Apple Likely to Be Only Major Device Maker With 3nm Chips in 2023 as Qualcomm Reportedly 'Caught In a Dilemma'

Apple could be one of the only major device makers in 2023 to adopt the newer and more advanced 3nm process technology, as Qualcomm and MediaTek are unclear on whether the newer process is worth it.

3nm apple silicon feature
According to a report by DigiTimes, Qualcomm and MediaTek, two of the largest chip makers, remain unsure on whether they want to follow in Apple's footsteps and start producing ‌3nm‌ chips in 2023. The chip makers are reportedly undecided given the "unclear sales prospects for Android handsets."

Qualcomm and MediaTek, however, have not yet made a clear decision on whether to join the 3nm camp this year, despite both hoping to keep up with Apple's process upgrade for their flagship mobile SoCs, the sources continued.

The sources stressed that uncertain market outlook for non-Apple handsets and 3nm manufacturing cost already exceeding US$20,000 per wafer are likely to deter both handset AP specialists from launching 3nm SoCs later in the year.

Both Qualcomm and MediaTek are "caught in a dilemma over whether to follow Apple's process upgrade in 2023," the report notes. Qualcomm provides chips for many high-end Android flagships, including Samsung phones. The report notes that Qualcomm may have no choice but to adopt ‌3nm‌ process technology if Samsung wants to "meet competition from Apple in the flagship handset market."

Apple is widely expected to adopt TSMC's ‌3nm‌ technology this year, including for the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Ultra's A17 Bionic chip. TSMC's mass production of ‌3nm‌ chips has already started ahead the launch of the first Apple devices that will use the technology later this year.

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Top Rated Comments

TheYayAreaLiving ?️ Avatar
19 months ago
Apple will always be ahead of the game when it comes to advanced chips.
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
deconstruct60 Avatar
19 months ago

Apple will always be ahead of the game when it comes to advanced chips.
Err no. Mediatek shipped a N4 Dimensity 9000 in May 2022. Apple didn't get to N4 until September A16.
MediaTek is on their 2nd N4 chip Dimensity 9200 now (and 8200 ) . Apple is still on their first.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Cromulent Avatar
19 months ago
Any improvement in terms of battery life on the iPhone will be welcome. I'm not so bothered about performance, but battery life is critical.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
deconstruct60 Avatar
19 months ago

('https://www.macrumors.com/2023/01/04/apple-3nm-chips-in-2023/')

Apple could be one of the only major device makers in 2023 to adopt the newer and more advanced 3nm process technology, as Qualcomm and MediaTek are unclear on whether the newer process is worth it.
...
According to a report by DigiTimes ('https://www.digitimes.com/news/a20230103PD200/3nm-android.html'), Qualcomm and MediaTek, two of the largest chip makers, remain unsure on whether they want to follow in Apple's footsteps and start producing 3nm chips in 2023. The chip makers are reportedly undecided given the "unclear sales prospects for Android handsets."
This seems to be a rather dubious , non contextual take on the situation. MediaTek and Qualcoom have just released TSMC N4 SoC late 2022:

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 gen 2
https://www.gsmarena.com/testing_the_snapdragon_8_gen_2_solid_cpu_gains_impressive_gpu_upgrade-news-56817.php

MediaTek Dimensity 9200.
https://www.gsmarena.com/mediatek_dimensity_9200_is_here__second_gen_tsmc_4nm_process_arm_cortexx3_and_ray_tracing_-news-56442.php


While these two have 'released' these there is not full blown mass distribution yet. Q1-Q2 customers will be consume these through the product pipeline as there are phone roll outs.

It was Apple who was growing the die bigger on a move to N4. ( Apple has the die bloat issues. )


The other bigger issue for Qualcomm and Mediatek is that they have integrated modems. N3 (and future) doesn't necessarily offer much benefits at all to the analog subsection of a modem. The wafers being more expensive makes that problem worse, but there is another whole layer to the 'problem' at the foundation. Pragmatically Qualcomm and MediaTek make a substantively different kind of phone SoC than Apple does. In this context having a discrete modem is actually somewhat helpful.


It is somewhat doubtful that Qualcomm and MediaTek were heavily invested in the initial N3 (now N3B) at all anyway. TSMC was scheduled a while back to come out about a year after N3. So that would have been Q3-Q4 2023. If pushed super hard maybe they could start in early Q3, but if folks are still 'digesting' the N4 models ... who is really going to buy it? TSMC reporting has moved N3E up to Q2-Q3 but who can move a whole phone rollout earlier by a whole quarter. Apple doesn't. Things go later.... but forward a whole quarter. Eh probably not.


Qualcomm and MediaTek sliding a N3E into Q1 2024 would not be a huge debacle. That gets them out of the "end of 2023" window. Sure Apple will have some kind of 'hype train' they can run for an extra quarter , but that isn't going to be all that bad. And frankly this might let the SoC/Phone vendors a chance to catch up on getting the latest Android out ( Google drops a new Android and it takes how many quarters to show up on phones? Or OS upgrades for last year's phone after how many quarters? )

Qualcomm and MediaTek could do with a quarter off the hype train for a quarter or two and more time on the engineering train getting stuff done right.

Rumors are that N3E wafers are incrementally cheaper. And rushing into FlexFin probably is a dual edged sword. And if the die is "too monolithic" the N3 presents problems that need to be solved.
[ Apple's M2 Extreme appears to have gotten chewed up in the initial rush to N3 ... it isn't all 'fall off a log' easy node transition. ]
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
svish Avatar
19 months ago
Expecting to see better battery life with A17 on iPhone 15 Pro models. Competition will be far behind.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Loismustdie1 Avatar
19 months ago

Apple can do what it wants because it knows their hardcore customer base will buy anything at whatever the price, hence why a lot of Apple products are more expensive than their competitiors.
And the reason they have that hardcore customer base is because generally speaking their products consistently outclasses their competitors in terms of function AND form. That’s not to say that that there haven’t been some spectacular misses (butterfly keyboard, iPhone 4 “you’re holding it wrong”, iPhone 6 bending), but most of the time Apple gets it right, hence why people pay their prices. I WELCOME the day another OEM can finesse technology as well as Apple does at a fraction of the cost, but on the whole I’ve not seen it yet.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)