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Apple’s Bionic Advantage

Mashable interviewed Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller and Senior Vice President of Hardware Technologies Johny Srouji about Apple new A11 Bionic CPU, which powers the iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X.

“This is something we started 10 years ago, designing our own silicon because that’s the best way to truly customize something that’s uniquely optimized for Apple hardware and software,” said Srouji.

For Apple, silicon development is an intrinsic part of the iPhone creation process. “It’s not just something you drop in or build around,” said Schiller.

It’s a strategy that has paid off for Apple by giving it more control over the full hardware/software stack and enabling the company to squeeze more performance and energy efficiency out of the tiny chips that power iOS devices. At the same time though, it’s an approach that requires Apple to make big bets far in the future:

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 tight control over hardware and the software that runs on it isn’t new. It’s one of the cornerstones of the company’s success. What’s remarkable though, is the microscopic level to which Apple has taken the approach. As author Lance Ulanoff points out, the images of chips that Phil Schiller displayed onscreen during the September 12th keynote to illustrate new and improved iPhone technologies weren’t different chips. They were different areas on the same chip – one with leaked Geekbench scores that put it on par with the silicon inside the 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro. That’s extraordinary and likely to be a key advantage that Apple will have over competitors for years to come.