How Apple’s unmatched A7 64-bit processor gives iOS plenty of headroom for the future and Apple a distinct competitive advantage

“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.”

Read more in the full article here.

25 Comments

    1. Yes, the A7 is wonderfully much more snappier.
      Try one out ASAP then buy one.
      You will have a phone for a good 4 more years.
      The future of 64-bit phones has come.
      32-bit is on the way out.
      64-bit phones makes more sense then desktops due to energy savings and number crunching.

      Remember, phones and tablets are not just for calling people anymore. Video calling, making movies and taking Pictures. Browsing the net, doing light weight work, and listening to music… true power and portable computing is here beyond the old laptop.

  1. “Much has been made of Apple’s A7 processor’s 64-bit” … really? I must have missed Apple’s advertising PR blitz. Not this, not the NEW Mac Pro, not the 5 server farms, nothing. Tim Cook, if you build it they will come was a fictional movie. You all really hope this gets a world wide word of mouth marketing plan?

    1. I’ve seen multiple (ill-informed) articles in the last week about the A7. Almost all focusing on how the iPhone 5s will have 2GB of RAM and 64-bit isn’t necessary until the iPhone gets above 4GB, which of course ignores all the other benefits of a 64-bit processor.

      1. Correct me if I’m wrong, because my programming days are a long way behind me and I’ve probably forgotten a lot, but isn’t one of the major benefits of using a 64-bit processor that you can create applications that leverage double-precision math with less processor cycles?

        1. Sounds right, yet to the world of consumers who just want to have a great phone that is apparently the best on the market – the price of the 5s compared to the 5c is a mere 100 bucks. Apple is gambling on selling more 5s by creating a demand – that uses what apps exactly – Apple apps or is suddenly all apps on iTunes ready? Hello, Apple just created MAJOR fragmentation. iPad HD Apps, Retina Apps, iPhone Apps and now 64-bit iPhone 5s apps. — They did it to themselves.

          1. Um… you do realize that Xcode makes it very easy to wrap all of that in one container right?

            Also, the 64 bit A7 runs 32 bits apps completely transparently… You sir do not know of what you speak…

        2. Yes. You are correct. And in the case of iOS devices, it means that 64-bit processing can be more efficient in terms of battery life. It’s not that it’s necessarily faster, but as you note, more precise. For rendering polygons for games, crunching financial apps, databases or scientific apps, or even editing video, this is a real benefit.

          Over time, we will see the iPhone and especially iPad take greater advantage of 64-bit computing, as more RAM becomes available to address on these. But immediately, the benefits to gaming, and greater potential battery efficiency will be most welcome. In addition, being able to port over OS-X apps (see my comments further down this thread of responses to the article) will open up a new world for iOS devices. Add to that the AppleTV uses iOS, and I have a hunch that it will use 64-bit processing to help your TV do some amazing new things.

    2. the 64-bit movement on Desktops has been a rather slow climb… developers and users both have not truly embraced all its the benefits this architecture offers – its been slow — so why on a cellphone? The future looks bright, an early adoption of 64-bit might only be marketing for now. And those who do buy the 5s are paying only 100 dollars more for the A7 with motion chip.

      iPhone 5s, A7 +M7 proc, unlocked 32 Gb is 749.00
      iPhone 5c, A6 processor, unlocked 32 Gb is 649.00

      Personally the 5c is far too high to buy it out.
      The 5c is not a cheap or inexpensive phone.

      This will hurt Apple definitely – as this is not really the cheap phone the world was looking for. However – it is a real sweet deal when considering a contract from a carrier. Plus the software Apple now bundles the phone with.

      Those with the M7 chip, might benefit from Apples iWatch that may access the M7 to the wrist rather then being inside the watch its self – but why?

      64-bit, its a good move but as Jersey Trader says… its marketing at this point. Come on, suddenly all apps are 64-bit ready too? Hmmm.

  2. Lots of talk about the A7, but something of a disconnect. No one seems to suggest that there’s any issue with running iOS 7 on recent older devices. If this was truly ground-breaking and not just able to open your apps and run some of them a little faster, I’d be more impressed. If there will be apps that require the A7 chip (or 64 bit processing), then there will be lots of disappointed iPhone 4s and 5c buyers, and somehow I don’t think Apple’s ready to go there just yet. Not saying that this isn’t the future, but I wonder when there will be a sufficient leap in software or functionality that will truly orphan iPhones that are still 32 bit (A6 or older).

    If that’s coming, you’d think Apple would have to prepare the market for it in advance like they did with the switch to Intel.

