iPhone 14 could come with 4nm chips — and 3nm could follow in 2023

iPhone 13 renders by Ian Zelbo
(Image credit: Ian Zelbo / Twitter)

Apple’s chip supplier TSMC is reportedly preparing to start production on its next generation of 4nm chips this year, raising hopes of significant performance gains for future iPhones, iPads and Apple Silicon-powered Macs.

That's according to Digitimes (via MacRumors), which claims that TSMC will begin producing the 4nm chips (N4) in the third quarter of 2021, with 3nm tech (N3) to follow in the second half of 2022.

When it comes to raw performance, our benchmarks already give iPhone devices a healthy lead over their Android equivalents. That’s partly down to Apple’s unique ability to link hardware and software as the only company allowed to use iOS, but it’s also thanks to the A-series chips that the company exclusively uses.

Both the Apple A14 chip which powers the iPhone 12 family and the M1 processor at the heart of the new iPad Pro 2021, MacBook Air M1, MacBook Pro M1 and 24-inch iMac 2021 are manufactured to the 5nm process. 

However, compared to current chips built on the 5nm process, the report claims that the “proven” FinFET transistor architecture of the 3nm chips will mean a 15% speed boost while consuming 30% less power. And while a phone’s chipset isn’t the only thing draining your battery (big bright screens don’t power themselves, after all), this could make for a significant upgrade, given the iPhone 12 handsets’ notoriously limited stamina.

Of course, just because the technology is available, it doesn’t mean Apple will be including it right away. Indeed, we’ve previously heard that the A15 chip rumored to power the iPhone 13 will be made to the same 5nm production process as the current generation, with the first batch of 4nm chips supposedly earmarked for upcoming Macs.

The iPhone 14, or whatever the 2022 model ends up being called, is likely to benefit from a smaller chipset, but even then, barring some unexpected technological development, it’s unlikely that Apple would jump straight to using these rumored new 3nm chips on the phone. If the 4nm processor offers significant performance and efficiency improvements on the current generation, and iPhone devices continue to outperform Android ones in benchmark tests, there’s really no need to push ahead so fast, after all.

Still, you can’t help but be impressed by the speed at which TSMC is reportedly miniaturizing its chips. Just four years ago, the iPhone X debuted with the Apple A11 — a 10nm SoC. A year later, the Apple A12 Bionic appeared in the iPhone XS, made to the 7nm process, before last year’s iPhones appeared with 5nm chips. 

If the Digitimes report is true, then the prospect of two further jumps in the next two years is exciting, particularly when you think of the enhanced performance, efficiency and reduced footprint past miniaturizations have brought. And given how well the first Apple Silicon-powered MacBooks have performed, the possibility of a 3nm model in 2022 should be a real worry for rival ultrabook manufacturers, even if the benefits take that bit longer to reach the iPhone.

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.