Huawei's semiconductor subsidiary HiSilicon is already working on a successor to this year's Kirin 980 system-on-chip, with the module in question being likely to be called the Kirin 985, according to known India-based industry insider Mishaal Rahman. The source provided no other details on the matter, though the supposed name of the silicon is indicative of an incremental revision and not a full-fledged follow-up to the chip found inside the recently released Huawei Mate 20 lineup of Android flagships.
A potential change in strategy
Whereas Qualcomm occasionally launches minor upgrades to its ultra-premium silicon line, having most recently done so with the Snapdragon 821 in 2016, HiSilicon generally has a more focused approach to product development and has up until now always been fully dedicated to a single high-end SoC per year. However, the company's established product naming practices suggest the "true" successor to the Kirin 980 will be called the Kirin 970, much like the currently latest chip replaced the Kirin 970. It's unlikely the firm would opt for the newly rumored naming scheme if it had an actual successor to its best-ever chip in the works, with the main implication of the new rumor being that the Kirin 985 may actually be an optimized and slightly improved version of the Kirin 980. In other words, the chip will almost certainly still be based on the 7nm process node from TSMC and sport two neural processing units, though it may deliver slightly better energy efficiency and other incremental upgrades.
Building on greatness
The Kirin 980 was unveiled in late August as the world's most powerful mobile chip ever, as well as the first smartphone SoC built on the 7nm process node. It's also the first chipset to utilize the newest Mali-G76 GPU from ARM and feature a 4G LTE modem supporting download speeds of up to 1.4Gbps. On Wi-Fi, the Kirin 980 allows for downlink throughput of up to 1.7Gbps, which is another unprecedented achievement in the industry. Whereas its predecessor marked Huawei's premier serious foray into the world of mobile artificial intelligence by introducing a neural processing unit dedicated to on-device machine learning and related applications, the new chip has two such modules, allowing for even faster (up to 46-percent) and more energy-efficient performance. Huawei's subsidiary is also quick to point out that the Kirin 980 is the industry's first SoC allowing for LPDDR4X RAM clocked at up to 2,133Mhz.
By most accounts, the chip is a state-of-the-art affair, even though initial benchmarks and reports seem to suggest Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855 announced earlier this month will be outperforming it in many respects, if only slightly. Still, it's unclear how HiSilicon would be able to improve upon its latest offering in a span of just several months, assuming the Kirin 855 ends up launching in the first half of 2019, which is what the newly emerged rumor seems to imply. Assuming the SoC actually exists, it's likely to end up inside the Huawei P30 series of Android flagships which the Chinese technology juggernaut is expected to announce around the time the next iteration of Mobile World Congress takes place in Barcelona, Spain. This year, Huawei opted to wait out MWC and held a dedicated launch event for the P20 line but no firm plans for 2019 have yet been made by the company, according to recent reports.
But not for the U.S.
The P30 series has already been the subject of numerous rumors in recent months and Richard Yu, the CEO of Huawei's consumer electronics business, recently confirmed the name of the upcoming product family during an investor event. The series is likely to consist of two flagships and isn't expected to be released in the United States where Huawei is still facing massive regulatory scrutiny and political opposition. Several weeks back, the animosity between Washington and Huawei reached unprecedented heights after Canadian authorities fulfilled a request of the U.S. Department of Justice and arrested the Chinese firm's CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, with stateside prosecutors suspecting the 46-year-old of defrauding banks as part of a conspiracy to violate the Commerce Department's trade sanctions placed on Iran. While the case is still far from being resolved and Ms. Meng continues to fight the DOJ's extradition request, the current political climate makes it unlikely that Huawei will even consider bringing the P20 lineup to the U.S. in any shape or form. Regardless, American consumers will presumably still be able to import GSM-compatible variants of the devices and count on the local branch of the conglomerate to honor their warranties, as was the case with previously released Huawei products officially unavailable in the U.S.