iPhone 2024? Apple chipmaker already working on astonishing 2-nanometer chip technology

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Apple chipmaker racing ahead with its next next-gen nanometer process
Future chips will use transistors almost unimaginably small -- for almost unimaginably speedy results.
Screenshot: Apple

iPhone 2024 anyone? Apple chipmaker TSMC disclosed in its annual report to shareholders Friday that it has kicked off its 2-nanometer R&D process for future chips.

Going by Apple’s record trend of adopting a major upgrade (or, in terms of size, nanometer downgrade) in A-series chipsets every two years, that would mean the early stages of a new processor for the 2024 iPhone. This year’s iPhone is widely expected to come with a 5-nanometer A-series chip. The iPhone 11 has a 7nm processor.

According to TSMC, it is also “progressing in research and exploratory studies for nodes beyond 2nm.” The news was shared by Digitimes in a report Friday.

The number of nanometers on a CPU refers to the size of the transistors on a chip. The smaller the transistors, the more it’s possible to fit on a chip. Think of it like writing with a sharp pencil versus a blunt one. Both can write information, but one is far more efficient than the other. Apple’s A13 Bionic chip has 8.5 billion transistors, around 23% more than the A12. This dictates how many operations it can carry out or, in real terms, how powerful your phone is.

To give a sense of how tiny a nanometer is, a strand of human hair is 60,000 nanometers in diameters. (Kudos to those in the comments who pointed out an earlier error!) Smaller transistors are also more power efficient and can perform more calculations without getting too hot.

Before 2-nanometer: TSMC is building chips for iPhone 12

Currently, TSMC is making 5-nanometer chips for Apple’s iPhone 12 for this fall. It has said that these chips are already in volume production and resulting in satisfactory yield rates. TSMC expects a “a very fast and smooth ramp up” of these chips in the second half of the year.

The company has also said it is on track to deliver 3-nanometer chips which could be used in phones as soon as 2022. So-called “risk production” of these chips will take place in 2021. Volume production will then follow in the second half of the next year.

There’s no word on when TSMC’s 2nm chips will be ready. But if Apple’s trend of changing the number of nanometers for its A-series chips every couple of years follows, that means these would make their way into the iPhone, circa 2024.