There was a mixed reaction to Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL ) 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.
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 (NASDAQ: QCOM ) 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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