By Eamon Barrett
September 5, 2018

Chinese manufacturer Huawei just won a global race to develop the next generation of microchips, narrowly beating Apple to the finish line.

At the IFA consumer electronics trade show in Berlin last Friday, Huawei’s consumer head, Richard Yu, unveiled the firm’s latest processing chip, the Kirin 980. Designed by Huawei’s semiconductor unit, HiSilicon, the Kirin 980 is the world’s first confirmed 7-nanometer mobile chipset, brushing aside the current 10-nanometer standard.

That measurement refers to the distance between each transistor on a chip. By decreasing the space between transistors, manufacturers can cram more processing power onto each piece of silicon, creating more powerful chips.

Apple is expected to reveal its own 7nm chipset at the launch of its new iPhone next week, which makes Huawei’s announcement especially cheeky. With the unveiling, Huawei is the first to present a 7nm chip, even though it may not be the first to develop one. The Kirin 980 won’t be put to use until Huawei launches its next generation Mate 20 handsets on October 16.

The Kirin 980 features dual Neural Processing Units (NPU), which will allow Huawei phones to perform AI functions without an Internet connection. Huawei’s last processor had just a single NPU, which enabled Huawei’s handsets to recognize scenes and objects through the camera lens. Those single-NPU chips could distinguish cats from dogs, sunrises from sunsets, and even drive a Porsche.

The Kirin 980 is also 5G ready, Huawei declares, although there are currently no 5G networks for it to operate on. Both Australia and the U.S. have prohibited Huawei from helping create domestic 5G networks due to concerns that the Chinese telecoms manufacturer is a threat to national security.

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