Apple’s (first) fall 2022 announcement event: half-steps provide only prior-gen augment (vs fuller advancement)

Article By : Brian Dipert

Another September brings new Apple iPhones, watches, AirPods and the chips powering them.

Even before Tim Cook and other Apple execs hit the stage this Wednesday (quick aside: Apple events are normally on Tuesdays; I assume the reschedule this time was due to Labor Day proximity, but I have no idea why they held the event so early this month this year), the media was already damping the anticipation of what would be unveiled at the “Far Out” soiree, instead focusing on next month’s (or whenever it’ll actually be) subsequent event. And those lowered expectations were admittedly (and unfortunately) in at least some cases fulfilled:

Still, although the company’s rumored AR/VR headset (or, if the latest scuttlebutt ends up being true, headset series) remains under wraps (versus being the “one more thing” that some folks thought would be unveiled this week…the AR “easter egg” was an effective feint), and although many of the products were spitting images of their predecessors (at least judged by exterior appearances), there was still notable news, particularly related to SoCs and connectivity. What follows are the details that caught my attention, in the order in which they were announced.

Apple Watch

I’m going to begin this section by reiterating the disappointment that I first voiced back in June. The Apple Watch Series 3, first introduced five years ago, is admittedly getting quite “long in the tooth” at this point, powered by a now-geriatric SoC and with limited on-board memory that hampers performance and makes software updates difficult at best. As such, it wasn’t surprising that the company announced at WWDC that Series 3 (two of which I own) wouldn’t be supported by upcoming WatchOS 9 (which got its likely final public beta release this week). But after WWDC, Apple continued to sell the Series 3 in both brand-new and refurbished variants. And even though it’s now no longer available new from the Apple Store as of this week, you still can buy them direct from Apple refurbished. See for yourself, courtesy of a screenshot taken from my also-soon-to-be-obsolete iPad mini 4:

That Apple’s still happily extracting money from unknowing consumers’ wallets, direct-hawking products that it knows full well won’t be supported going forward, resulting in eventual obsolescence from unpatched security flaws and the like, is flat-out unconscionable.

Off soapbox. All three new Apple Watch families launched this week have the same SoC at their nexus: the S8 SiP. Not much is known about it yet beyond the fact that it’s a dual-core processor architecture, including whether it actually is a new design (the S6 and S7 were identical, despite their moniker-driven supposed differentiation). But the sensors, displays and other circuitry surrounding it are perhaps the more interesting bits. First off, there’s the second-generation Apple Watch SE, the Apple-anointed successor to the Series 3:

Upgraded accelerometer and three-axis gyro sensors support Crash Detection, where watch data combines with the barometer, GPS, and microphone on a tethered iPhone to determine whether a severe vehicle crash has taken place. In such a situation, quoting from the press release, “the device will check in with the user and dial emergency services if they are unresponsive after a 10-second countdown. Emergency responders will receive the user’s device location, which is also shared with the user’s emergency contacts.”

The new Series 8 watches are also able to measure body temperature at the wrist, a capability usable to both men and women but specifically highlighted by the company as being useful for determining ovulation and enabling more general menstrual period predictions:

And then there’s the beefier new Apple Watch Ultra, whose enhanced water resistance (making it feasible for wearing when diving, for example) and more general ruggedness, along with an one-touch Action button for access in the midst of gloved and other activities, have competitors such as Garmin (my current preference) and Suunto (which I also used to own) in its sights:


The first-generation high-end AirPods Pro earbuds are three years at this point, so you might be thinking they’re due for an update. If so, you’d be right.

These second-generation successors are powered by an equally next-generation SoC, the H2. Its added processing power enables, Apple claims, both more robust active noise cancellation and Transparency (the ability to hear your surroundings while also listening to what’s coming over the Bluetooth link) capabilities, as well as the means to more accurately tailor the earbuds’ spatial (virtual surround) and other sound specifics to each listener’s unique head dimensions, ear canal structures and other auditory details. Touch controls are a welcome improvement (says this first-generation owner) over the predecessor’s more rudimentary “stalk” switches. And these added and enhanced capabilities don’t come with a requisite battery life decrease, quite the contrary: up to 1.5 hours of added estimated listening time between charges.

Speaking of charges, the charging case has been similarly enhanced; it, like the earbuds themselves, is now trackable using Apple’s Find My facilities, and, an integrated speaker aids in locating it between the cushions of your sofa or wherever else you’ve inadvertently stashed it. The case can now be charged using a (proprietary, don’t forget) Apple Watch wireless charger, along with legacy MagSafe and Qi wireless chargers and a wired connection.

Speaking of wired connections, a more modest (and not mentioned at the event) evolution also came to the third-generation conventional AirPods. Both they and their second-generation precursors are still sold (here’s a summary of the differences, as well as one for the second- vs first-gen predecessor), and the third-gen offering now comes optionally bundled with a wired-only supportive charging case at a slight discount. Here’s the curious bit; both it and the case for the second-gen AirPods Pro still only comprehend Lightning wired connections. Given the increasing regulatory pressure in Europe and elsewhere to instead adopt industry-standard USB-C, I wonder how much longer Apple will stubbornly cling to its proprietary legacy port.

And speaking of Lightning…


Historically, at least to the limits of my admittedly imperfect memory, the entirety of a new iPhone series’ products have been based on an equally new SoC (albeit sometimes selectively using variants with different functional CPU and GPU core counts, running at different clock speeds, etc.). Then again, historically Apple reserved full-generation product number increases for meaningful redesigns, reserving “S” interim upgrades for half-step updates…but I digress.

