What’s as interesting as the A7 chip itself is the backlash from Apple’s competitors, as well as manufacturers of competing CPUs. Can Apple be accused of using 64-bits as a marketing gimmick? Yes.
The Gimmick With Teeth
That the iPhone’s 64-bit CPU adds performance benefits is not the question. The real question is, ‘Is the A7 just a marketing gimmick?‘
Qualcomm makes a competing 32-bit CPU for many of the more popular Android smartphones and tablets. What do Qualcomm executives say about Apple’s A7?
Senior VP and CMO, Anand Chandrasekher said, “I know there’s a lot of noise because Apple did [64-bit] on their A7. I think they are doing a marketing gimmick. There’s zero benefit a consumer gets from that.”
Let’s see how long it takes Qualcomm to produce their own 64-bit CPU for smartphones and tablets. If they do so before smartphones have more than 4GB of RAM, then Chandrasekher is lying.
To many technology pundits, the primary benefit is memory addressability, specifically beyond 4GB. The iPhone 5S with the A7 has only 1GB of RAM. So, what’s the point?
The Real Value Of A7
Yes, the A7 is faster than previous 32-bit Apple-designed ARM CPUs, but the real value to 64-bit CPUs may not be obvious today. Tomorrow is a different story, and Apple is planning for product differentiation today, and notable performance differences tomorrow.
Here’s an example. iOS 7 is 64-bit capable now (seamlessly running both 32-bit and 64-bit apps; Apple’s new iOS 7 apps are also 64-bit). App developers are encouraged to use Apple’s tools to provide 64-bit capability now.
Looking back over the infant history of smartphones and tablets, it’s easy to project that iPhones and iPads will have more than 4GB of ram within a few years. Apple is laying the necessary infrastructure for app developers to take advantage of technology advances long before their stepchild kindred on Android or Windows Phone devices.
Chandrasekher said in Techworld:
Predominantly… you need it for memory addressability beyond 4GB. That’s it. You don’t really need it for performance, and the kinds of applications that 64-bit get used in mostly are large, server-class applications.
Except Mac OS X is 64-bit as is almost every app a Mac user uses today. Today’s Mac apps are faster, more powerful, and do more thanks to Apple thinking ahead and making OS X 64-bit to take advantage of Intel’s powerful 64-bit CPUs.
No one is arguing against the future, and the obvious future of mobile devices is 64-bit CPUs. Apple is simply there first. The competition will denigrate Apple’s 64-bit initiative because they don’t have a similar ‘marketing gimmick.’ They’ll make that noise right up to the day they ship their own 64-bit products, and my prediction is they’ll do so on devices with 4GB of RAM or less. Just like Apple.
UPDATE: Also out today is Daniel Eran Dilger’s lengthy feature article on how Apple’s 64-bit A7 CPU powers new audio and video features that were not possible in 32-bit mobile CPUs.