How much credit does Apple deserve for the coming mobile 64-bit evolution?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
How much credit does Apple deserve for the coming mobile 64-bit evolution?
There has been a lot of talk over the past few months about the move to 64-bit processors mobile processors. Obviously, the talk began with Apple's surprise announcement that the A7 system-on-a-chip (SoC) that would be found in the iPhone 5s was a 64-bit processor, making it the first 64-bit processor in a smartphone. But, as always happens when Apple does something like this, there is a debate about who was really "first"; so, I wanted to take a look at the entire ecosystem and talk about how much credit Apple really deserves in the coming mobile 64-bit evolution.

The conversation about the topic has gotten quite muddled since Apple surprised us with the 64-bit A7, mostly because of a combination of bad choices by Qualcomm, and the unsurprising response from Samsung saying that it was working on its own 64-bit mobile processors. Qualcomm notoriously had an employee who called Apple's A7 a gimmick, saying that it would have "zero benefit" for users. Qualcomm distanced itself from the comments, and quietly reassigned the employee. That response might make you think that Qualcomm didn't agree with the statement, but really it was a public relations move because Qualcomm didn't want the backlash when it introduced its own 64-bit processors, one of which was unveiled recently

The thing is that the Qualcomm employee who was a bit too candid wasn't wrong. Today, a Qualcomm insider claimed that the Apple "set off panic in the industry" when it introduced the A7, not because it was something revolutionary, but because it was a natural evolutionary change on which Apple jumped the gun. The insider went on to basically reiterate points that I had made when Apple first announced the A7 - the chip is a great building block for the future and has more value as a marketing tool for Apple, because it has limited performance benefits right now since most software isn't optimized, and the hardware is nowhere near where you would expect for 64-bit. 

It's an evolution, not a revolution


And, that's really the issue here when I ask the question: How much credit does Apple deserve for the coming mobile 64-bit evolution? Because, at the end of the day, no matter what company did it first, the change was bound to happen. In fact, it was already in the process of happening. We have to keep in mind that while Apple's A7 is the first 64-bit processor to be put into a smartphone, the iPhone 5s was not the first mobile device to be running a 64-bit processor and 64-bit OS. Remember, the original Microsoft Surface Pro which debuted last year was running 64-bit Windows 8 Pro on a 64-bit Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge. 

Sure, the chip wasn't designed for mobile, and the system was only halfway designed for mobile, which led to laptop-level battery life in a tablet. We were able to get around 6 hours of battery life, but other testers put the number closer to 4 hours. And really, if a tablet can only get about 4 hours of battery life, can it really be considered a "mobile" device? Technically, the answer is yes, but that just doesn't feel right. Regardless of where you feel comfortable landing on this, the point still stands that the idea of "first" is already a bit nebulous. 

So, yes, Apple's iPhone 5s was technically the first smartphone that featured a 64-bit processor, and it was the first mobile-only OS to be completely optimized for 64-bit. But, there's another caveat that must be made: iOS 7 is the first mobile-only OS to be fully optimized for 64-bit. Windows 8 Pro was on mobile devices beforehand; and, while Android as a whole isn't optimized for 64-bit, it does have 64-bit support in its kernel, which was inherited from Linux. 

Of course, there is still the issue that one of the main reasons for the use of a 64-bit processor is to handle the memory addressing when a device has 4GB of RAM or more. This again is something that will be useful in the future, but given that current iOS devices top out at 1GB of RAM, it's unclear exactly when that work will bear fruit.

The credit that Apple deserves


All of this adds up to a simple realization: the move to 64-bit was not only an inevitable shift, but it is one that has been in the works in various ways with multiple platforms. Given that, it is very difficult to claim that Apple deserves a large amount of credit. But, that's not to say that Apple doesn't deserve any credit. Remember, there were MP3 players before the iPod, smartphones before the iPhone, and tablets before the iPad; but, it is undeniable that Apple had significant impacts on those markets once it released its products. 

As you can see with MP3 players, smartphones, and tablets, Apple's true success has always come not from being the first to market, but rather from being the first highly visible product to be successful in the market. You can have the best product on the market, but it doesn't really matter if no one knows about it.  This has always been Apple's greatest strength, and why it garners so much hatred. Apple strives to make sure that its devices are always the ones that others are compared against. Even if Apple's devices don't match up, it is still seen as a standard-bearer, and it is always in the conversation. And, there's no such thing as bad press. 

