How building their own chips is helping Huawei close in on Apple
Kirin 980 CPU expected to debut in the Huawei Mate 20
They’re the unseen heart of a smartphone, but not something talked about as often as say, the screen, or the battery. But at a time when smartphones are more similar than they’ve ever been, Huawei’s efforts to build its own CPUs might be starting to pay off.
Unveiled in August, it was said to be the world’s first 7-nanometer chipset… but it wasn’t the first to actually see release, since Apple’s A12 Bionic beat Huawei to market when it appeared in the iPhone XS. The Kirin 980 is expected to ship with the Mate 20 smartphone that Huawei is unveiling this month.
Producing in-house chips is both impressive and important. Few Android handset makers do; Samsung does, but not all of their flagship smartphones carry their own Exynos CPUs.
And best of all for Apple: All of those improvements are for their benefit alone.
Now Huawei can do the same.
Their 7-nm chips are a step up from the current industry standard of 10nm. As transistors get smaller, more can fit inside a single chip. The result is that apps can run faster, games can run smoother -- all while consuming less power.
The Kirin series is often viewed as way for Huawei, and perhaps other Chinese companies in future, to reduce their reliance on American technology. It’s becoming a matter of increasing urgency in China, as tension rises with the US.
Apple is able to control every part of the iPhone experience, from the chips powering it all to the software that users interact with. Apple can plot features years in advance, safe in the knowledge that when a certain chip or function is ready, iOS will fully support it.
But Huawei uses Android, and has no such control over the direction of Google’s operating system. That’s not to say they’re powerless -- image recognition in the Mate 10 Pro’s camera, enabled by the Kirin 970’s NPU, is an example of that -- but not to the degree that Apple has.