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Apple's 64-bit A7 chip "hit us in the gut," says Qualcomm employee

Despite Qualcomm's comments to the contrary, Apple's introduction of the 64-bit A7 processor used in the iPhone 5S, iPad Air and Retina iPad mini has sent people within Qualcomm into a panic. That's the word from an article posted to Hubspot (opens in new tab) by Dan Lyons - he of "Fake Steve Jobs" fame - who joined Hubspot earlier this year as "Marketing Fellow."

Apple broke new ground with the A7 chip. It's the first 64-bit processor to be found in a mobile device. Lyons reports that Qualcomm - one of the biggest mobile semiconductor makers around - wasn't expecting Apple to come out with a 64-bit chip so soon.

"The 64-bit Apple chip hit us in the gut. Not just us, but everyone, really. We were slack-jawed, and stunned, and unprepared," Lyons quotes the unnamed Qualcomm employee as saying.

Now semiconductor manufacturers like Qualcomm are scrambling to catch up, but Qualcomm doesn't expect to have a 64-bit chip available until the second half of 2014 - basically a year after Apple. Samsung, one of Apple's biggest rivals in the smartphone market, plans to introduce a 64-bit processor as well, thought it hasn't yet announced products that use them. Lyons says Samsung is rumored to be announcing such a product early in 2014.

Apple's competitors have been quick to downplay the significance of the 64-bit chip, saying it's just Apple's marketing gamesmanship - that the only real significance of 64-bit is its ability to address more memory than mobile devices have right now. Qualcomm senior VP and chief marketing officer Anand Chandrasekher even went so far to declare that the A7 conferred "zero benefit" to end users - then was promptly "reassigned."

64-bit processors are able to access more RAM, but that's not their only benefit - they can grab data in twice as large chunks as their 32-bit counterparts. And as apps are optimized to take advantage of a 64-bit architecture and the other capabilities of the A7, they'll run faster and be capable of doing more. Apple's future-proofing iOS devices to enable app developers to continue to create software that delights and surprises users, who are doing more sophisticated things with their mobile devices all the time.

The mobile industry is inexorably heading in the direction of 64 bits. Apple just beat everyone else to it.

