A Meaningless Mobile Advance: Investigating 64-Bit Smartphone Processors

by Jeff Wiener on September 17, 2013

Despite the fact that its unlikely Apple’s new iPhone 5S has more features or capabilities than a regular old 32-bit processor can handle or the fact any apps that may require such enhanced processing power have yet to be developed, its clear the Cupertino company has set a new technological benchmark by producing a phone with increased 64-bit processing power, even if such an upgrade is (currently) a completely pointless one.

To wit, while Apple has clearly beaten the market to the punch in advancing the processing power of our mobile handsets, the irony of the situation is that by the time the only real true advancement of the iPhone 5S is actually useful (that is, when there is actually a mobile application that requires 64-bit processing), the entire market will have already created their own (better) copycat versions.

In fact, taking its cue from Apple, Samsung’s J.K. Shin, head of the company’s Mobile Communications, told the Korea Times that the next iteration of its popular Galaxy smartphone franchise will definitely have 64-bit processors.

But why pay for technology you can’t use? In a word, you’re paying for the promise of things to come, a future where such 64-bit processing will be a necessity, of course by that time the iPhone 5S will be nothing more than a fancy paperweight…but I digress.

While 64-bit processing power in a modern smartphone may currently be nothing more than a marketing gimmick, completely useless in the current app ecosystem, it won’t be long before such technology is the new market standard, an essential upgrade for future smartphones that will actually be ‘smart.’ In fact, given the there is nothing that will take advantage of Apple’s new A7 processor in any meaningful way, the iPhone 5S is an investment in the future, Apple’s vision of where smartphone technology is heading.

Briefly, the increase in processing power means the 64-bit processor can “grab larger pieces of data and process them more quickly than 32-bit CPUs, and it is more power-efficient”,  explains Carl Howe, a research vice president at the Yankee Group.

As E-Commerce Times writer Richard Adhikari explains, “A 64-bit processor can address much more memory. The maximum amount of RAM 32-bit processors can address is 4 GB, while 64-bit processors theoretically can address 16 billion GB.”

Further, increasing processor power will allow smartphones to run multiple applications simultaneously, a feature equally useful for the consumer market and the enterprise market, the former looking for ways to do more things with one’s mobile handset, while the latter looks for ways of maintaining processing power while running laborious security software.

“With multitasking capabilities increasing, especially with Samsung phones capable of running two applications in a split screen while running many other tasks in the background, phones could use the additional power so they don’t slow down,” Philip Solis, a research director at ABI Research, told the E-Commerce Times.

Of course all of that sounds well and good until one realizes that its highly unlikely Apple will include more than 4GB of RAM in the new iPhone 5S because of the added bulk and increased cost, meaning that the one true advancement of Apple’s latest upgrade is actually quite pointless, and while it sounds good on paper, its sole purpose seems to be to dupe consumers.

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