64-bit ARM chips in iPhone 5s serve up taste of Intel-free future for Apple

“By far the most the most important new thing that was announced at [Apple’s media] event [this week] was that the iPhone 5S uses a 64-bit ARM chip of Apple’s own design, the A7,” Jason Perlow writes for ZDNet.

“While it is surprising for many to see a 64-bit System on a Chip (SoC) on a smartphone so soon, I can certainly understand why Apple wanted to get one out into the wild,” Perlow writes. “The phrases ‘Forward-Thinking’ and ‘Desktop Class’ were thrown around during the launch event when discussing the iPhone 5S and the A7 processor. That stuff isn’t just marketing hype in place here, it’s a glimpse at the thought processes that are going on within Apple as it pertains to their long-term device and operating system strategy.”

“The reason why Apple wanted to get a 64-bit ARM chip into the wild is largely an issue of platform convergence,” Perlow writes. “I expect that our smartphones will become the center of our computing experience and even extend themselves to tablets and the desktop, through a unified operating system that runs identically on all three form factors and is supplanted by back-end Cloud services which will do the heavy lifting for our line-of-business applications and data… At some point, iOS will end up on some kind of laptop or tablet convertible device using a 64-bit ARM chip of Apple’s design. I think that will happen sometime around 2015, when the future 64-bit SoCs are powerful enough to actually assume the type of creative content desktop workloads Macs are actually used for today…”

Read more in the full article here.

Related articles:
The world’s first 64-bit smartphone is just the beginning, Apple’s A7 chip paves the way for Apple’s long-term future – September 11, 2013
Apple attacks two key markets; price on iPhone 5c, speed on 64-bit iPhone 5s push the envelope – September 10, 2013
Apple reveals flagship iPhone 5s with Touch ID, the world’s first and only 64-bit smartphone – September 10, 2013

41 Comments

  1. If Apple will be able to dramatically power up A7, then maybe this article could be correct. However, it is going to be very hard, because even with 64-bit architecture, Intel’s chips are still much more developed. As article mentions, if Apple indeed has this plan, it still will take years before ARM-based chips will be used in Macbooks, iMacs, Mac Pros — if ever at all.

    1. “Think Different”. This is a workable progression and very easy to see. Or, you could follow Steve Balmer’s path and stuff the old crap into the new Surface tablet and see if you can get this to happen. Steve, how is that going for you. You like your plan. You like it a lot. As long as you don’t care that no one is buying them. Right!?

      The cloud and Apple’s 5 or more server farms doing the heavy lifting will make this happen. Or maybe something else if Apple chooses to do that.

      “Think Different”!

      1. I think that the 64-bit iPhone is just an iPhone. Fantasize all you want, invent the most wonderful nonexistent product in your head – it means nothing until it is ready for mass marketing. Promises, wishes, and speculation are for amateurs and fanbois.

          1. …and, apparently, the ‘Freek. Your negativity does not change reality, Freek. You spout speculative BS with the best of the Apple fanboys, just in the opposite direction. Why is your BS any more valid? In truth, Apple’s history of amazing successes makes your BS less convincing.

            If you want ordinary “promises, wishes, and speculation,” then head over to Microsoft, Google, Samsung, or the like where the ordinary happens every day. if you aspire to “champagne wishes and caviar dreams,” then Apple is the place to be.

      2. Current, high end, desktop processors (think of the Mac Pro line) are several orders of magnitude faster and more capable than the current A7.

        Even IF (a fantastical IF) the A series processors were to double in speed and capability each year (they won’t. The early 32 bit A7 was only going to be 20-30% faster than the A6 which is one reason for the switch to 64-bit — and there will NOT be a switch to 128 bit in the foreseeable future to keep the doubling happening) and Intel’s high end desktops only increase by 20% (as with the latest round) it will not be until at least 2023 or later before the A series catches up to the speed and capabilities of the high end Intel desktop chips. Long before that catchup happens the yearly speed and capability increases in the A series will slow considerably. When that happens, which it definitely will, the cross over point gets extended well past 2025.

        Intel chips are getting faster and more capable each year (though not the doubling every year of two decades ago or doubling every two years of a decade ago). The A series chips are chasing a moving target.

        Will the cross over happen? Will the A series chips ever catch the top of the line Intel x86 chips? Absolutely. It just won’t happen any time soon.

        1. Forget about speed and “magnitudes faster” for a minute.

          What if Apple simply gets OS X to run on ARM chips so that their laptops can be lighter, cheaper and thinner and have 5 day battery life?
          For the VAST majority of people, the computing power in the iPhone 5S is more than they will EVER need. They will never use programs like InDesign, Aperture, Photoshop, Final Cut or Logic. The capabilities of the iOS apps in iLife and iWork are perfectly “good enough” so an Apple ARM laptop running OSX is not that far fetched.

          I believe that, once again, Apple is doing a lot of “little” things (pooped on by the pundits) which will set the foundation for monster new product. The patient, methodical foundation Apple is putting down, will allow that product to be an overnight sensation with a decade long lifespan.

