Volume production of an Apple-designed next-generation “A9” chip, the engine that will power the next iPhone and iPad, has begun at facilities operated by Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest independent semiconductor foundry.
According to a report published Friday by DigiTimes, a semi-accurate Taiwanese trade publication, the two rivals get to share orders and both have now started volume production of the chips.
Supply chain sources interviewed by The Wall Street Journal estimate Apple’s ordered a record 80 million units of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus units by the end of 2015.
Sources who spoke to DigiTimes claim that Apple has requested last-minute changes to the A9 chip by requiring modifications to the mask patterns. The mover has prompted both contract chipmakers to rework wafers, though this shouldn’t affect the launch schedule for the new iPhone(s).
It was reported multiple times before that both TSMC and Samsung would share orders for the A9 processors, with the South Korean newspaper Maeil Business saying back in January 2015 that Samsung would fulfill about 75 percent of A9 orders.
The A9 will be fabbed on TSMC’s 16-nanometer FinFET process technology which incorporates more than one gate into a single device, making the chip run faster while consuming less energy due to a smaller die size.
According to a recent Chipworks analysis of a leaked logic board, the new iPhones will use fewer chips and have a smaller motherboard than the current models. Coupled with a faster A9 chip, the design should result in a faster, more power efficient iPhones.
Other notable changes in terms of the chips include updated NFC hardware with an integrated Secure Element, Toshiba-branded flash memory chips built on a 19-nanometer production process, a new Qualcomm baseband modem which doubles LTE download speeds, a slightly thicker enclosure to accommodate Force Touch sensors, an even higher-resolution Retina screen and more.
TSMC will reportedly enter mass production of the A9 chips in the fourth quarter of 2015, meaning Samsung should initially provide Apple with the bulk of A9 launch volume.
TSMC also builds Touch ID sensors and the iPhone’s audio chips at its 12-inch fabs and DigiTimes claims that the foundry will also build iPhone chips for Cirrus Logic using its 45/55nm process technologies.