“Much has been made of Apple’s A7 processor’s 64-bit support, and if it’s built around ARM’s latest architecture as that seems to imply, then there’s a lot there’s a lot more to the next generation Apple processor than we’re seeing,” Simon Bisson writes for ZDNet. “Because when you drill down into the silicon, ARM’s v8 architecture does a lot more than just increasing the addressable memory. Perhaps the most significant change in ARMv8 is support for Type-1 hypervisors — something that’s essential as it uses a virtual machine to run 32-bit code. So what can Apple do with a virtualisation-ready processor that can handle encryption very fast indeed, coupled with a biometric sensor?”
Bisson writes, “With a virtualisation-ready processor in its new phone, Apple can now start to move iOS in the direction of a hypervisor-controlled sandbox environment… Here the operating system component of a VM is tailored to the application it is hosting – minimising the attack surface of each secure partition. Combined with a fingerprint sensor to identify users, Apple has the tools it needs to deliver biometric access control, allowing devices to support multiple users, with files and apps for one user hidden from another using hardware encryption.”
“Controlling its own silicon gives Apple a distinct competitive advantage,” Bisson writes. “Whatever Apple is planning with the A7, don’t expect to see any real benefits until iOS 8, if then. What the iPhone 5s (and any future A7-based iPads) is, is a ‘get the hardware out there’ play. Apple needs a critical mass of virtualisation-ready iDevices before it makes any significant changes to the OS… And further in to that future? As ARMv8 can be used to build ‘desktop-grade’ processors, could we see Apple stepping back from Intel to its own ARM-based Macintosh hardware? It’s certainly easier to use ARMv8 to emulate x86, and x64, instructions, so Apple could deliver an ARM OS X that could run existing code in a VM, with new ARM compiled code running in its own sandboxes. And that could be a very, very interesting tomorrow.”
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