  • That was a great read, I'm interested to see what's done with the A7
  • sounds cool. too bad apple still only left the 5S with 1gb of RAM...
  • A 64 bit processor is worthless without software that can take advantage of it.
  • Lyons seems unaware that Samsung made the A7 for Apple.
  • Samsung manufactured it but they didn't design it, Apple did.
  • Oh, it definitely caught Samsung Mobile by surprise. As for the semiconductor division, you probably should question how much they knew too, even though they provided the foundry services.
  • This is what I don't understand. How can it take Samsung by surprise if they were given the blueprints to make it?
  • The Semiconductor and mobile divisions don't Always communicate with each other.
  • That's like saying the Mac division has no idea what the iOS division is doing. It's a silly statement
  • In a company as big and bureaucratic as samsung they are separate companies for all intent and purpose.
  • Exactly. It's hard to imagine one division not sharing the info with another, even if they are bound under serious NDA's. Maybe the legal risk is too great. Who knows! Sent from the iMore App
  • Ugh. It's Dan Lyons. Shouldn't we just assume he's lying in some fashion?
  • I love it when somebody does this kind of thing, though. Whether it's Apple, Samsung, or Captain Crunch... When one company releases some new tech that makes the machine take notice, that's the kind of innovation that helps make the [tech] world a better place [for developing robots that can deliver your packages to you in 30 minutes or less and subsequently maul you if you don't pay].
  • It's not the present that benefits so much, but the future. By the time iOS 9 rolls around, phones may have that 4 GB of RAM. On that date, virtually all iOS software will be 64-bit capable, as both Apple and 3rd parties will have had 2 years to acclimate. More importantly, there will not be a single 32 bit iOS device left on the market - hardware will be 100% 64 bit. (5s will be the low-end freebie.) The 2013 release of a 64 bit phone will give Apple the ability to make a clean break in 2015, allowing them a degree of power and flexibility competitors will be hard-pressed to match.
  • This.. exactly... To many are thinking short term, like Wall Street.. This is the long game. Even w/o more memory, there are major benefits for 64bit optimized apps when it comes to throughput. 32bit won't see it, but it's there for devs to take advantage. 32bit is otw out for Apple.
  • Exactly. The 32/64bit distinction is functionally meaningless *now*, but that won't be the case in a year or two. So far, Apple has a track record of supporting its devices, what... three or four models back? Putting 64bit processors in their flagship devices now will let them continue that trend a few years down the line when 64bit is actually important.
  • I'm confused, doesn't Samsung make the A7 for Apple? I mean, why would it take samsung to release their branded chip while they have the technology already?
  • It' not theres.. They just produce it.. Want a quick $1 billion more in lawsuits .. have Samsung copy again. lol Also, Samsung must rely on GOOGLE to get them a 64bit ready Android.. Simply put, that doesn't exist in any form that I know of.. I think there might be some rumblings of work on it, but they were in no way ready. Google is looking at a complete turnover in the Oracle lawsuit.. so if that happens, it's going to be a looong time before Android goes 64 bit.. This is just conjecture, but I think the reason they are pushing Chrome OS so hard now is that they are looking to abandon the Java based Android.. It was a quick way into the market, but it's proving to be a chain around their necks now.. If they want to keep up, they need to have an OS thats readily 64 bit, and thats more Linux based kernel; which CAN easily do 64bit. Look at Ubuntu Mobile; that is the direction I think they are all heading.. a phone with desktop class horse power.. think about it.. if you could not carry an iPad Air, or Macbook Air.. but an iPhone Pro that ran desktop like OS or a Mobile OS when on the go? plugin a monitor and have a bluetooth keyboard/mouse and your in desktop mode.. pull it and go, your in mobile mode.. It's not as far fetched as it seems.. Question is.. implementation. Does Apple keep iOS and OS X separate and just switch between? Personally, I'd prefer it to keep it touch based or touchpad/mouse based .. who knows.. its coming though..
  • In theory, the software side of the 64 bit update is easier on Android...Google updates the Dalvik VM, and all apps targeted towards it immediately benefit. In practice, a lot of apps will get that free boost, but those apps that use the NDK are going to need some work. And, of course, updating the VM itself is not trivial. Doable, certainly, but Google is certainly behind what Apple has done with the A7 and its update to iOS + libraries. As for ChromeOS/Android, people have predicted Android as a stopgap, and ChromeOS as the future as far back as 2009. Google may even prefer it internally, but Android still keeps chugging along, and there is no way Google would turn their backs on the eyeballs Android brings without a rock-solid story to bring them forward, which they do not have yet. (And I doubt we will see a complete reversal of the Oracle case. If we did, it would be a horrible precedent for the entire industry, but that is a conversation thread for when iMore posts directly about the case :) )
  • Samsung doesn't have have any 64 bit designs ready. They fab the Apple A5, A6 and A7 SoCs, but they are following Apple's blueprints. I would doubt any Samsung engineer would really know what's in those blueprints. So, they have to start from zero. Luckily, ARM Holdings have 64 bit CPU designs ready to implement. It's still going to take until 2H 2014. The race is on between Nivdia, Qualcomm, and Samsung, MediaTek too, to ship a 64 ARM smartphone SoC next. They will all likely be using an ARM Holdings Cortex-A53 or -A57 design, not custom ones. The custom ones are probably 2015 parts.
  • Samsung got the 64bit ARM design the same exact time Apple did.
  • Apple's 64-bit design is an Apple custom design. It has no relation to any 64-bit CPU design from ARM Holdings. Samsung will likely use ARM Holdings Cortex-A57 for their flagship SoC in 2014 if they can ramp in time, otherwise they'll stop-gap with the Snapdragon 805 for awhile. The Cortex-A57 (and -A53) have no relationship to Apple's Cyclone 64-bit ARM. ARM Holdings have no idea what is in the Cyclone architecture. They were surprised just like everyone else.
  • You are confused as the A7 uses the Armv8-A instruction set. That instruction set is the only reason why the A7 is 64bit. You are confusing a SoC with a CPU.
