Why A-Series Benchmark Scores Matter

Thom Holwerda on Twitter, quoting a tweet of mine touting the iPhone 7’s astounding Geekbench scores:

Funny how just like in the PPC days, benchmarks only start mattering when they favour [insert platform of choice].

https://twitter.com/gruber/status/776295771943600129

I like reading/following Holwerda, because he’s someone who I feel keeps me on my toes. But he’s off-base here. I’m certainly not saying that CPU or GPU performance is a primary reason why anyone should buy an iPhone instead of an Android phone. In fact, I’ll emphasize that if the tables were turned and it were Android phones that were registering Geekbench scores double those of the iPhone, I would still be using an iPhone. In the same way that I’ve been using Macs, non-stop, since I first purchased a computer in 1991. Most of the years from 1991 until the switch to Intel CPUs in 2007, the Mac was behind PCs in performance. I never argued then that performance didn’t matter — only that for me, personally, the other benefits of using a Mac (the UI design of the system, the quality of the third-party apps, the build quality of the hardware, etc.) outweighed the performance penalty Macs suffered. The same would be true today if Apple’s A-series chips were slower than Qualcomm’s CPUs for Android.

But that would likely never happen. If Apple’s in-house chips were significantly slower than the commodity chips used by Android device makers, Apple would just use those commodity chips. The mobile situation would be just like the desktop situation, where Apple uses the same CPUs as everyone else. That’s what makes the A-series chips’ performance so interesting. If the commodity chips were fastest, everyone would use them. But if the A-series chips are the fastest (and have the best energy efficiency), only Apple gets to use them.

The iPhone has all the benefits (in short: superior design) that would keep me, and I think most other iPhone users, on the platform even if it didn’t have a performance advantage. But it does have a significant performance advantage, and it is exclusive to Apple. This is an extraordinary situation, historically. And year-over-year, it looks like Apple’s lead is growing, not shrinking. It’s not a fluke, but a sustained advantage.

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