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It appears Apple divvied out orders for its A9 system-on-chip design, deployed in the latest iPhone 6s and 6s Plus handsets, to both Samsung and TSMC, though Samsung's version boasts a significantly smaller footprint thanks to advanced fabrication technologies.
Researchers at Chipworks discovered the two different application processors — both with A9 labeling — in identical iPhone 6s hardware, confirming previous speculation that Apple would dual-source its next-gen SoC supply. Since Apple traditionally secures all AP orders from one manufacturer, the iPhone 6s' reliance on two producers suggests initial supply constraints.
Perhaps more interesting is that Samsung's A9, part number APL0898, is ten percent smaller than TSMC's iteration, marked as APL1022. The difference in size is to be expected, however, as Samsung is thought to be using a smaller-scale 14nm fabrication process, while TSMC relies on a 16nm FinFET process for its silicon. It is unclear if the two fabrication techniques yield noticeable variations in performance, though energy efficiency usually rises as an inverse function of semiconductor fabrication size. Chipworks is conducting further tests into the matter.
A report in July claimed Apple split A9 and A9X orders between longtime supplier Samsung and TSMC, though the rumor was left unconfirmed until now. The exact allotment is unknown, but rumors have pegged Samsung as responsible for a bulk of A9 orders, with overflow going to TSMC.
It is not yet known if Samsung will share production of Apple's A9X, which will debut in iPad Pro in November as Apple's most powerful A-series chip to date. The Korean tech giant could feasibly supply the entirety of A9X SoCs considering demand for the jumbo-sized tablet is not expected to match that of iPhone 6s.
Apple's iPhone 6s and 6s Plus got off to a blockbuster start with more than 13 million units sold over their first weekend of availability. Helping push the needle is China, which for the first time