Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) is expected to launch two premium iPhones with high-resolution organic light emitting diode (OLED) displays next year. One is expected to have a 5.85-inch OLED display like the one found on this year’s iPhone X, though perhaps with quality and speed upgrades, and the other is expected to have a jumbo 6.46-inch OLED display.
According to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, that 6.46-inch OLED display will have a pixel density — that is, the average number of pixels per square inch — of between 480 and 500 pixels per inch. That’s greater than the 458 pixels per inch of the display found on the 5.85-inch display on the current iPhone X.
Image source: Apple.
This higher display size, coupled with the higher pixel density, will mean the display on the larger iPhone X will feature a lot of pixels. My math pegs the total pixel count at between 3.7 million and 4 million pixels. To put that into perspective, the iPhone X’s display has about 2.74 million pixels and the iPhone 8 Plus’ display has about 2.07 million. The standard iPhone 8’s display features just 1 million.
This dramatic increase in the number of pixels on the display of Apple’s highest-end iPhone next year will necessitate a big improvement in the graphics capabilities of the Apple A12 processor, since the more pixels a device’s display has, the more powerful the chip driving the device needs to be.
For a 6.46-inch iPhone X to deliver the same level of graphics performance as today’s iPhone X, it will need a graphics processor that’s roughly 45% faster than the one found inside the A11 Bionic. For better performance, the A12 processor needs to feature a graphics processor that’s greater than 45% faster than the one found in the iPhone X.
A 45% generational boost in graphics performance isn’t unheard of; Apple delivered such boosts with the A8, A9, and A10 chips . It only missed the mark with this year’s A11 Bionic chip, which improved graphics performance by only 30% over its predecessor.
Indeed, given that Apple is likely to introduce a new iteration of its custom-designed graphics processor technology in the A12, and given that Apple will also build the A12 on a more advanced chip-manufacturing technology , hitting that mark seems more than doable.
How Apple can avoid treading water
One thing worth pointing out is that if Apple uses the same A12 chip inside both next-generation OLED iPhones, the one with the lower-resolution 5.85-inch display would see a clear speed boost over this year’s iPhone X. A large boost in the graphics performance of the A12 would only allow next year’s 6.46-inch iPhone X to deliver a similar experience to this year’s iPhone X and a slower experience than what an updated 5.85-inch iPhone X would deliver.
To be clear, this disparity in effective graphics performance between Apple’s smaller-screen and larger-screen iPhones isn’t new and has existed since Apple introduced the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus back in 2014.
Image source: Apple.
Nevertheless, given that Apple has continued to invest heavily in building out its chip capabilities and currently spends nearly $12 billion per year in research and development , a figure that’s only been growing, I continue to believe that Apple easily has the technical and financial resources to build customized versions of its A-series chips tailored to the display demands of the smaller- and larger-screen iPhone models.
Ideally, Apple’s next 5.85-inch iPhone would include the A12 chip while the 6.46-inch iPhone could have a chip called the A12 Plus, which would have a graphics processor with, say, 50% more graphics cores embedded inside it.
The Plus versions of Apple’s A-series chips would be more expensive to build and consume more power than their non-Plus counterparts, but considering they would be going into more expensive phones with much larger batteries than their non-Plus counterparts, that really shouldn’t be a problem.
There hasn’t been much noise from the usual suspects in the Apple supply chain about Apple’s potentially doing separate versions of the A-series chips for each iPhone based on display size. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple adopt such a strategy within the next product cycle or two for the sake of the user experience.
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Ashraf Eassa has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .
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