Qualcomm execs don’t seem afraid to speak their minds, whenever they either think their competition’s chips are overhyped or when they don’t yet have themselves an answer to that kind of competition. Qualcomm’s CMO said recently that the new 64-bit A7 chip from Apple is just a “marketing gimmick”. So which one is it this time? Is it really a gimmick, or is Qualcomm just complaining because they know they may not have an answer to that for at least half a year, if not a full year?
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I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. Are 64-bit chips a gimmick right now? Absolutely not. Is Apple trying to make the chip seem much more than it is? Definitely. So in a way, you could say Qualcomm is both right and wrong, but while not absolutely necessary, the faster we move to 64-bit chips, the better, and Apple knows this, too.
Apple updates its devices for 3 years, while even the best Android OEM’s, including Google, update their devices for half of that time at most. That means Apple’s devices need to be more “future-proof”, so they can use that 3 year into the future software. If Apple would’ve waited until late 2014 to move to the 64-bit ARMv8 architecture, that means they couldn’t have moved to a 64-bit-only iOS until 2017. But since they launched it this year, they can start making a 64-bit-only iOS in 2016.
But besides this future planning, Apple also gets some pretty major improvements for its chips by moving to the brand-new ARMv8 architecture, from ARMv7. When Apple moved to the iPhone 3GS, it also moved to the ARMv7 architecture and a 600 Mhz Cortex A8 processor that was twice as fast as the 420 Mhz ARMv6-based ARM11 processor before it.
Even though the difference in clock speed was less than 50 percent, the speed was twice as fast because of the of the new CPU core, too, but also a lot of improvements came from the architecture itself. We’re seeing that with ARMv8, too, so the “move to 64-bit”, which coincides with the move to the ARMv8 architecture, is worth it for that reason alone, and not necessary for the fact that chips can now support 4GB+ of RAM by default.
This comment from Qualcomm also worries me that Qualcomm is delaying launching its own 64-bit chips for whatever reason. Normally, they’d be the first to jump to a “next-gen” type of chip, and also on a new node (20nm). That should happen early this spring, and we should see them demo this new chip at CES, or at the very least at MWC (although that’s pushing it, if they want the chip to be available in all the device spring launches). Hopefully they’re only trying to delay people from buying iPhones now and wait until next spring, and it’s not something worse, like not having an ARMv8-based chip ready until late next year.