Any initial confusion you might therefore be feeling when you look at the iPhone 14 versus its iPhone 13 forebear would be understandable, because they’re based on the same A15 Bionic SoC. Not exactly the same, mind you…with the iPhone 13 generation, the full five-functional-GPU-core version of the A15 SoC was reserved for “Pro” versions, with the standard iPhone 13 instead using the four-GPU-core A15 SoC variant. Apparently TSMC has improved its yield on the now-mature 5 nm process, because the five-GPU-core A15 is now mainstream. And, of course, Apple never talks about other specs such as the amount, type and speed of DRAM, so there may be evolution here in the iPhone 13-to-14 transition as well (that said, rumor has it that the LPDDR4 allocation has grown from 4 to 6 GBytes…we’ll need to wait for independent developer confirmation here). Still, the core hardware differences are modest at best.

They include tweaks to the cameras:

  • The main rear camera now has a ƒ/1.5 max aperture, versus ƒ/1.6 on the iPhone 13, and although the image sensor pixel count is the same (12 Mpixels), the pixel size has grown to 1.9-micron, which will also improve low light performance
  • The front camera’s maximum aperture has also widened, from ƒ/2.2 to ƒ/1.9, and now supports autofocus functionality

Battery capacity (therefore between-charges operating life) has also grown, reportedly from 3,240mAh to 3,279mAh on the base 6.1” iPhone 14. The iPhone 14 (following in the footsteps of Android predecessors) also natively supports Crash Detection, courtesy of upgrades to its own accelerometer and gyro. As you may have noticed from the earlier photo, there’s no 5.4” screen “mini” variant this time (although the iPhone 13 mini is still being sold…speaking of “mini”, reiterating a point I made back in June, my first-generation iPhone SEs will be made obsolete by the looming iOS 16 update, as well); instead, Apple’s gone the other direction, adding a 6.7” “Plus” version.

Neither phone supports physical SIMs any longer, at least in the U.S.; instead, they can concurrently comprehend multiple carriers’ eSIM credentials. And last but definitely not least, Apple’s (on the heels of both SpaceX-plus-T-Mobile and Huawei) added limited satellite connectivity; not web browsing, email or even texting, only SOS messaging. Apple didn’t announce its satellite partner but it’s reportedly Globalstar which, if true, is a curious selection. Globalstar’s satellites sit in long-distance HEO, versus the closer-proximity LEO employed by SpaceX (for example), the farther Globalstar orbit seemingly requiring much higher iPhone 14 transmit power.

Then there are the “Pro” variants of the iPhone 14 family, also available in base and larger (this time “Max” versus “Plus”) size options:

Here the generational changes (building on the foundation of the earlier documented iPhone 13-to-14 improvements) are more substantial, starting with a processing nexus switch to the 4 nm-fabricated A16 Bionic SoC. Does this iPhone generation’s more limited processor evolution reflect constrained latest-generation TSMC process capacity (and/or yield), is it simply a reflection of Apple’s desire to inject more feature set differentiation between standard and “Pro” product variants, or are both (and/or other) factors at play? Speculation aside, Apple continues in its role as a lithography-adoption trendsetter. Although the CPU (two high performance, four “efficiency”, i.e., low power) and GPU core counts remain unchanged from the A15 Bionic precursor, all three cores’ architectures have purportedly advanced.

The total transistor count now exceeds 16 billion (believe it or not), the next-generation 16-core neural engine is claimed capable of performing up to 17 trillion operations per second, memory bandwidth to and from the graphics subsystem has increased by 50%, and the design reflects ongoing focus on reducing power consumption: the A16 Bionic’s high-performance cores supposedly use 20% less power compared to those of the A15 Bionic, while the efficiency cores use a third of the power (of unnamed competitor chips, mind you). Apple’s focus on power consumption vs raw performance makes sense in light of subsequently leaked initial Geekbench results, which suggest scant-at-best synthetic benchmark improvements versus the A15 Bionic. Perhaps Geekbench isn’t fully exploiting the A16 Bionic’s various architectural enhancements…and/or perhaps Apple is downclocking the A16 Bionic versus its A15 Bionic predecessor in pursuit of reduced power consumption with comparable performance.

Speaking of memory, the phones purportedly include 6 GBytes of latest-generation LPDDR5 DRAM this time around. The camera subsystem improvements are also more substantial, including:

  • A 48 Mpixel main rear image sensor, albeit with each quad-pixel cluster combined at the camera level
  • A new 12MP ultra-wide rear camera with 1.4 µm pixels
  • An improved rear telephoto camera now offering 3x optical zoom, and
  • A new front TrueDepth camera with an ƒ/1.9 aperture and autofocus

Speaking of the front camera cluster, Apple has migrated from the “notch” at the top of the screen to a “pill” within the main OLED (which for the first time offers an “Always-On mode”). The company refers to it as the Dynamic Island:

and you can simplistically think of it as a mini virtual display (plus physical cameras) within a display. Clever.

A few final notes on wireless and wired connectivity, which apply equally to all four iPhone 14 variants discussed here:

With that, and with the 2,000-word threshold looming, it’s a wrap. Over to you for your impressions in the comments!

This article was originally published on EDN.

Brian Dipert is Editor-in-Chief of the Embedded Vision Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter.


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