When you look at the 64-bit conversation, Apple's major contribution follows its company history by helping to fuel the media frenzy around 64-bit (something that Apple has always been good at), and to push other platforms to speed up the evolution to 64-bit. Now that 64-bit has been pumped into the general lexicon so much with Apple's launch of the iPhone 5s, iPad Air, and iPad mini with Retina display, Apple has once again given another point of comparison when you inevitably see the various articles pitting an iOS device against an Android, Windows Phone, or other devices. 

As laid out earlier, the distinction doesn't really mean anything right now. iOS is optimized, but the apps aren't; Android isn't optimized, and neither are the apps; and, while Windows 8 has been optimized, Windows Phone and RT haven't been optimized for 64-bit. Apple has said that all new app submissions and updates after February 1st must be "optimized for iOS 7", but that doesn't necessarily mean optimized for 64-bit. Apple's focus right now seems to be on apps getting the visual update to feel more at home in iOS 7. Apps must be made using Xcode 5, which offers support for optimizing for 64-bit, but the note that Apple sent out to developers didn't mention 64-bit at all and only pointed developers to the iOS Human Interface Guidelines. 

...Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing


So, whether or not the Samsung Galaxy S5 launches with a 64-bit processor in February or March won't mean anything until Google updates Android, and gets developers to update their apps as well (a notoriously long and slow process when it comes to Android). Ultimately, manufacturers are in an arms race not to get to a certain goal first, but rather to see who can build a foundation the fastest. It is inevitable that an Android smartphone will cross the 4GB of RAM barrier before any other smartphone (unless Canonical can somehow convince a hardware partner to build the Ubuntu Edge). But, Apple will undoubtedly have the majority of its app ecosystem updated for 64-bit well before any other platform.

No matter how you slice it, 64-bit for mobile is nothing more than a work-in-progress at this point. It will eventually become the standard, as anyone could have predicted far before Apple announced its A7. Apple hasn't really started anything, but it has certainly brought more awareness to the topic, for good and for bad. The best that can be said for now is that the evolution to 64-bit may happen a bit faster than before Apple's iPhone 5 announcement. The worst that can be said is that there will be plenty of comparisons that list "64-bit support" as a pro for iOS, when no one is really going to feel the benefits for a while to come. 

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128 Comments

119. thedarkside

Posts: 654; Member since: Apr 30, 2012

the 64bit chip that samsung built...

90. Loubielou

Posts: 603; Member since: Jul 11, 2012

Samsung deserves this Credit not Apple,as they produced for Apple,but Apple thinks they are Superior but without Samsungs Help they would struggle,thats Why?people think the Court Cases between these two companies better Stop.as Apple would not be able to find a Better Supplier

115. JakeLee

Posts: 1021; Member since: Nov 02, 2013

A prime example for the ignorant, invented stories I hate. Sammy won't be able to run its fabs at full capacity without Apple. All the chief officers at your company should appreciate your presence, right? Why don't you ask for a salary of $3mil/month then?

121. platformwars

Posts: 86; Member since: Sep 14, 2012

Hi Jake, I have spent the last hour reading your comments about this topic and I must say that you are very well informed.. But as a reader I was a bit distracted by all the other comments also.. I would very much love it if you write a full article about what you've been saying in detail for all of us(without much knowledge of how everything works) in a seperate article or a blog.. As a consumer i would like to make informed choices and dont want a phone next year that on paper blows the competition out of the water but when it comes to real time performance is just as powerful as a last years device. I am on a nexus 4 and it is working flawless for me.. but am looking to upgrade in March/April when HTC and Samsung introduce their flagships for the year.. I am not a fanboy and would like a experience that makes my life easy and need a phone that i can use for 1.5/2 years without feeling outdated. So thanks for all the insight.. and i urge phonearena to let Jake write an article about what he's actually saying: 1. Google's problems and what they have to do 2. Apples advantages or disadvantages right now with the 64bit as compared to Anroid 3. In the coming 2 years, will 32 bit be only available on low end devices? or not even that? Thanks Jake.. looking forward to your reply.

