that multi-threaded performance is 70% faster than the A10 as a result.

SEE: Lunch and learn: BYOD rules and responsibilities (Tech Pro Research)

Apple's also improved the integrated three-core graphics processor in the A11, claiming that it's 30% faster than the A10 while using half the power. (Apple generally balances performance boosts with power efficiency so that its battery claims can remain remarkably consistent. The iPhone 8 has the same battery life as the iPhone 7, and the company says the iPhone X's battery will last a couple hours longer than the iPhone 8.)

Keeping in mind that the A10 was no slouch, the A11 seems to put Apple way ahead on processor benchmarks. The new iPhones are the fastest iOS devices ever, faster even than the iPad Pro models released earlier this year. Preliminary Geekbench numbers suggest that every iPhone 8 and iPhone X has all the power of a modern laptop packed in their small, rounded cases.

That power, combined with Apple's usual slew of camera upgrades—this year they're "factory calibrated" to be more accurate for augmented-reality applications, apparently—suggests that these devices will be remarkably powerful AR devices. There will be a lot of AR games out there, to be sure, but in terms of pre-visualization (whether you're an architect, landscaper, real-estate agent, or furniture salesperson), there's a huge amount of business potential here as well.

SEE: The Complete Game Developer Course (TechRepublic Academy)

In addition, the A11 Bionic features built-in image processing that allows both the iPhone 8 and iPhone X to generate better pictures, which is good for anyone who relies on their iPhones to take pictures as a part of their job.

The bottom line

Will the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X revolutionize the way we do our jobs? Probably not right away. But the larger the performance envelope on these devices, the more capability there is for Apple and developers to introduce new apps and technologies that will improve your productivity and change how you work. And that's why Apple's continued efforts to boost the speed of the iPhone will, in the end, make it a better product for everyone who uses it.

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About Jason Snell

Jason Snell was the lead editor of Macworld for over a decade and he now runs SixColors.com and The Incomparable podcast.

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