Why Apple’s AirPods and Watch have no competition

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Apple’s investment in custom-made silicon is paying off.


From 2 Reasons Apple’s In-House Chip Efforts Are a Huge Asset, posted Saturday by TMFChipFool Ashraf Eassa:

1. The ability to differentiate: One reason why Apple develops its own chips is so that it can deliver differentiated performance and capabilities relative to what it could source from a merchant chip supplier. That differentiation was in full view with the company’s latest A12 Bionic chip, which powers the newest iPhones. AnandTech’s Andrei Frumusanu recently did a lot of in-depth testing of the A12 Bionic, and the results look quite impressive. Apple’s A12 Bionic chips “have better energy efficiency than all recent Android [systems-on-a-chip] while having a nearly 2x performance advantage,” according to Frumusanu. “I wouldn’t be surprised that if we were to normalise for energy used, Apple would have a 3x performance lead” …

2. Facilitating new product introductions: Apple often introduces new product categories, and those products tend to require sophisticated chip technology. In 2015, Apple launched the Apple Watch, which incorporated an Apple-designed applications processor known as the S1. Apple has rapidly iterated on the Apple Watch category, and with each new product introduction, it has made significant strides in the capabilities of the chip inside.

You also might recall that in late 2016, Apple introduced wireless earbuds called AirPods. Those earbuds — which Apple CFO Luca Maestri referred to as a “runaway success” on the company’s most recent earnings call — incorporate a custom-designed chip called the W1 chip that enables a lot of compelling functionality, which you can read more about here. Apple incorporated a newer W2 chip in its Apple Watch Series 3, and it seems reasonable to expect that updated AirPods would incorporate it, too.

Having the ability to build its own chips for whatever products it wants to bring to market — whether they be iterations on existing product lines with cool new features or entirely new product categories for the company — is a big deal for Apple. It means that Apple’s product groups can, in effect, let the internal chip teams know what chips they need and have chips tailored to the exact needs of those product lines. Not only can this speed up Apple’s ability to bring new products to market, but it can allow the company to deliver better user experiences, too.

Thanks to friend-of-the-blog John Garner for the pointer.

My take: This stuff goes right over most people’s heads, including mine. The human mind may not have evolved enough to comprehend systems as complex as the A12 and W2.

See also: Ben Bajarin on Apple’s silicon edge.