123. JakeLee

Posts: 1021; Member since: Nov 02, 2013

Unlike some optimistic souls claim, 64-bit Android is far from ready. If you are fine with your N4, why don't you wait a little bit longer for iPhone6 or Nexus6, probably the first 64-bit Android phone? Be warned though, the first bunch of 64-bit Android phones and their customers will be victims of Android's advance. 2014 will be a tough year for all Android OEMs for the following reasons : - they have no chip that's significantly faster than the previous ones - FHD resolution is more than adequate for vast majority of customers - increasing the screen size further makes no sense On the brighter side, they will be more or less forced to stop all those number games and start to polish their products instead. Something really reasonable might happen during this phase like a race for enhanced battery efficiency. Everything would be fine as long as they all competed under the same condition, but there is a company that cares a sh*t about this : Apple A 5+" iPhone6 with a resolution of 2272*1280, 3000+mAh battery, the blazingly fast A7x chip, and 2GB RAM will simply break all the records both in benchmarks and sales numbers. Look at the three reasons above again. None of them applies to Apple since Apple has been doing so well so far even with a smaller screen, a smaller battery, and a chip that's just up to par. Apple will go rampage while Android is vulnerable the most; It's time to harvest. I really don't know how the Android OEMs are supposed to compete against Apple during the transition phase. Lower end 32-bit ones will sell, but it will be hard for the upcoming 64-bit flagships to justify their retail prices comparable to iPhone6's when the performance isn't nearly up to par. That's a serious problem, and it will last for several years thanks to Google's laziness in dealing with the fragmentation. Who will survive this phase when Sammy is the only OEM making money from Android even now? What Google needs is a reboot, a hard reset shortening the transition phase even if it means ditching a large portion of the backward compatibility. No pain, no gain. Transition hurts.

68. HildyJ

Posts: 346; Member since: Aug 11, 2012

There seem to be a whole lot of people here who have no idea what the 64 bits are used for. A 64 bit chip allows for 64 bit instructions operating on 64 bit registers. Absent anything else, this slows the system down because the CPU has to process more bits per instruction. With a RISC system, like ARM and unlike x86, the increased instruction length doesn't buy you much but the increased register size allows you to address (and, thus, use) over 3GB of RAM. They also allow greater precision in numeric calculations which might help graphics processing in systems without a GPU. To me, this adds up to a marketing ploy that will only bear technological fruit when phones or tablets start offering 4GB of RAM. Until then, I'd rather have more cores (for increased parallelism) or greater clock speed (for more FLOPS).

70. JakeLee

Posts: 1021; Member since: Nov 02, 2013

What are you smoking? If you want an ARM64 register to operate with full 64-bit width, access it with Xn, otherwise, do it with Wn. The ARM64's instructions are encoded in 32-bit in length, just like the ARM32's. Where did you read the BS above? It's really ridiculous to see people inventing all those BSs only to bash Apple.

83. JMartin22

Posts: 2422; Member since: Apr 30, 2013

You invent BS just to bash Android. Using concept words you don't apply in the right context and using drawn-out paragraphs and sentences to make yourself look smart, while trying to confuse and overpower people with such gaudy tactics.You're doing your best to validate iOS; that I give you credit for.

84. JakeLee

Posts: 1021; Member since: Nov 02, 2013

Please point out what I've been inventing so far. You can't, and that makes your arguments baseless.

91. shiv179

Posts: 204; Member since: Aug 08, 2012

@JakeLee Having read all your comments on this article, I commend you for your insight. However I agree with JMartin22: you make it seem as if Android is doomed and Google won't be able to solve the 64-bit conundrum. iOS 7 has its issues with 64-bit, detailed in Anandtech, so there is still room for improvement. The apps you listed that support 64-bit on iOS 7: is there really a noticable difference in performance and battery life? I have yet to see the numbers. Once again, thank you for your insight, it's refreshing to read!

101. SAYED-EJAZ

Posts: 225; Member since: Oct 10, 2013

Jake , while I agree with but feels you are being oversmart ... Each sentance your greediness towards ios understandable.

