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

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

Related Roundup: iPhone 8

Top Rated Comments

(View all)

32 months ago
I don't want 3 year old tech in my phone :mad:
Rating: 38 Votes
32 months ago
Cue the android fanboys "We did it first 2 years ago" ...
Rating: 25 Votes
32 months ago
Its crazy how fast their tech and speeds are moving. I didn't believe they could replace Intel, but now I feel like they really will someday. That will either bring the price down for us, or make their profit margin insanely great. I'm guessing #2.
Rating: 21 Votes
32 months ago
So are they working on the A14 Turbo Maxi Supreme chip now?
Rating: 18 Votes
32 months ago
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.
Rating: 18 Votes
32 months ago
best pipeline in a long time
Rating: 13 Votes
32 months ago

Design and tech are two vastly different things. The best companies design for future tech, as Apple did here.

humor must be below your detectable threshold
Rating: 11 Votes
32 months ago
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.
Rating: 10 Votes
32 months ago
The keynote presentation was to inspire developers.

The A11 architecture and the sensor array are the future of Apple. This is why the GUI standards want it to be seen and not hidden. This bar will occupy the top of all of their machines because it allows for a new interface. Your Apple device will interact with your face in ways not yet demonstrated from simple commands, to learning human behaviors for AI, to deep gaming environments, augmented reality, and health. There will no doubt be a connection into medical research like HealthKit provides. Passwords are going away (I don't hear people crying for TouchID on their iMac) and the personal computer is leaping into a new level of being personal.

Imagine this tech in your living room. No more remotes. Imagine this tech in your car. No more keys. Imagine this tech in the office? Holographic FaceTime. The iPhone X stands for Experimental like X aircraft. It's the window into a new world at Apple.
Rating: 9 Votes
32 months ago
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..
Rating: 7 Votes

[ Read All Comments ]