2nm Apple A18 processor reportedly scheduled to power the iPhone 17 Ultra
Apple will start to gradually replace the chip testing machines at its TSMC foundry wafer probing facilities so that it is ready with the 2nm production node in time for the iPhone 17 series in 2025, reports Taiwanese media. Next year, the Apple A17 processor will be taped out with the 3nm method of TSMC, so apparently the 3nm node, or at least its second generation, will stay for the iPhone 16 series as well.
While Samsung already started risk production of 3nm chips with the novel gate-all-around transistor (GAAFET) tech, TSMC will keep the more established FinFET process for its 3nm chips. It will only move to the more complex GAAFET method for the 2nm node, so Apple wants to be prepared with the testing equipment on time to avoid any unpleasant surprises that may arise from the move to a brand new and untested manufacturing method.
Apple needs to use up to 1250 such machines a year, and the US wafer testing equipment firm Teradyne is ready to provide it with its UltraFLEXplus SoC testers and load boards that will be probing the 2nm Apple A18 processors, tip industry insiders. TSMC also has state-of-the-art testing facilities on site and the older machines that Apple replaces with the 2nm wafer probing equipment, will be sold to other independent chip-testing houses.
With the current iPhone 14 Pro series, Apple fragmented its handset models by processor generation for the first time. The iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus are powered by the 5nm Apple A15 processor with penta-core GPU, as found in the iPhone 13 Pro Max. The iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max, however, were given extra powers courtesy of the brand new 4nm A16 chip that Apple kept exclusively for the top 2022 models.
Famed Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is of the opinion that Apple will keep fragmenting its iPhone 15 models further by Pro and Pro Max features in order to command higher average selling prices. Faced with recessionary demand for electronics, it aims to push customers into the higher price tiers without actually raising the tags too much in an era of softening demand.
It seems that Apple's strategy is working, as the iPhone 14 Pro models now face stronger demand than the base iPhone 14 versions for the first time, at least in these initial weeks of sales. Thus, given that the iPhone 16 models would evidently still be powered by 3nm processors, when the time for the iPhone 17 series comes Apple may decide to equip only the iPhone 17 Pro Max with its brand new 2nm A18 chipset.
By that time, it may have further differentiated its top models by using the Ultra moniker, too. As per Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, the new naming trend at Apple will reportedly start as soon as the iPhone 15 Ultra next year, so an iPhone 17 Ultra with a revolutionary GAAFET 2nm processor is not out of the question, if Apple's current fragmentation strategy continues.