With the success of Apple first true foray into custom-designed processors, it seems as if the Cupertino is looking to expand its pool of talent in order to one-up itself for next year’s iOS devices. iDownloadBlog today has an interesting post, which draws from a few basic facts. First is that Apple has actively been recruiting engineers, either by acquisitions or direct hires, since even before the iPhone was launched in 2007. Listings such as this give evidence to the fact that Apple is increasingly looking to further designs its chips in-house, instead of simply taking a rather stock ARM design.
But why is Apple pushing this? By all accounts, Apple’s previous method of simply purchasing the rights to a stock ARM design, mildly tweaking rather trivial pieces, and then having it manufactured by Samsung’s fabrication facilities was working well – every device but the iPhone 5 still uses this process. But with the A6, Apple went in a completely different direction: the processor is designed from the ground up to be fast, and easy on the battery. By all accounts, Apple has accomplished this – the iPhone 5 is notably snappier than the iPhone 4S, and it outscores every other device on the market in various benchmarking applications. Incredibly, it’s able to do all of this without sacrificing battery life. The iPhone 5 has been lauded for its excellent battery life time and time again, in various reviews, across various cellular technologies.
iDownloadBlog believes that Apple’s increased interest in the ARM CPU space is likely because they want to extend it beyond iOS devices, and in to their Mac line. Late last year, there were rumors of an A5-based MacBook Air being prototyped within Apple’s labs. This rumor was likely true, given that Apple has historically kept their operating systems running on any number of different processor architectures. And while ARM CPUs won’t be able to compete with the traditional x86/x64 Intel kits in raw performance for the foreseeable future, they may quickly be reaching the point where they are “fast enough.”
Beyond the performance gap, ARM CPUs have traditionally been significantly more power efficient. For example, the iPad is able to achieve roughly 10 hours of continuous use. Try that on a computer that has both a slim profile, and a decently powerful CPU. Intel’s CPUs, while very powerful, simply aren’t as efficient.
Whatever Apple’s plans, it seems at least possible that the next major change for OS X will be compatibility with ARM CPUs on the low end. Windows 8 makes the jump, and it’ll be interesting to see if Apple makes the jump as their own SoCs continue to lead the pack of mobile devices.