  • When you say "Samsung got the 64bit ARM design the same exact time Apple did." I interpret it to mean that you are saying Apple got it's 64-bit Cyclone CPU design from ARM Holdings, which is clearly false. The keyword is "design". If you meant Samsung and Apple got the AArch64 ISA or ARMv8 ISA from the same place, well, yes, ARMH developed the instruction set architecture. There are multiple CPU designs that can execute the ISA. You can have a small and slow CPU execute the ISA, such as the Cortex-A53. You can have a larger and hotter CPU execute the ISA, such as the Cortex-A57 or the X-Gene. It really doesn't make sense to associate performance with the ISA. You don't get a CPU design with ISA.
  • I don't care TOO much that Apple beat everyone to it. If you wanted to play the fanboy game, Apple is a year late (or more) to everything else (quad core chip, LTE). Sent from the iMore App
  • They do have different priorities indeed.
  • Explain why the 2-core lower frequency Apple CPU beats the 4-core Qualcomm higher frequency CPU? 64-bit benefit not only access more memory. This is probably the least important benefit. 64-bit allows Apple improve Objective-C efficiency eg tagged pointer, inline reference count, optimized dynamic loader. IOS overall is more efficient. Apps run faster and burn less battery doing the same processing. The move to 64-bit on iOS allow Apple use the hardwork done on the Mac OS. This give Apple tremendous leverage going forward. Maybe sooner than later Apple can make their ARM CPU run Objective-C code faster than Intel CPU using fraction of battery power!
  • Apple's A7 cpu:s don't execute Objective-C code, they execute ARMv8-A code. The ARM code is generated by LLVM (which compiles LLVM code, generated by i.e. Clang [which turns C/C++ and Objective-C into LLVM code]). Objective-C (through Clang) -> LLVM -> ARM code.
  • It's primarily because Apple's Cyclone CPU is a wider machine, capable of executing more instructions per cycle than Qualcomm's Krait can. 64-bit kind of comes along for the ride. It's necessary for the overall ecosystem, but it isn't 64-bit in of itself. It's all in the microarchitecture design. Priorities, priorities, priorities. Apple is prioritizing single threaded performance over multi-core performance. Basically all the SoC vendors have a set number of transistors per chip and set cost of dollars per chip they want to target. Apple doesn't have to make a profit off the SoC, so they have a bit of a transistor budget advantage over competitors. They use those transistors for high per core CPU performance, high GPU performance, and whatever else is in the "uncore". They've made all the right decisions. Single threaded performance or per core performance lifts all boats. Every app benefits. They are currently in a good spot with GPU performance per pixel now. Maybe they are running a bit short on memory performance for the iPads, but they've addressed some of it with the 4 MB SRAM cache. The biggest problem is the software. iOS 7 (and OS X 10.9 for that matter) are basically rushed "1.0" releases. They need another 6 months to smash the bugs and optimize. The 3rd party apps for iOS 7 are also basically rushed releases too, with lots of bugs. Tough for customers to wait for the software to be revved, but I have confidence things will get better with time.
  • Apple doesn't put hardware in devices that isn't mainstream. In the states, LTE wasn't even close to readily available until the time the iPhone 5 was released. Why give up battery life and spend the extra money when 90% of users can't utilize it. Hell Europe is still playing catch up with LTE. The uk carriers are just now lighting it up. Apple pays it smart. Again, sometimes first to market doesn't mean best. Typically Apple is a classic example of that. They did this to future proof, not to be first. Like Samsung typically tries to do, but fails. I don't see too many people bumping their phones in public or using some of the other ridiculous Android features samsung touted. They were gimmicks. Nothing more. Sent from the iMore App
  • Damn... You hit the right spot girl!!
    :D i agree with you... Samsung has tried really HARD to be the first one that introduce great features... But it didnt worked out really well... Too many features, in too many line-up products, in the short time, make it confusing for customers to really adapt with it...
    And i love how Apple works... They knew what people need... And they launch it at the right moment, at the right time, with the right product... Sent from the iMore App
  • Peter, you left out more and faster registers with the A7. Bigger gulps of data and much faster processing.
  • True, but the inclusion of more/faster registers is the kind of incremental upgrade that you'd expect to see in a new version of a processor. Important, definitely, but not a surprise to anyone in the industry like the bump to 64bit was.
  • The interesting thing is they are the main chip making now building the chip after someone else has introduced. They should have been ahead of the curve. Sent from the iMore App
  • The thing here is that Apple devices have a great processor but the RAM memory is not very powerful compared to others. Just saying, I own an iPhone 5 and the 5s is not that faster as they make it look. Sent from the iMore App
  • Well at least I know my 5s is headed in the right direction
  • If Apple is future proofing their devices then my 5S should have a long and healthy life. I shouldn't need to upgrade to a new iPhone next year since next year's smartphone tech will just be reaching my this year's iPhone already had.
  • Although I agree that 64 bit is a big deal in the long term. As of right now it means nothing. Developers will continue to make apps for the lowest common denominator. This means apps that will run on at least a 4 or maybe even a 3GS. There might be a few select apps that take advantage of 64 bit but those will be extremely rare. By the time 64 bit becomes meaningful we will likely be on the 6 or more than likely the 6S. It just doesn't matter right now.
  • 64 is just barely getting started. Apple basically caught a lot of people off guard because no one was expected to develop on it now. Good side is we can expect better and faster apps. Downside is getting developers on board to start working this technology right away. Sent from the iMore App
  • Sucker punched! Apple scores! Others playing catch up after downgrading its importance.
  • Years later, it's all so obvious, with All android manufacturers also on board, and the 64bit iPhone 5S still working like a charm, almost as good as new!