Archive for September 16, 2021

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Shortcuts Outage Caused By Researcher

Nick Heer:

Remember how, back in March, all links to Shortcuts just stopped working?

Frans Rosén (via Federico Viticci):

I found some permission issues when hacking Apple CloudKit. I wrote about three of them @detectify labs, one where I accidentally deleted all shared Apple Shortcuts.

He reported the bugs to Apple and received the security bounty.


Performance of the A15

Jason Snell:

Here’s a funny thing about Tuesday’s announcement of the A15 Bionic: Apple didn’t compare its performance to the A14. In the past, Apple has compared the power of its iPhones to previous models. But this year, Apple has chosen to proclaim that the A15 in the iPhone 13 Pro has 50 percent better graphics and CPU performance “than the competition.”

Given that Apple has generally been ahead of its smartphone competition in terms of processor power, this suggests that the A15 shows less improvement over the A14 than it does over the Qualcomm processors in leading Android phones. And it makes me wonder if Apple is perhaps trying to soft-pedal a new chip that isn’t much faster than the older model.

Dylan Patel (tweet, via Meek Geek):

The CPU is claimed to be 50% faster than the competition while GPU is claimed to be 30% or 50% faster depending on whether it is 4 cores or 5 cores. They are sticking with a 16 core NPU which is now at 15.8 TOPs vs 11 TOPs for the A14. There is a new video encoder and decoder, we hope it incorporates AV1 support. The new ISP enables better photo and video algorithms. The Pro models have variable refresh rate, so that likely necessitated a new display engine. Lastly, the system cache has doubled to 32MB. This was likely done to feed the GPU and save on power. SemiAnalysis also believes Apple moved to LPDDR5 from LPDDR4X.


The most important thing to note is that the CPU gains are identical from the A12 to A14 as they are from A12 to A15. The GPU gains are quite impressive with a calculated 38.5% improvement. This is larger than the A13 and A14 improvements combined.


SemiAnalysis believes that the next generation core was delayed out of 2021 into 2022 due to CPU engineer resource problems. In 2019, Nuvia was founded and later acquired by Qualcomm for $1.4B. Apple’s Chief CPU Architect, Gerard Williams, as well as over a 100 other Apple engineers left to join this firm. More recently, SemiAnalysis broke the news about Rivos Inc, a new high performance RISC V startup which includes many senior Apple engineers. The brain drain continues and impacts will be more apparent as time moves on. As Apple once drained resources out of Intel and others through the industry, the reverse seems to be happening now.

Eric Slivka:

These scores represent a roughly 10% increase in single-core performance and 18% increase in multi-core performance compared to the A14 Bionic in the iPhone 12 lineup.

Jason Snell:

If accurate, this would place the A14 to A15 performance boost in line with recent updates. What makes this a question at all is that Apple hasn’t directly compared the two chips, instead opting to compare the iPhone to “the competition.”


Update (2021-10-05): Ben Bajarin:

While it isn’t always obvious, Apple’s integrated product design approach of hardware, software, and silicon has led to many of the advances in camera, battery life, AI, video capture performance, and even ProMotion on iPhone 13 Pro. Apple has a luxury other silicon companies don’t. They custom-tune their architecture and silicon design specifically for iPhone and the feature they want iPhone to have. This allows them to spend their transistor budget on features instead of just pure performance.


While I will admit there is a small percentage of Apple customers who upgrade every year and a percentage more who upgrade every two years because they are on upgrade plans, the vast majority of consumers upgrade every 3-4 years. I thought it would be interesting to look at some basic iPhone benchmarks through the years and look at how much performance improvement happens every four years.

Andrei Frumusanu (Hacker News, MacRumors):

Compared to the A14, the new A15 increases the peak single-core frequency of the two-performance core cluster by 8%, now reaching up to 3240MHz compared to the 2998MHz of the previous generation. When both performance cores are active, their operating frequency actually goes up by 10%, both now running at an aggressive 3180MHz compared to the previous generation’s 2890MHz.


On the CPU side of things, Apple’s initial vague presentation of the new A15 improvements could either have resulted in disappointment, or simply a more hidden shift towards power efficiency rather than pure performance. In our extensive testing, we’re elated to see that it was actually mostly an efficiency focus this year, with the new performance cores showcasing adequate performance improvements, while at the same time reducing power consumption, as well as significantly improving energy efficiency.

The efficiency cores of the A15 have also seen massive gains, this time around with Apple mostly investing them back into performance, with the new cores showcasing +23-28% absolute performance improvements, something that isn’t easily identified by popular benchmarking. This large performance increase further helps the SoC improve energy efficiency, and our initial battery life figures of the new 13 series showcase that the chip has a very large part into the vastly longer longevity of the new devices.

Global Chip Shortage

Nilay Patel (Decoder):

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the demand for microchips has far exceeded supply, causing problems in every industry that relies on computers.