    1. Whenever you upgrade technology, be it speed, memory storage, whatever, at some point you run the risk of leaving some users behind. Forget the A7, some older phones won’t run iOS7 and it will be down to developers when they decide to cut those users off. The same goes for 64 bit, I’m sure at some point there will be apps/system functions that will not run 32 bit, and again it will be down to developers to decide if they’re going to cut them off completely, run two versions, or degrade features as appropriate.

      As I see it, performance aside, the A7 opens the door to things in the future, things that might not come to fruition until the 5S is consider an old model, but it means that by then the critical mass of iPhone owners will have gone through the door without even knowing it and will therefore be able to benefit from those future changes without doing anything.

      From shear weight of numbers I can’t see significant numbers of developers cutting off every other iPhone whilst the 5S is still the new model, it just wouldn’t make sense.

    2. Hardly. Re-read the article. The author suggests that 32-bit apps will run just fine, especially because the 32-bit side can run inside an A7 processor as a VIRTUAL MACHINE, optimized for the 32-bit environment.

      Apple did a great job with OS-X in its move to Intel, a great job moving to OS-X in 64-bit, and I am confident that 64-bit iOS will run equally as well, whether an app runs as either 32 or 64-bit.

      Speculation is futile.

  3. I laugh at people who say the iPhones needs a ton more ram to use 64bit. Only with windows does that apply, the first macs with 64bit CPUs shipped with less than a GB of ram because apple can actually program correctly while Microsoft cuts corners where you need 4GB of ram for 64bit

  4. This article shows just how much “vision” Apple has for the long term (10+ year s out). No other company in their industry has this: not Google, not Samsung, not Microsoft! Unfortunately, the stock market penalizes companies with vision in the short term. However, those with no vision end going belly up or are sold, e.g., Nokia and Blackberry.

  5. Much has been speculated that Apple will drop Intel CPUs on Macs for ARM-based A-series CPUs. But I have hunch it’s the other way around. Here’s why:

    I urge you to read an insightful entry on
    Cannyvision, “The most forward-thinking Apple yet.”
    (http://cannyvision.com/2013/09/12/the-most-forward-thinking-apple-yet.html) A point in the article blew my mind, and I re-read it several times:

    With the A7 and iOS7 operating in 64-bits, it will be easy for developers to port over 32 and 64-bit Mac OS-X apps to iOS.

    Stop and dwell on that for a moment.

    Yes, modifications to the code and user interface will need to be made to make legacy Mac apps run correctly on an iOS device. That’s obvious. But with adequate RAM, and I expect greater available RAM options in the upcoming iPad refresh and in the next 1-2 years, it means that the iPad in particular will vastly grow in power and capability. Where many once assumed the iPad (and the iPhone) was a more passive tool best suited for reading, viewing movies, playing games, checking email or browsing, this will change.

    Powered by a 64-bit CPU capable of handling OS-X based business, financial, scientific, database, graphic, video editing and other more heavyweight apps, the iPad will become an even more essential professional tool. While some of you may think, “But the iPad does not have all the RAM or processing punch of a Mac!” Perhaps. But then, the iPad (and the iPhone) and iOS were designed from the ground up to handle Internet connections and external cloud based storage and processing. It means that for heavy lifting, processing tasks can be shared or offloaded to a server farm, much like Siri does today with complex queries. That means the iPad can concurrently process complex requests locally, but also offload highly complex tasks to external processing sources.

    To the extent that Apple wishes to do so, it can use the VM (virtual machine) capabilities of the ARM 8 architecture to do some amazing things. As noted in the article, the VM can sandbox apps to make the system far more secure, and enable the new fingerprint sensing capabilities for greater security. But a VM can also run multiple versions of the same OS, or two OS types concurrently.

    Has your mind exploded yet?

    I don’t expect all this to happen today. But we can see Apple’s roadmap for the future for iOS. The next few years will be incredible.

    Apple can’t innovate anymore. My ass.

  6. Without even delving into the details of the advantages of 64-bit vs 32-bit, just look at the results.

    The A7 is already roughly twice as fast as the A6, and that has nothing to do with being able to address more than 4GB of memory since no one is using that much. Yet.

  7. The only real advantage I see of Apple upgrading smartphones to 64-bit processors is that it’s going to leave a lot of older low-cost Android smartphones running on outdated processors. It’s going to be very difficult for those low-end Android vendors to tool up to 64-bit processors. Hundreds of millions of Android smartphone users will be stuck with old technology that developers may just choose to ignore.

    Also, any older iPhone users might be enticed to move up to 64-bit tech if they’re convinced it can do something more for them. Not that I think that is really going to happen because consumers are probably more interested in lower prices than processors.

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