This mysterious chip in the iPhone 7 could be the key to Apple’s AI efforts

“It’s been more than a month since teardown shops like iFixit and Chipworks took apart and dissected Apple’s iPhone 7,” Aaron Tilley reports for Forbes. “The biggest surprise remains Apple’s decision to dual source its LTE modems from both Qualcomm and Intel.”

“But there was one little chip that has gone mostly unnoticed. Inside the iPhone 7 is a field-programmable gate array, or FPGA, made by Lattice Semiconductor, according to Chipworks. An FPGA is a type of processor that can be reconfigured after it’s been manufactured and installed in a device. Increasingly, these chips are are used for accelerating machine learning applications in data centers,” Tilley reports. “This is the first time an FPGA has appeared in an iPhone.”

Tilley reports, “FPGAs inside mobile phones remain a rarity.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Future-proofing.

6 Comments

  1. Maybe it’s a way they can get around some future unforseen lawsuits and licensing issues. Maybe the chip is related to a soft-modem, where they can add future protocols or convert all phones to the same code set.

    If it’s related to AI? How could we be sure the phone forgets us if we sell it or hand it down in the future? That is an essential function – the ability to forget and it should be a secure enclave in that situation. So I can’t believe it’s for AI for that reason alone.

    Yes odd component in deed. If it shows up on other phones, maybe it’s unused but a requirement for certification???? FCC anyone – ideas?

  2. We use FPGA’s in most of our designs. None of our products are for AI. FPGA’s are programmable logic. Very general purpose.

    This article was written by someone who was lucky to get the spelling of FPGA correct. Also, nothing to do with FCC.

    My guess why they may not be used often in mobile devices is because custom chips are used and FPGA power consumption may be a disadvantage.

    1. Totally agree. We’ve used FPGAs for decades now, and I’ve never done anything with AI unless you count the logic for the non-player characters in games, and those were just software, so no FPGAs.

      I wonder if Apple uses these as a way of allowing software updates to modify firmware. Whatever it is, one could glean some clues by tracing the lines coming to and from that chip to see what other chips it connects to directly. But I’m not about to tear apart my iPhone to find out, because honestly who really cares?

    2. Agreed! FPGA for AI is total horse hockey. It is probably just a way for Apple to enable some flexibility moving forwards. Once the code is locked down, the FPGA can be converted to an ASIC, if desired.

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