Apple’s 64-Bit A7 Chip Caught Qualcomm Unexpected – Insider

Qualcomm Insider: Apple A7 Chip “Hit Us in the Gut”

by Anton Shilov
12/17/2013 | 11:51 PM

For many years Qualcomm, the world’s largest supplier of application processors for mobile devices, was the first, or among the first, to adopt new technologies, such as new cores or architectures from ARM Holdings. However, with ARMv8 64-bit technology Apple managed to beat Qualcomm by at least several quarters since its A7 chip-based iPhone 5S and new iPads are already available. An insider from Qualcomm admitted, Apple has really left it behind.


“The 64-bit Apple chip hit us in the gut. Not just us, but everyone, really. We were slack-jawed, and stunned, and unprepared. It’s not that big a performance difference right now, since most current software will not benefit. But in Spinal Tap terms it is like, 32 more, and now everyone wants it,” said an unnamed employee of Qualcomm, in a conversation with Hubspot web-site.

Earlier this year Qualcomm’s former chief marketing officer, Anand Chandrasekher, downplayed the importance of 64-bit processing for mobile. Soon after that he was reassigned to a new position within the company. Earlier this month Qualcomm formally announced its new low-cost Snapdragon 410 system-on-chip for mainstream mobile devices that also boasts with 64-bit general-purpose cores. The first devices based on Snapdragon 410 are expected to arrive in the second half of 2014.

Apple A7 chip on Apple iPhone 5s' mainboard. Image by iFixit. Click to enlarge.

Nowadays, smartphones and tablets cannot take advantage of 64-bit computing technology: they do not feature more than 4GB of memory and modern programs do not use 64-bit registers. This is exactly why companies like Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics or MediaTek decided to release ARMv8-based application processors rather later than sooner. But Apple decided that the earlier the transition to 64-bit starts, the sooner it will be finished, which is why it accelerated its roadmap.

“The roadmap for 64-bit was nowhere close to Apple’s, since no one thought it was that essential. The evolution was going to be steady. Sure, it is neat, it’s the future, but it is not really essential for conditions now,” said the insider.

For Apple, releasing 64-bit application processors plays a bigger role than for the rest designer of mobile system-on-chips. With 64-bit processor, Apple can start transition of its own iOS eco-system to the new technology earlier than adopters of Google Android (and SoCs from aforementioned companies) and therefore gain advantages particularly with demanding applications.