Apple doesn’t tell users everything about what’s inside its devices. The tech giant has been keeping a big secret about not just the iPhone 7, but also the iPhone 6 and 6S. According to David Kanter of Real World Technologies (via MacRumors), Apple has secretly been working on its own custom mobile GPUs. The Cupertino company is moving away from licensing PowerVR graphics to making its own.
Apple reducing its reliance on Imagination Technologies
Apple first started using its graphics processor with the A8 chip in the iPhone 6. The A9 and A10 Fusion chips featured improved versions of Apple’s custom GPUs. Kanter said that a modern GPU has three parts: the fixed-function graphics hardware, the shader core, and the graphics driver. The driver transforms applications written in OpenGL ES or Metal APIs into commands for the fixed-function hardware and shaders.
For years, Apple relied on PowerVR chipmaker Imagination Technologies for the fixed-function graphics hardware, the shader cores, and the drivers. But in the iPhone 7 GPUs, Imagination Technologies provided only the fixed-function graphics hardware. Apple uses its own shader cores as well as the driver and compiler in a more efficient design.
iPhone 7’s GPUs are different from those in the PowerVR line
Apple has never publicly documented the GPU changes. David Kanter compared the information from WWDC 2016 sessions with basic PowerVR manuals. He found that the shader cores in the iPhone 7’s GPUs are different from those in the PowerVR line. At the iPhone 7 keynote, Apple highlighted the improved efficiency and performance of several components of the device, including the GPU and CPU.
Though Apple has not given its graphics processor a formal name, the GPU used in the iPhone 7 might be called the G9. This name had appeared on the GFXBench benchmark tests briefly for the iPhone 7 before being removed. Kanter said Apple’s reliance on the UK-based Imagination Technologies has declined significantly in the last few years.
Apple has hired dozens of graphic architects
Apple could design its own fixed-function hardware in case Imagination Technologies gets acquired by another company. Earlier this year, there were rumors that Apple was in talks to acquire Imagination Technologies, but the iPhone maker later shot down those rumors. The Cupertino company has acquired dozens of graphic architects from Imagination Tech, including its COO John Metcalfe.
Apple has also hired engineers from Intel, AMD, Nvidia, and Google. Kanter said Apple has clear advantages of using its own GPUs in its flagship products. Apple’s GPU is faster and more efficient. Increased performance and tighter control over the ecosystem help the company enhance user experience and battery life. The future iPhone and iPad GPUs could have unmatched performance and efficiency.