Apple’s iPhone 5S is the first device to ship with an Apple A7 chip. And that happens to be one of the first 64-bit processors based on the ARMv8 architecture. While one of the key benefits of moving to 64-bit memory is support for up to 16 exabytes of memory, it’ll probably be a few years before Apple actually ships an iPhone or iPad with more than 4GB.
In fact, the iPhone 5S has just 1GB of memory (at a time when many high-end Android phones have 2GB or even 3GB).
So why is Apple the first company to release a phone with a 64-bit chip?
There could be a few reasons.
- Apple will eventually release devices that need more memory — and by starting now, developers have a few years to get their apps ready to support 64-bit architecture. Since the A7 chip can also support 32-bit apps, it’s compatible with most older iPhone apps. But it’s also the first in a new series of chips that pave the way for the future. When the future arrives, the iOS ecosystem will likely be ready.
- ARMv8 architecture doesn’t just increase the memory capacity — it also features a new instruction set which boost performance and reduces power consumption.
- Certain apps (including games) will be able to make use of that new instruction set, and acess to additional registers in the A7 chip to boost performance.
In fact, AnandTech ran a series of benchmarks and found modest-to-huge performance gains when running certain types of tasks using the new iPhone’s 64-bit processor. Built-in support for AES encryption offered performance gains of more than 800 percent in cryptographic tests. Other gains were much more modest, but 64-bit performance seems noteworthy in almost every test.
All told, Apple’s A7 chip is probably the fastest ARM-based processor on the market today. That may not be true once competitors start to release their own ARMv8 chips in 2014, but it’s clear that Apple isn’t just looking toward a future where iOS devices use more than 4GB of RAM. The A7 chip is for today as much as for the future.
And when Apple does complete the transition to 64-bit in a few years, the iPhone 5S will b the oldest iOS device that still works. So the move isn’t just about Apple preparing for the future… it’s about users buying a piece of hardware that’s a bit more future-proof than the iPhone 5C.
To sum up: Apple’s new A7 chip is faster than any iOS device to date, even if there isn’t much iOS software that takes full advantage of 64-bit processing yet. That’s because it’s based on the ARMv8 architecture which is faster and more efficient. At the same time, this phone will have a longer effective lifespan than any other iOS device released to date since it’ll be able to support 64-bit software if and when there’s a day when that becomes a minimum requirement for iOS.