103. JakeLee

Posts: 1021; Member since: Nov 02, 2013

Google will pull out 64-bit Android next year, no doubt in that. It might be still possible that the GS5 early next year comes with 64-bit Android. That would be an amazing performance considering all the workloads, and I wouldn't hesitate praising this kind of exceptional achievement. I would be one of the people praising Sammy the most in fact. But the real problem begins after the launch : - Dalvik is hardly any faster unless Google created a separate 64-bit Dalvik architecture - 32-bit native apps are more of nuisances due to the switching overheads. The latter one is a serious problem and probably a deciding factor for 64-bit Android's success. It's a piece of cake for iOS devs making their apps 64-bit feasible : Build with XCode5 targeting iOS6 or higher. That's all. XCode generates both 32 and 64-bit binaries in a package that's submitted to Apple for approval. It's easy and targeting iOS6 or higher is also no problem considering the market share of 96%. It's different on Android. The devs have to build two separate binaries with different AppIDs. Will the devs do this kind of extra work for a market share of probably less than 2% next year? I wouldn't. The big question would be which version to target as minimum for 64-bit deployments. Apple did the extra job rolling this requirement back to iOS6, not iOS7 - an extremely wise decision. The Google I know will set this requirement at the most recent 5, the first 64-bit Android version - another deal breaker. (I hope I'm wrong on this) Assuming I'm right, there will be absolutely no incentive writing 64-bit NDK apps. You purchase a brand new 64-bit Android phone with high expectations. The SDK apps aren't any bit faster and running a single NDK app slows down the whole system. WTF???? What would be the selling point of 64-bit Android phones then? Can you imagine Note3 smoking Note4? Believe it or not, I'm not an Android hater. I just can't stand all those lies like the one above discounting Apple's achievements. And there are TONS of them. I'm telling you all this because I want Google to do the right thing. You Android fans should urge Google to : - improve the ADK for more streamlined deployments like Apple - do something against the fragmentation, forcing the devs to target higher OS versions - roll back the requirement for 64-bit deployment all the way down to 4.0 ICS at least - support NDK devs financially for developing separate 64-bit apps - help weaker OEMs like HTC Am I asking for too much? Probably not. Google has the power and resources. And you Android Fans should stop hyping Google and bashing Apple. Apple's move to 64-bit is by far the greatest threat Android has been facing so far - a giant sword aimed at its neck. Stop discounting this.

107. JakeLee

Posts: 1021; Member since: Nov 02, 2013

Apropos the 64-bit apps I listed. A side by side comparison is impossible since you can only run the 64-bit versions on 5s. But a side by side comparison of the same app on 5 and 5s is very well possible, and 5s easily smokes the 5. Both 5 and 5s operate at the same clock speed. So it would be safe to say that the 64-bit A7 is much faster than the 32-bit A6. I can't tell you about power consumption since I came to 5s from 4. All I can say is that the battery life on my 5s is satisfactory and people who came from 5 are reporting 5s to be considerably more battery efficient. As an ARM expert however I can say for certain that the A7 consumes much less power than the A6 while dealing with a large chunk of data thanks to its cache efficiency I mentioned in another comment. You simply cannot expect such trivial apps like Twitter to be significantly faster (do they have to?), but I assure you they consume less power on 64-bit. But all above this, it's extremely important completing the transition ASAP, making everything run in 64-bit on ARM64 due to the switching overheads that aren't existent on x86_64. Apple almost completed this process already and will call it finished by spring 2014 where the devs are forced to use XCode5 and make their apps compatible to iOS7 which in turn means that they will have no reason for targeting below iOS6. Google better do things right since it's gonna really hurt.

111. shiv179

Posts: 204; Member since: Aug 08, 2012

Thanks for the replies JakeLee. I don't know if the experimental ART runtime will have any impact, let's just wait and see what Google comes up with. I am not an Android fanboy by the way, I just like to give companies a chance to prove themselves, even if the odds are stacked against them.

114. JakeLee

Posts: 1021; Member since: Nov 02, 2013

ART isn't a big deal either. It's just the name of Google's Dalvik JIT compiler, not a new technology. If you look at the Quadrant benchmark results, you will see huge differences between SoCs. Quadrant is a pretty useless benchmark since it measures everything running in Java which means all the results are saying about is how well the JIT is implemented. You'll see the Qualcomm based ones performing the best, because Qualcomm acquired a very capable JIT compiler. (Nexus' suck bad at Quadrant with Google's stock JIT) I don't think Google's ART is any better than Qualcomm's JIT though.

67. davenycept

Posts: 200; Member since: Jul 03, 2012

We have to realize Apple isn't about trendsetting..it's about their selling point...I'm am android guy but what Apple does the best is their marketing... they can try to sell you a simple pen but the time they're done selling you that pen they've made you think that its the first ever and the best ever...corny but clever and it works

66. davenycept

Posts: 200; Member since: Jul 03, 2012

We have to realize Apple isn't about trendsetting..it's about their selling point...I'm am android guy but what Apple does the best is their marketing... they can try to sell you a simple pen but the time they're done selling you that pen they've made you think that its the first ever and the best ever...corny but clever and it works

63. Cyberchum

Posts: 1142; Member since: Oct 24, 2012

Credit you said?? Well credit to them for spurring an unnecessary competition. The android folks all busy stretching the pixel wars over the boundary so Apple felt left behind and took on this mantle. Why should I credit then for something that is irrelevant for now and couple years to come, when are they going to come up with a phone that has 4GB of RAM, why should a phone even have that; how many does my PC have? Samsung brought the challenge and others are joining but had they optimised or even gotten rid of touchwiz, they could have channeled those resources to something better It's very sad because the competition will always join such useless development or they'll feel left behind.

