The iPhone 14 Pro’s A16 Bionic chip uses a similar architecture to the A15 in the iPhone 13 Pro, but that was only Apple’s fallback plan, according to a report from The Information. The company wanted to add a next-generation GPU that supports ray tracing, but the silicon team discovered crucial design mistakes late in development. It allegedly had to scrap its plans and opt for the A16 we got.
The botched plans can reportedly be traced back to Apple’s silicon engineers being “too ambitious with adding new features.” The planned 2022 silicon would have supported ray tracing, the technique that makes light in video games behave as it does in real life. Software simulations had suggested it was feasible, and the company moved forward with prototyping. But test hardware drew more power than the engineers had expected, which would have hurt battery life and overheated the device.
Because Apple caught the mistakes late in development, it had to scrap the plans for this generation and opt instead for the A16 that shipped this fall. (In Apple’s September keynote, rather than puffing up the new chip’s monumental gains, as it typically does, it only briefly mentioned that the GPU had 50 percent more memory bandwidth.) The report’s sources described the screwup as “unprecedented in the group’s history.”
The Information’s report connects this incident to bigger-picture struggles within the Apple Silicon team. It details the effective but highly demanding leadership under the senior vice president of Hardware Technologies, Johny Srouji. He runs the group “like a well-oiled machine,” but it’s also struggled with the limits of Moore’s law and a talent exodus to startups and rival chip makers. It allegedly lost the most talent to Nuvia, founded by former Apple chip designer Gerard Williams III — a well-liked leader among Apple’s silicon engineers. (Qualcomm bought Nuvia in 2021.) The designer who replaced Williams, Mike Filippo, then “clashed with engineers” before leaving to join Microsoft. Apple hasn’t yet replaced him. Additionally, the company reportedly tried to limit the talent exodus by showing presentations to engineers highlighting the riskiness of working for chip startups, warning that most fail.