iPhone 14 rumored to use old chip — and that’s okay

iphone 14 pro render
(Image credit: Front Page Tech / Ian Zelbo)

As we draw nearer to September and thus the very likely launch of the new iPhone 14 lineup, the rumors around Apple's next smartphone are gathering pace. We’ve now got a rather strong idea of what both the standard iPhone 14 models and the iPhone 14 Pro handsets will look like and their cameras and display specs. But one rumors keeps surfacing and it’s an odd one. 

That tidbit is how the iPhone 14 will stick with the A15 Bionic chip found in the iPhone 13 range, while the iPhone 14 Pro models will get a new and more powerful A16 chip (We have listed the key differences to expect between the A16 Bionic vs A15 Bionic and what it could mean for the iPhone 14).

Now Apple hasn’t even hinted that this will be the case, but numerous well regarded tech tipsters have flagged this chip disparity. 

What’s odd here is it would be the first time Apple doesn't equip a next-gen iPhone with new silicon, let alone have a split between the standard and Pro models. This lack of a chip upgrade is arguably an easy way to dismiss the iPhone 14 out of hand; that’s before you consider it’ll apparently not get the new pill and punch-hole camera cutouts to replace the infamous display notch. 

However, swapping my tech enthusiast hat for my rational thinking cap, I’m not hugely convinced that leaving the iPhone 14 with the A15 chip is actually a big deal. 

Plenty of performance

a15 bionic

(Image credit: Apple)

For years, Apple’s A-series chips have easily beaten the Snapdragon and Exynos flagship silicon found in the best Android phones. In our testing, even the gaming-focused Asus ROG Phone 6 Pro with its new Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 is easily beaten by the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s A15 Bionic chip, which also outpaces the mighty Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra.

After some 8 months of iPhone 13 Pro use — having swapped from Android — I’ve not encountered anything that slows the phone's A15 chip down. Having said that, I’ve yet to really find much that’ll tax an Android phone with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 or even the older Snapdragon 888 chip.

I reckon the combination of Apple’s optimization work with the A-series chips and how a lot of apps and games are made to run on a large swath of different phone hardware than the devices that top our best phones list, means both iPhone and Android phone performance is a little moot these days outside of very niche use — say video rendering on the move.

So the increasingly strong rumor that the iPhone 14 might stick with the A15 Bionic isn’t really that concerning. And Apple will have likely done some below-the-surface refinements with iOS 16 to ensure that the iPhone 14 never feels slow; I’ve yet to encounter an iPhone that’s let me down on the performance side, which isn’t something I can say about Android phones.

What would put me off the standard iPhone 14 is that it may not get a high-refresh rate display, potentially sticking with the 60Hz panel of its predecessor. Regardless of how much stock you put in high-refresh rates, to have a 2022 flagship-grade phone with what’ll probably be an $800 price tag with a 60Hz display would be a little disgraceful in my mind. But there are hints that the iPhone 14 could get a 90Hz panel, which is a lot more acceptable.

Go iPhone 14 Pro? 

iphone 14 pro render

(Image credit: Front Page Tech / Ian Zelbo)

So what about the iPhone 14 Pro and the A16 Bionic? Well it’ll likely be faster and more efficient than its predecessor, though as mentioned, I don’t think that’ll make a notable difference in real-world use.

After diving into the current chip fabrication process Macworld's Jason Cross has predicted A16 Bionic CPU performance will rise by 15%, graphics performance by 25% to 30% and memory bandwidth improving by 50%. The latter two figures sound impressive. But again, when was the last time you felt like your iPhone was running slowly or couldn’t handle a bevy of apps you had open? My guess is not at all or rarely, even if you were using an iPhone that's several generations old.

Of course, to justify a high-end price tag, I feel Apple would have to give the iPhone 14 Pro a new chip even if the A15 Bionic offers more power than anyone probably needs. But a less cynical reason for the expected chip disparity between the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro could be down to the latter’s rumored 48MP camera.

Boosting the main camera from the iPhone 13 range’s 12MP to 48MP not only opens up the camera system to capture more detail, but also enables 8K video recording; the latest iPhones can only do 4K video capture. More detail and higher resolution means more information for a phone to process, even if it ends up outputting 12MP shots.

As such, Cross reckons the A16 chip will have a big focus on image signal processing and powering Apple’s Neural Engine; this is something I agree with. The past few generations of A-series chips have been focused on neural processing and powering smart algorithms over screaming frame rates in games. And this has resulted in not only a more responsive Siri, but also image processing that sees the iPhone 13 Pro Max top our best camera phones list.

Given the Pro iPhones are indeed used for semi-professional photography and video capture, I can see Apple fully lean into the neural processing and smart capabilities of the A16 chip for the iPhone 14 Pro models. I’d expect to see a presentation on September 13 showing how improved Semantic Rendering and processing results in photos and videos that offer a notable improvement over the previous IPhone Pros.

Having said all that, the iPhone 13 still takes some excellent photos with its main camera. And I suspect the iPhone 14 will do the same, likely benefiting from some software improvements, too. Given smartphone cameras are so good these days, you really have to go looking for flaws or major differences in image composition, including big improvements generation to generation.

With all that in mind, if you’re at the stage where you are looking at an iPhone upgrade or fancy switching from iOS to Android, I’d not dismiss the upcoming iPhone 14 out of hand, despite its seemingly weaker rumored specs. That’s unless you’re likely to really want to use video editing apps and capture photos that you may want to print out; in that case the iPhone 14 Pro is likely to be for you.

Of course, this is still all speculation for the time being, as we wait for the official reveal of the iPhone 14 range, very likely to be in the second week of September at the Apple Event. But it’s looking like Apple will present two iPhone 14 models that may not have the best on-paper specs but will nevertheless impress in real-world use.

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.