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Apple announces 64-bit processor/OS: Impressive, but not innovative

September 10, 2013

A first for Apple: a 64-bit processor in a phone. The newly announced A7 processor is a first for Apple, and a real selling point for the speed and power of the new iPhone 5S. With promises of a two-fold processing increase, the “desktop-class architecture” promises to keep the harmonious Apple hardware/software balance intact.

Then again, this is a bit like jumping out to an early lead in a race against Usain Bolt. While you can say you were clearly ahead of the best, you’re not really doing much he hasn’t anticipated, or is ready to make up for. The same can be said for chip architecture, where ARM is making important strides in 64-bit architecture across the board.

It all sounds so exciting -- but it’s marketing buzz, really.

If we take what Apple showed us today as a reference point, they’re touting things like “2x general purpose registers” and “2x floating point registers”. It all sounds so exciting — but it’s marketing buzz, really. When you double the prowess of the chipset and software, the natural affectation is going to be a two-fold increase in those areas.

The real selling point is iOS 7 being 64-bit, which is where the real power comes from. Without an OS capable of taking advantage, the chipset means nothing. The native Apple apps have all been updated to 64-bit, which is great, but they’re not going to leave the rest of the world behind. Again, this is the order of the day when moving from 32-bit to 64-bit architecture.

In the same way you’d quickly feel Usain Bolt breeze by, ARM architecture is ready to catch up in a big way for Android. The Cortex A-50 series processors are looming large, and promise the same increase in power the iPhone is currently selling you on. The difference this time is that there is no Android iteration that currently supports 64-bit processing, though we still know nothing about KitKat, which could be Android’s answer to the iOS/iPhone combo.

Is the 64-bit iPhone impressive? Absolutely. It’s a great move by Apple, and sets them up for future improvements in a big way. For Android fans, it shouldn’t be much of a head turner. We’re into the age of software/hardware harmony, and this is really the natural progression of this new frontier. Apple may have beat everyone to the punch, but the patina of innovation will wear quickly from this announcement.