At its latest event today, Apple announced the chips that will be powering its most powerful iPhones and iPads yet, the A9 and the A9X (respectively). The two chips are built using new "transistor architecture," which is likely code for FinFET transistors.
Ever since Apple began to design its own chips, it has often ended up ahead of all the other mobile competition, whether it was Samsung, Qualcomm or Nvidia's chips, or even Intel's Atom line for mobile, in both CPU and GPU performance.
GPU performance is more of a result of using Imagination's latest PowerVR GPUs, but some of the gains are also due to Apple's design of an efficient SoC that allows for more powerful GPUs. With the arrival of the Metal graphics API, Apple also allowed developers to gain more direct access to those powerful chips and extract even more performance out of them for their games.
Apple claimed that its third-generation 64-bit A9 CPU is now 70 percent faster than its one-year-old A8 CPU and has a GPU that is 90 percent faster, as well. This time, Apple hasn't increased the resolution of its displays, so all of that power should go straight to new games and apps that can take advantage of it.
The new A9 SoC also comes with a new M9 coprocessor that now includes the ability to listen to the "Hey, Siri" command without the iPhone 6S having to be plugged in or for the owner to press a button first. Such functionality was first seen in the original 2013 Moto X when the "OK, Google" command could be used directly with the phone turned off.
The chip brings along a new LTE Advanced modem as well, that is twice as fast at 300 Mbps download speeds and can support 23 LTE bands. Apple claimed this is the highest number of LTE bands being supported in a smartphone right now, making it ideally suited for travelers.
Apple also introduced a more powerful variant of the A9, called the A9X, which will power the new iPad Pro. The company claimed that its CPU is 80 percent faster than the previous A8X CPU and that the GPU is also twice as fast. When comparing them to the chip in the original iPad from 2010, the company said the CPU performance has improved over 22 times -- and 360 times for the GPU.
Apple also claimed that the new A9X is faster than "80% of portable PCs," but it didn't elaborate on what exactly it means by that or how it reached that result. With A9X likely to be faster than Intel's Atom-based Celerons and Pentiums, which now go into lower-end notebooks, as well as most if not all existing ARM chips from competitors, the A9X can certainly be considered a "PC-class" chip. However, that doesn't necessarily mean it's by any means the fastest PC-class chip out there.
For the purpose of the iPad Pro, which is meant to be a more productive yet familiar device for those already used to iOS, the chip should be powerful enough to handle just about any productivity app developers can create for it over the next year, until an even more powerful iPad Pro appears.