          Think of the iPhone and iPad; they would have NEVER become such monster hits without:
          1. 10 year development of OS X
          2. mobile hardware design chops gained through the iPod
          3. Apple retail chain–pooped on by everyone
          4.iTunes Music Store, which turned into the iTunes Media Store
          5. AppleTV–just a hobby
          6. The “baby-app store” for the classic iPod which allowed Apple to dabble in a mobile SDK
          7. The development of in-house Apple apps from Safari to iWork to iLife which could then be fairly easily ported to iOS
          8. The mammoth transitions from Moto chips to IBM to Intel which gave Apple huge experience in eventually transitioning to ARM chips.
          9. Zero profit Podcasts and iTunesU hosting in the iTunes Media Store.

          I could go on and on, but all these expensive, time-consuming building blocks patiently put in place over the course of a decade resulted in the iPhone being an “overnight” blockbuster with a long, long lifespan because the ecosystem was ready to go.

          Now we have 64-bit mobile computing, fingerprint ID, Siri, Maps, server farms, iCloud, the M7 coprocessor, etc. which all dovetail into, expand and compliment the current ecosystem!

          Fasten your seat belts.

    2. Apple currently employs more CPU design talent than Sun, DEC, or MIPS ever had when they started the SPARC, Alpha, and MIPS architectures. It’s well within their capabilities to design a CPU that meets their needs across all of their product lines.

      What Intel still does better than anyone else though, is their manufacturing process. I’ve been told that if Apple could use Intel’s fab for their A-series processors, they could save 20% of the power they use.

      -jcr

  2. Apple has that patent for monitor with a large “slot” on the side, one slides in something like the iPad or iPhone, and voilà, you have a desktop computer.
    Being able to take your computer with you in your pocket will be slick. 😛

    1. Apple has that patent, but by the time a product that would convert an iPhone to a desktop comes to market AirPlay will be robust enough that you won’t have to take your phone out of your pocket, let alone slot it into the side of the monitor.

  3. You can be sure that Apple have Mac prototypes running SOC and OSX. The power may not be quite there yet given that there are more features in OSX than iOS.
    The biggest potential downside is losing the ability of running virtual software. The Intel chipset adoption saved the Mac and enabled people like myself to avoid having to carry around a PC just to run windows. Losing that capability would be a serious setback. If the SOC setup can run virtual software then Intel would have to be very worried.

  4. “For this transformation to occur, the operating system must be converged first. I believe that within just a few years, all of the major players will have converged systems to offer.”
    Apple is already as “converged” as it needs to be. The User Interfaces are use case appropriate. 😉
    Microsoft has gone for the “converged” Toaster/Refrigerator, and they are going down in flames. 😎

  5. The only way you know if you can reach a goal is to plow forward with the best knowledge and skill you can get, knowing a good need for the goal.

    With SJs return, Apple set up 5, 10 and 20 year goals as it sees the future approaching.

    The only way we grow is to have someone willing to push forward and Apple is one of those bound and determined to do it. Those that don’t perish into mundane tasks.

  6. There are 2 premises that would have to fall into place:

    1. A future A series chip (A 8, A 9, 10 whatever whenever) would have to close the performance gap with intel desktop chips

    2. We would have to be so far into the Post PC era that offering a Mac that can run Windows is no longer a selling point to switchers.

    I don’t see either happening as early as 2015.

    1. Not necessarily. Commenters here are assuming that Apple would transition its entire line of computers to the A series wholesale, while there are other options. E.g., starting with an entry level notebook, or perhaps, a hybrid device like a notebook with a snap-off tablet.

      Or (one more thing), some new device class….

      …Watch out for folks wearing blinders. They can only look in one direction at once.

    2. This is all assuming the general public will even want Mac computers in a Post-PC era.

      I know most people don’t care if ARMs are orders of magnitudes behind Intels in raw computing power – but the people who will still use Macs in the coming years – the “truck drivers” – they care a lot about raw computing power. Many of them also care about being able to other operating systems like Windows or Linux on the same computer.

      Intel would have to seriously fall behind or go off the rails before it made any sense for Macs to switch to ARM.

  7. As long as we’re considering every term uttered for its potential foretelling of the future, we need to think about “space grey” and cloud computing. You see, Apple is thinking outside of the cloud… Outside of the planet, in fact! Our computing platform is going to be in space and we access it through our iPhones. Next up in wearable computing our iPhone becomes a broach we wear on our tunics, er shirts. You tap it and address it as “Computer…” This puts into context why Apple has been adding to Siri foreign languages like French-accented English, Russian-accented English, and more recently, Klingon-accented English. With Google taking their design direction from The Borg it’s no surprise Apple would be pursuing Star Fleet’s path.

  8. I wouldn’t mind if Apple designed some ARM processor module that slipped into an iMac or MacBook Pro, so I could run both Intel and ARM apps on the same machine. I’d be willing to pay a few hundred dollars extra for that privilege.

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