Saturday, September 14, 2013

Apple - ahead of the competition, again

5 days have passed since Apple presented the best iPhone yet - iPhone 5s. The only great feature I see there is the 64-bit processor inside. Let me tell you why I believe this is a brilliant move and why I do think Apple's users will not be the first to take advantage of this.

Why is it brilliant move?

Apple is a great vertically integrated company. They make both hardware and software, then pack it into great products. While they do not make all the hardware, they control the most important parts of it and work on helper chips like M7 to add additional functionality to their devices. All this makes possible for innovation to happen quicker compared to other vendors. On 10th of September they prove it once again by showing the first 64-bit smartphone. This makes them way ahead of the competition on that field.

What will it cost to the rest of the smartphone industry to match that?

Several companies need to work together, or in turns, to make the same thing happen.
  • ARM should produce a final specification of the instruction set (this is probably done or almost done)
  • ARM certified companies should create 64-bit processors working with the new instruction set. I can only hope this is in the works too.
  • Whoever makes the C/C++ compiler (gcc, arm, microsoft) should add support for that new 64-bit instruction set. I guess that someone is working on that. This will produce all the needed tools (compilers, linkers, other developer stuff called "toolchain"), which will make the next step possible
  • Google and Microsoft should port Android and Windows Phone/RT/etc. to be built with the new 64-bit toolchain. They should also provide support for the new 64-bit versions to run old 32-bit programs.
  • With all previous steps done - Samsung, HTC, Nokia and others can build the new generation of devices.
As you can see this is a big set of complex tasks. Though some of them can be done in parallel, others have dependencies and cannot. It will take time for the rest of the smartphone industry to catch up!

Why I do believe, Apple users won't be the first to take real advantage of this 64-bit thing?

Apple made a great marketing message out of it. They reminded the world they have not lost their innovation edge and I really love that! But what does 64-bit really means to the end users? Well - it does lead to minor performance boost in some specific tasks involving 64 bit integer calculations. Probably memory transfers will be faster too. It will also lead to bigger code size (that's more data to transfer when you download apps). The most important gain from 64-bit transition is support for more than 4GB of RAM inside your device. To be honest, if it wasn't for that last advantage, I don't think switching is needed at all, but it is there and the smartphone future is 64-bit for sure. To me unless you put more than 4GB of RAM inside that device, 64-bit architecture is just a nice marketing message, another line in specification wars, showing a potential - but nothing substantial.

Having all that said and taking into account current specifications history, I expect Samsung, Sony or HTC to be the first to release a smartphone with more than 4GB of RAM, not Apple. That's how it might be Android, not iOS users be the first to enjoy the true 64-bit advantages.

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