Apple Inc. May Finally Have a Serious Chip Competitor

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For several years, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) has had a clear lead over the rest of the mobile phone industry in one key area: CPU performance. Apple's custom-designed CPUs, which are embedded inside the company's custom A-series applications processors that power the iPhone, have been far and away more powerful than those used in the applications processors inside of every other smartphone on the planet.

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To put things into perspective, in Geekbench 4 -- a performance test ("benchmark") that measures the capabilities of a device's CPU -- Apple's A11 Bionic processor has a more than 100% lead in single-core performance over the best chips from its top rivals, Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) and Qualcomm.

However, if a new press release from Samsung is to be believed, Samsung's upcoming flagship mobile processor -- the Exynos 9810 -- could come quite close to Apple's A11 Bionic in this respect.

A straight doubling would mean...

Samsung's currently shipping flagship mobile processor is the Exynos 8895. According to entries in the Geekbench 4 database, the Exynos 8895 achieves a single-core score of about 2,000 in the test. Apple's A11 Bionic, by comparison, achieves a score of roughly 4,250 in that same test.

If we take Samsung's marketing claims at face value and make the assumption that a "two-fold increase" in single-thread performance means a doubling of the Exynos 8895's single-core score in Geekbench 4, then the Exynos 9810 could achieve a Geekbench 4 single-core score of approximately 4,000.

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This would put Samsung's Exynos 9810 within shouting distance of Apple's A11 Bionic, meaning that Samsung will have gone from being multiple generations behind Apple in single-core performance (generally a 25%-30% increase per generation is doing well) to being just six months behind (since Samsung's Exynos 9810 is likely to show up in commercially available devices in March of 2018 -- six months after the launch of the A11 Bionic-powered iPhone 8/8 Plus).

What this means for Apple and Samsung

Ultimately, most smartphone buyers don't seem to factor performance tests significantly in picking their smartphones -- if Geekbench 4 were a big driver of smartphone sales, then the iPhone 8/8 Plus/X would be gaining massive amount of share against all of the major Android-based vendors.

Instead, while Apple seems on track to gain some share with these products collectively, that phenomenon seems to more be driven by the iPhone X's new form factor, display technology, and TrueDepth 3D-sensing camera than by processor performance.

What catching up in terms of Geekbench 4 performance with Apple could do, though, is make for a lot of positive headlines in the tech press. That could help Samsung build some additional mind-share against both Apple (e.g., casting a shadow the narrative that Apple's silicon prowess is unmatched in the mobile industry) and other Android-based vendors that use non-Samsung processors (since the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 that will power competing Android devices will certainly fall well short of the Exynos 9810 in Geekbench 4).

In other words, Samsung's brand value could improve and it could gain a modest amount of share against competing Android-based smartphone vendors, particularly among enthusiasts.

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Ashraf Eassa owns shares of QCOM. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of QCOM and has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.