Some alleged leaks have begun to surface about the upcoming Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) Galaxy Note 4 phablet. According to the AnTuTu database, there will be two distinct versions of the Galaxy Note 4. The first, probably the North American variant, will sport a Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) Snapdragon 805, but the second, probably the international version, will include a chip known as the Exynos 5433. This part will allegedly sport four ARM Cortex A57 and four ARM Cortex A53 CPUs (both 64-bit ARM Holdings (NASDAQ:ARMH) CPU cores) in a big.LITTLE configuration. Could this be the world's first 64-bit Android smartphone?
It's possible, but Intel powered phones could launch before then
If you want to get super technical about it, Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) recently launched Atom Z3480 and Z3580 parts are 64-bit capable. However, the timing of the launches of smartphone designs based on those parts still looks a little fuzzy. That said, there's a bigger -- and more important -- technical issue that will affect both Intel and Samsung in trying to sell 64-bit-capable phones.
Android support required
The bigger issue in doing a 32-bit to 64-bit transition at any non-trivial level is that the software ecosystem has to be recompiled to take advantage of it. Not only does the core Android operating system need to be ported over to ARM64/X86-64 (Intel and NVIDIA have already shown recompiled Android kernels for X86-64 and ARM64, respectively), but all of the applications and various third-party software development libraries need to be moved over, too.
Given that the vast majority of Android based devices will still be 32-bit for years to come, getting developers to move old applications over will take some time. However, it is likely that new applications going forward (once 64-bit Android from Google goes official) will be designed with ARM64/X86-64 in mind, so the transition will happen -- it's just a question of how long it'll take.
How does this affect the chip players?
This transition to 64-bit will probably be a positive for ARM Holdings, which will see a royalty rate increase in the shift from 32-bit designs to 64-bit designs. Further, the transition to 64-bit could prove to be a positive for Intel as the software transition from 32-bit to 64-bit will help elevate Intel's X86 to be a first-class instruction set on Android from Day 1 because the hardware will be widely available.
The royalty rate increase is likely to be on the order of pennies per chip, so it is unlikely that a slight royalty rate hike will move the needle in terms of the cost of goods sold for companies like Qualcomm that license ARM's technology. Further, those costs could probably be partially -- if not fully -- passed on to the customers of the chip companies without too much trouble.
Foolish bottom line
Since Apple's iPhone 5s came in as the world's first 64-bit phone complete with a 64-bit iOS, the race has been "on" to transition Android to 64-bit. Barring an announcement of a major Intel-powered smartphone before September, the international version of Samsung Galaxy Note 4 could be one of the first 64-bit capable Android phones on the market -- if not the first.