Is Apple building the iPhone 14 around last year's processor? Weirdly... not that weird.
But the company will have to do this one thing for consumers if it wants to get away with it
It’s no secret that despite Apple being active in so many different product categories it’s always the iPhone that gets the most headlines, every single year. By the look of things, though, the company might be getting more iPhone headlines than ever in 2022 if the rumors making the rounds regarding its upcoming iPhone 14 lineup are true. This is highly likely because not only are those rumors coming from several different sources but also because they are all practically confirming each other about one unprecedented move: Apple’s plan is seemingly to release two of its four iPhone 14 models with last year’s processor, the A15.
This is unprecedented in the history of the iPhone, as Apple has released every new model built around a new processor since its very first one all the way back in 2007. The company has often used a modified variant of the newest iPhone processor for the iPad, but for Apple’s latest smartphone each year — every fall, like clockwork — there’s always been a new Ax processor since the 2010 A4 for the iPhone 4. Not this year, though, if rumors turn out to be true: there will be a spanking new A16 processor, yes, but not all four expected iPhone 14 models will get it. Only the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max will. For the “vanilla” iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Max (Plus?), Apple will be using last year’s A15… again.
It was practically a given that such a choice on Apple’s part would prove to be controversial. Consumers planning to get the non-Pro, more affordable models are up in arms, of course, because they feel that the Pro models should be better than the mainstream ones in other ways (such as their camera setups or screen features), not performance-related components such as the main processor or system memory. There’s also the matter of support to consider, as the “vanilla” iPhone 14 models will most probably cease to receive operating system updates the same year that the iPhone 13 models will, a year earlier than the Pro models built around the A16 processor. The fact that Apple’s cheapest iPhone, the just-released $429 iPhone SE 3, is built around the A15 does not help the company’s case either.
A quick reality check, though, puts things in perspective rather easily. Yes, in an ideal world there would be no variance between the four new iPhone models in terms of processing power, but Apple’s hand seems to have been forced here: the company had done an almost miraculous job in navigating the global chip shortage waters up until now, but problems seem to have finally caught up — so it decided to play it safe. The spanking-new A16, which will not be produced in great numbers at first because of lower yields, is reserved for the more profitable iPhone models, while the tried-and-true A15 (the production process of which is practically perfected by now) will be used to power those models that are guaranteed to sell in greater numbers anyway because of their relative affordability.
This makes sense for Apple as well as for consumers: it would do nobody any good if all four iPhones were based on the A16 but all four models’ availability was low for months on end. By using the A15 again Apple is making sure that, at the very least, its two most affordable new iPhones will be easy to buy in 2022 and beyond. It’s no coincidence, of course, that these two are the iPhones targeted at consumers who would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between an A15-based and an A16-based iPhone in everyday use anyway. Truth be told, even most of us nerds would not be able to tell that difference without firing up benchmarks or extremely demanding games. The A15 is still a powerful chip and it will serve mainstream consumers well for a very long time. Furthermore — again, if the rumors making the rounds are true — the two iPhone 14 models may be sporting 6GB of RAM instead of 4GB, which would not just be a nice bonus but a rather noteworthy change.
Since there’s always the small matter of appearances with Apple though — the company cares about those more than it does about consumers, let us not forget — there is a way Tim Cook and his lieutenants could make this controversial choice more palatable for consumers. It’s the obvious one: make the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Max (Plus?) cheaper this year. The circumstances are unusual, so it’s only fair for the pricing of these iPhones to not go down the usual road either. By lowering the purchase cost of those two models — not keeping it the same, not increasing it — Apple acknowledges that it’s 18-month old tech they are based on and that a form of discount may be in order. The manufacturing cost of the A15 is now lower too, so some savings could be passed on to consumers, right?
It’s kind of sad, then, that what seems like a fair compromise for consumers, as well as for Apple, may not come to pass. The Cupertino giant — again, if analysts’ predictions pan out — being its usual greedy self plans to actually increase prices for all four iPhone 14 models, asking for one hundred dollars more for each one of them compared to their iPhone 13 equivalents. It will be interesting to see how Apple intends to justify that price increase (or even if it will bother to do so…) on stage since the chip shortage issue affects practically every consumer electronics manufacturer today and can’t be easily used as an excuse anymore. Here’s hope that those iPhone 14 pricing rumors are wrong and that Apple will do the decent thing as far as those two A15-based models are concerned. Bets, anyone?