One of the flagship features of Apple’s new iPhone 5s is that it has at its heart the 64-bit A7 chip. The launch of Apple’s new iPhone 5S focused heavily on the handset’s new 64-bit A7 processor. Is it really just a marketing stunt? Let’s answer that question straight up front.
It’s a first in mobile segment
Apple like bragging about being first. This is the first ever [64-bit processor] in a phone of any kind. The general consensus is that by bumping up the iPhone’s processor to 64-bits Apple is making a play for the future.
The move allows for more RAM
The iPhone 5 is kitted out with 1GB of RAM, but a shift from a 32-bit processor to a 64-bit part paves the way for iPhones. 64-bit processors allow operating systems to use more than 4GB of RAM (the limit available to 32-bit operating systems) phones just don’t have that much RAM yet.
Since Apple doesn’t divulge how much RAM is baked into iPhones, but despite the shift to a 64-bit processor, I’m not expecting it to have 4GB, But the ability to access more RAM will definitely be necessary in the future. Apple is now ready for that day.
64-bit CPUs are better suited to some heavy computational tasks
There are some iPhone 5s features that could benefit from having access to a 64-bit processor. Extra registers let the A7 crunch numbers more efficiently, improving performance significantly for tasks like encoding and decoding video. The camera that can pick the best picture from a series of shots and allow you to fire off slo-mo video at 120 frames per second is one. Image processing is demanding, and the headroom offered by the A7 processor could lessen the workload.
Same goes for that fingerprint reader. If Apple is using heavyweight crypto behind that scanner, then this too would benefit from a 64-bit processor.
Android isn’t ready for 64-bit
Apple has scored a win here over Android handset makers. The 64-bit chips for Android devices aren’t ready, and neither is Android itself. It is likely that Android 5.0 will be the first version to fully utilize the new ARMv8 architecture.
For now, this gives Apple a clear lead over the competition, and the gap is unlikely to the closed until 2014 at the earliest.
It looks and sounds good
Making the leap from a 32-bit processor to a 64-bit processor looks and sounds good. This makes 64-bit technology sound like it’s twice as fast as 32-bits. On top of that, Apple threw around the phrase ‘desktop-class architecture’ during the unveiling of the iPhone 5s, which also sounds pretty cool. When dealing with consumers, throwing in some numbers that are bigger than what the competition can manage – 1 billion transistors, 64-bit – helps sales.
Puts pressure on other chipmakers
Currently, CPUs for Mac hardware is supplied by Intel, but the A7 processor, with its billion transistors and 64-bit architecture, sends a clear message that Apple is serious about developing its own processors.
While I don’t see Apple shifting away from Intel any time soon, the fact that the company is now a big player in the processor market helps even the playing field between it and Intel, and puts it in a stronger position when negotiating.
Unifying the iOS/OS X app codebase
Apple openly acknowledges that moving iOS up to 64-bit brings iOS and OS X apps much closer. Take this line from Apple’s 64-bit iOS 7 documentation:
The architecture for 64-bit apps on iOS is almost identical to the architecture for OS X apps, making it easy to create a common code base that runs in both operating systems.
The bottom line is that there’s a lot more to the iPhone switching to a 64-bit processor than hype. Most high-end Macs and PCs currently being sold already run on 64-bit operating systems and by switching their phones over now, Apple is preparing for a future where the same app runs on your both mobile and your laptop or desktop.