My guest today is Dr. Willy Shih. He’s the professor of management practices at Harvard Business School. He’s an expert on chips and semiconductors — he spent years working at companies like IBM and Silicon Graphics. And he’s also an expert in supply chains — how things go from raw materials to finished products in stores. Willy’s the guy that grocery stores and paper companies called in March 2020 when there was a run on toilet paper. If anyone’s going to explain this thing, it’s going to be Willy.

Ian King et al. (via Hacker News):

Building an entry-level factory that produces 50,000 wafers per month costs about $15 billion. Most of this is spent on specialized equipment—a market that exceeded $60 billion in sales for the first time in 2020.

Three companies—Intel, Samsung and TSMC—account for most of this investment. Their factories are more advanced and cost over $20 billion each. This year, TSMC will spend as much as $28 billion on new plants and equipment. Compare that to the U.S. government’s attempt to pass a bill supporting domestic chip production. This legislation would offer just $50 billion over five years.

Once you spend all that money building giant facilities, they become obsolete in five years or less. To avoid losing money, chipmakers must generate $3 billion in profit from each plant. But now only the biggest companies, in particular the top three that combined generated $188 billion in revenue last year, can afford to build multiple plants.

Yang Jie et al. (via John Gruber):

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. plans to increase the prices of its most advanced chips by roughly 10%, while less advanced chips used by customers like auto makers will cost about 20% more, these people said. The higher prices will generally take effect late this year or next year, the people said.

Horace Dediu:

IPhone 13 pricing is same as 12. So much for new pricing due to semiconductor shortages.

FlickType Sherlock+’d

Tom Maxwell (Hacker News):

But one, seemingly minor product announcement has caused a stir in the developer community: the new full software keyboard that Apple is adding to the Apple Watch.

It was just last month that Kosta Eleftheriou, the developer of FlickType, announced that his swipe-based keyboard for the blind would be pulled off the App Store over objections by Apple. Its reasoning was unclear[…]

A separate version for the Apple Watch would remain, but then Apple pulled that one as well, telling Eleftheriou that keyboards aren’t allowed on the Apple Watch.

Now Apple has announced its own, nearly-identical keyboard for the Apple Watch — and seven years after the smartwatch was introduced, no less.

Kosta Eleftheriou:

So now we know. See you in court, @Apple.

Dave Mark:

I’m mystified by this decision by Apple, especially given the ratcheted up scrutiny they are under. Did they think no one would make the connection? Or did they not care about that, Sherlock business as usual?

This is much worse than a regular Sherlocking. In the past, Apple would just build a popular third-party feature into the operating system. You can argue about whether there’s a more or less fair way to do that, but at the end of the day it makes sense to have a built-in keyboard. What’s different here is that, not only does the third-party app have to compete with the built-in feature, but Apple is also using App Review to harass the developer and block updates for no good reason. Competing with Apple on an unfair playing field is difficult, but it can be done and has been many times. But you can’t compete when they won’t let you ship your app and won’t even explain why they’re rejecting it.

Rui Carmo:

Seeing the Sherlocking of FlickType streamed live to the world, however, was a major downer (I was one of the Watch beta testers, and loved it). Apple really ought to be better than this, and I expect a fair amount of fallout over the next few days.

Joshua Topolsky:

This is really messed up. Apple forced a keyboard designed for the blind off of the App Store... and then announced its own version of it yesterday. COME ON you can do better than this.


Update (2021-09-17): William Gallagher:

Kosta Eleftheriou’s lawsuit had already been filed when Apple unveiled QuickPath. Apple says it has told Eleftheriou that following further explanation from him, it now believes that the app’s accessibility keyboard complies with App Store rules.

In other words, it never should have been rejected.

Sean Hollister:

Yes, Eleftheriou filed his suit nearly six full months before the Apple Watch Series 7 announcement.


But no, Apple didn’t actually reject every Apple Watch keyboard app in 2019 — Eleftheriou believes his app was singled out for this treatment.


The company basically admits that removing Eleftheriou’s app was a mistake, and claims it quickly corrected the issue.

But Eleftheriou disputes that last point, saying it took a year of appeals and resubmissions to get his keyboard back onto the store. “From [January 2019] on, I was simultaneously discussing a FlickType acquisition with them, while also being rejected,” he tells me. And Apple initially made it look like those appeals failed, too. “The App Review Board evaluated your app and determined that the original rejection feedback is valid. Please note that all appeal results are final,” reads Eleftheriou from a message he received in May 2019.

In the complaint, he alleges it wasn’t until January 2020, a year after the surprise takedown, that his Apple Watch keyboard extension was approved.


He’s particularly annoyed with how Apple’s own keyboard has an unfair advantage since it doesn’t need to use its own APIs, and how those APIs are lacking features that Apple publicly promised years ago.