Apple's 64-Bit Advantage


There was a mixed reaction to Apple's original announcement of its 64-bit A7 chip in its iPhone 5s. But as time goes on, it's clear Apple's choice to go 64-bit in its mobile devices was a game-changing decision -- and one that put the company a step ahead of many of its rivals.

A7 processor. From Apple's iPhone 5s keynote.

64-bit reactions
While Apple designs its own chips for mobile devices, it licenses ARM Holdings' 64-bit architecture in its A7 processors. Apple's move to 64-bit is a fundamental first step into the inevitable future of desktop-class architecture on mobile devices. Sure, Apple won't see huge benefits from the technology initially, since much of the benefit of 64-bit processors is not realized in devices with any less than 4 GB of RAM, and Apple's iPhone 5s only has 1 GB. But it does set the stage for a smooth transition to 64-bit in the future.

When Apple introduced the technology, the first major public reaction from the chip world came from Qualcomm VP Anand Chandrasekher. He criticized Apple's decision to adopt 64-bit architecture as a "marketing gimmick," saying there is "zero benefit" to the consumer. A week later Qualcomm backtracked, calling the comments "inaccurate."

Today, it's quite obvious Apple made an excellent strategic move with 64-bit architecture. One unnamed source from Qualcomm recently confessed that the announcement of Apple's 64-bit A7 incited panic at the company, according to HubSpot's Dan Lyons. The Qualcomm employee elaborated:

The 64-bit Apple chip hit us in the gut. Not just us, but everyone, really. We were slack-jawed, and stunned, and unprepared. It's not that big a performance difference right now, since most current software won't benefit. But in Spinal Tap terms it's like, 32 more, and now everyone wants it.

The future implications
Though it's true a few developers have been able to take advantage of the architecture even with just 1 GB of RAM, most apps aren't benefiting noticeably yet. But as the Qualcomm employee admitted, this doesn't mean the switch to 64-bit architecture was in vain.

Switching to 64-bit provides Apple several major benefits. First, it sets the stage for developers to begin optimizing apps for 64-bit before a device that can fully utilize the technology arrives. Second, it builds the foundation for a potential 13-inch iPad. And after the launch of the iPad Air, an iPad Pro seems like a likely next step. A 13-inch iPad Pro would make sense, too, since the product naming would mimic the way Apple categorizes its Macbook lineup: Macbook Air and Macbook Pro.

At this point, there's really no arguing that Apple made the right move. Both Samsung and Qualcomm have announced they will be introducing 64-bit architecture to their future smartphone processors. But Apple's first-mover advantage will give the company a significant head start in the technology -- and that Qualcomm employee's remarks seem to confirm that thesis.

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