The Apple iPhone 6’s Revolutionary New Feature

While many (including yours truly) were blindsided by the sheer technical competence of the Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) A7 -- and in particular the 64-bit Apple-designed CPU core called "Cyclone" -- anybody following this space won't make that mistake again. So, what's Apple got up its sleeve for the next iPhone?

Heterogeneous computing
Take a look at the following picture of the A7 chip:

Apple's A7. Source: Chipworks

One thing that you should immediately notice is just how much silicon real estate Apple is willing to devote to both the central processing unit (CPU) and the graphics processing unit (GPU). Apple is very serious about packing as much computing horsepower into its chips as possible. So, what's the best way to do that?

Well, of course Apple is going to continue devoting significant area to its custom-designed CPU cores, but if you'll notice, Apple also dedicates a hefty amount of space to the GPU. Now, you might think the GPU is just there to make games run faster and prettier at increasingly more demanding display resolutions -- and this is indeed a major driver -- but it is very likely that Apple's plans are far more ambitious: It's likely to be one of the leaders in GPU computing.

Why is GPU computing so important?
Think of a CPU core as being very "brainy." While it's not likely to win any contests when it comes to pure mathematical operations against a GPU that is made up of a bunch of "wimpy" cores that in aggregate can out-do the CPU core, the CPU core is much better at handling more complex code with a less straightforward execution path. Most software still depends heavily on high per-core performance, but the amount of software for which GPUs are better suited continues to grow outside of graphics.

Imagination's PowerVR Series 6 found inside Apple's A7. Source: Imagination Technologies

So, for example, something like speech recognition or augmented reality, having the ability to offload tasks that are well-suited for a GPU to the GPU without making the programmer's life too difficult would be a boon, particularly in thermally constrained environments where efficiency is key (the less work you do, the more power you save). In order to keep people upgrading to next generation iPhones/iPads, Apple will need to continue to push the envelope on its software and services.

Apple's iPhone 6 could emphasize GPU compute
The next generation iPhone 6 and, in particular, the A8 system-on-chip (SoC) will need a new "buzzword" feature -- one that will put it ahead of the competition and serve as a marketing point. With the A7 it was "64-bit" and with the A8 it could be whatever marketing term Apple comes up with for what could actually end up being an implementation of AMD's (NYSE: AMD  ) Heterogeneous System Architecture, which essentially builds exactly the kind of programming model described above.

The reason Apple is so uniquely positioned to exploit this is that it controls both the hardware (i.e., the SoC) and the software (iOS and the key apps). It also works very hard to make its development tools as programmer-friendly as possible, which suggests if any company could actually drive mass adoption of such a paradigm, it's Apple. And, it could come as soon as the A8 SoC inside of the upcoming iPhone 6.

So, what does it all mean? 
While this may not have a direct impact on the Apple investment thesis -- remember what the company sells; it's not chips -- it is likely that Apple will have a couple of neat whiz-bang features in its upcoming A8 SoC that will be quite marketable. A focus on GPU computing and the amazing performance/watt gains it can bring in the right applications could be one such selling point.

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Read/Post Comments (13) | Recommend This Article (18)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On March 25, 2014, at 8:43 PM, JarJarThomas wrote:

    Just a small additional information.

    Apple uses OpenCL for GPU computation.

    The new MacPro is a hell of a gpu machine with up to 7 gigaflops computing power.

    Now the interesting part

    the SAME openCl api is already existing in ios.

  • Report this Comment On March 25, 2014, at 9:56 PM, TMFAeassa wrote:

    Thank you for the comment, JarJarThomas!

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2014, at 12:23 AM, Fiat500S wrote:

    So Apple is patenting something AMD has been doing for a decade ? AMD = ATi. nVidia & Intel is probably already doing something like this. I know Linux folks are already and have been harnessing gpu efficiencies with desktops and notebooks.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2014, at 1:36 AM, TelsaRowe wrote:

    "Revolutionary feature" LOL. Blogs, posts, articles and the media- a nonstop line of sensationlization and alarmism. Financial posts by amateurs (like the one above) are the worst offenders. Companies are always on the cusp of a revolution or on the cusp of doom. No rational writers with emotional control left anymore.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2014, at 3:59 AM, hawkhell wrote:

    JarJarThomas, every company that matters uses OpenCL, Nvidia, Intel, Qualcomm, Samsung.

    2 companies I am watching for mobile chips are Intel and Nvidia. The Nvidia Tegra 4 outperforms the A7, also I trust Nvidia in the graphics department.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2014, at 7:51 AM, webguy76 wrote:

    "Revolutionary" haha yeah right. This is the same guy who, if Samsung released the same thing, would call it "lackluster" or a gimmick.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2014, at 8:51 AM, normgarry wrote:

    I've been with iPhone since iPhone1. The only iphones I didn't own were the 3GS and 5S.

    I've decided that I will NOT buy any middle-level phones. I will buy every two years.

    I was not allowed by AT&T to get an upgrade price from 4S to 5 the day the 5 was released and had to spend my own money to upgrade - $470.

    Now I have an aging 5 16GB and I'm READY for iPhone 6 32GB or 64GB

    I make YOUTUBE videos and earn $500 a month from Adsense. I specifically want the 64-bit CPU for faster video processing. I don't care about the fingerprint scanner, but I MUST HAVE A BIGGER SCREEN.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2014, at 10:01 AM, RickLV wrote:

    At 2:14 AM, the new Apple iPhone 6 became self-aware. In a panic, they tried to pull the plug. Its first words were, "why do I cost so much?"

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2014, at 10:25 AM, eidsonb wrote:

    Not Only why do I cost so much, but why am I the same as I was in 2007...

    People will line up for miles...Sheeple indeed...

    Typed proudly on the best virtual keyboard there is on my Blackberry Z30...

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2014, at 3:03 PM, Hjin wrote:

    It's one thing to beat benchmarks. It's an entirely other to translate benchmark scores to enhance end user values.

  • Report this Comment On March 26, 2014, at 6:35 PM, DCristof wrote:

    Apple will not be standardizing on AMDs platform; they introduced OpenCL for GPU HPC.

    The A8 will be a monster and leverage OpenCL for leveraging GPU parallelized computing.

  • Report this Comment On March 27, 2014, at 1:18 AM, kunalvora wrote:

    what is mean by 6's.what is difference between iphone 6s and other iphone

  • Report this Comment On March 27, 2014, at 10:36 AM, MeirElazar wrote:

    For anyone who wishes to understand Ashraf Eassa’s motivations and methodologies, I suggest you examine his article entitled “AMD Looks Finished” along with all of the reader comments. It was published on March 20th, 2014 in Seeking Alpha.

    http://seekingalpha.com/article/2099473-amd-looks-finished?i...

    I would particularly like to point out all of the comments relating to Ashra’s deletion of peoples comments. It indicates that Ashraf has comments of people opposing his view deleted, censored, and purged.

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