113. bucky

Posts: 3797; Member since: Sep 30, 2009

The point is they came out with a wonderful little chip that's not battery hungry and incredibly fast. Also, the 64 bit OS is going to be the first to mature. It makes perfect sense.

45. Bootutu

Posts: 228; Member since: Jul 11, 2013

Virtually no speed difference in opening apps between the 64bit and 32 bit iOS, goes to show that 1GB ram is the limiting factor here, wait for a proper implementation in Android and see the difference. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouP6HWOmwoQ

44. Bootutu

Posts: 228; Member since: Jul 11, 2013

Apple 64bit is gimmick and marketing bullsh*t, 64bit will be fully utilized when Exynos and Snapdragon realease it with 4GB of ram and running ART(Android runtime) in Kitkat 64bit.,

53. bucky

Posts: 3797; Member since: Sep 30, 2009

lets see how those apps run. The true gimmicks are the useless specs they are selling u fanboys. A dual core spanked everything youre talking about

95. joaolx

Posts: 364; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

64 bit is not just about RAM. Why can't people understand that?

43. superfans

Posts: 155; Member since: Jul 30, 2012

Funny how these were the comments that Apple used to get when they introduced apps store which turned out to be a major success and where everyone in the industry started to copy it . So you can laugh how useless 64 bit is because 64 bit is the future anyway !

42. JakeLee

Posts: 1021; Member since: Nov 02, 2013

The currently top ranking apps at the US AppStore : 12 Days Gift 7 64 Angry Birds Go 6 64 Facebook Messenger 6 64 Duolingo 6 64 QuizUp 5 32 LEGO StarWars 6 64 ElfYourself by OfficeMax 6 64 SnapChat 5 32 Spotify 6 64 Match the Dots 5 32 7 of the top 10 apps already run in 64-bit. And there are some low-budget, short-lived apps like QuizUp and Match the Dots that distort the 64-bit landscape. SnapChat is probably the only meaningful app still running in 32-bit. Let's talk about steady-selling "killer" apps : Apple's : all in 64-bit (self explanatory) Google's : all in 64-bit (surprise, surprise, even Chrome runs in 64-bit) Instagram : 64-bit Facebook : 64-bit Twitter : 64-bit Tumblr : 64-bit Skype : 32-bit I really don't understand why so many renown sites like PA are still talking about "future benefits" of 64-bit computing when they are already present on iOS. Optimized for 64-bit? There is no such thing for normal consumers, at least unless it's something extremely special and focused. Even on Windows, I can't name a single consumer application that absolutely require 64-bit power. There might be some for institutes though. If an app is built with 64-bit toolchain, and the generated 64-bit machine code runs on a 64-bit OS, it's pure 64-bit computing. period. And it's PRESENT on iOS.

48. androiphone20

Posts: 1654; Member since: Jul 10, 2013

Jake, you should have seen who wrote this article I mean that guy writes good articles but sometimes. .not-so-much. He holds credit for that and that's why Android fans quickly jump in when he writes anything that sounds a little bit off about apple. I am not really a code person but I got some mixed signals in that article

96. joaolx

Posts: 364; Member since: Aug 16, 2011

Finally someone that understands. People just look at the fact that Apple made it and bash them because of that instead of looking at the benefits that it can bring.

41. vishu9

Posts: 252; Member since: Mar 03, 2011

I wouldn't care for a 64-bit Android.. I'd rather Google focus more on the improvements that it has been doing like Project Butter and Project Svelte.. Good article Michael H.

15. toiletcleaner

Posts: 224; Member since: Oct 10, 2012

Why I need this when I cant use it? that was just marketing rating only. Apple = PPV

17. Ninetysix

Posts: 2966; Member since: Oct 08, 2012

When Qualcomm and Samsung release their 64-bit SoC, will it be a marketing gimmick as well?

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