Advancing the iPhone

on September 10, 2013
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Apple may have done more today to pave the way for the iPhone’s future than any past event. What was announced today was more than a set of new products but a new foundation for the future. First off, this is the first time Apple has shifted from its tried and true model of one new iPhone a year. Second, this is the first time in a while that they killed off last years iPhone and replaced it with a new one.

There were more interesting things to write and analyze than fits in one article so I’d like to focus on a few foundational aspects of today’s events.

Next Generation

You can’t look at the iPhone 5s and not objectively agree that it is an amazingly designed phone. Aesthetically it stands out from the competition marvelously. But the technology inside the iPhone is truly next generation.

The biggest surprise for me was the announcement that the new A7 processor in the iPhone 5s is the world’s first 64 bit processor in a smart phone. We heard this rumor early on but I dismissed it thinking it would be too soon to move to 64 bit. Apple, however, believes it is the right time.

1 billion transistors. That is truly remarkable. I’m not going to go into the depths of 64 bit architectures but I’ll make a few points on why this is a big deal.

First, 64 bit will dramatically increase the performance of more intensive and demanding applications. Things like audio and video encoding/decoding and any graphically intense applications including games and other visually complex applications. I talked to several prominent developers in the crowd who were extremely excited about the possibilities with 64 bit computing in mobile devices.

What makes this move to 64 bit all the more interesting is the software. iOS 7 is the world’s first 64 bit mobile operating system. The key to 64 bit processors is to have software which is written to take advantage of it. Here again is where we see Apple’s vertical advantage kick in. They control the hardware, design the SoC, and control the software. All these things have led them to create the world’s most advanced processor and operating system. But it is not just about Apple.

Apple likes to do things that give developers a distinct advantage for their apps on iOS. 64 bit will do just that and I am excited to see how developers can take advantage of the A7 and create the most amazing smartphone applications ever created.

The A7 being 64 bit, and potentially the results it yields in terms of third party software, gives Apple a distinct time advantage over competitors. No competitors are even close to bringing 64 bit to market and even for some platforms like Android which is focused on the low end non-spec smartphones it may not even make sense.

The iPhone is a Wearable Computer?

Apple also showed its prowess in developing co-processors or dedicated companion cores designed for low-power efficiency for dedicated tasks. Their latest one, the M7, is designed as a motion co-processor that tracks movement and is optimized for contextual awareness. They have an API called core motion that has the potential to create a new class of health and fitness apps.

Several things are interesting about this. First of all this could enable a new class of health and fitness hardware as well. Yes new apps can be built to register and track motion of the phone itself. However, by using the API, perhaps we will see new wearable hardware combined with this more robust software to create new health and fitness solutions. One could assume that the more wearable devices we have tracking relevant data the more accurate it can be.

Second, Apple is giving developers the tools to begin to take advantage of assets in their ecosystem to start developing new health and fitness apps. We speculate that Apple may someday create a dedicated wearable and this API and the M7 could be laying the foundation for conditioning developers for that future.

Security

The fingerprint sensor is a true innovation. I have sensed the secure devices trend for some time. With regards to Apple, this is significant since business continues to be a growth area for the iPhone and iPad. The innovations they are doing around security will only help their case in the enterprise and even into more places like government.

Here again Apple’s vertical advantage shines through. By owning the hardware, the SoC, and the software they are able to securely protect the person’s fingerprint data into a secure enclave, which is a dedicated secure area of the CPU that is blocked off from the OS and designed to keep fingerprint data locked directly to the hardware securely and safely. [pullquote]Instead of one-click purchases, we are now on the cusp of one-touch purchases.
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The key will be to watch how this advances. This will be a new way of thinking about their devices and security and I imagine Apple will take baby steps in advancing this technology. Right now you can use the fingerprint scanner to log-in to the iPhone as well as use it to make a purchase through iTunes. Over time perhaps the capability will extend to purchases with third party apps as well.

Instead of one click-purchases, we are now on the cusp of one-touch purchases.

Free Productivity

Lastly, making iWork free with all new iOS 7 devices does several interesting things. For one, it may keep Microsoft at bay. Even though Office is offered on iOS it requires a subscription to Office 365. This is not an issue for those who have an enterprise license but it is for consumers. By giving iWork away for free consumers now have a solid Office alternative with their mobile devices.

The most interesting thing this does is it drives more iCloud loyalty. If consumers start using iWork and documents in the cloud, instead of something like Office, Apple has the potential to create more ecosystem loyalty as consumers build up size-able amount of “productivity” data stored on Apple’s cloud.

Strategically this one is interesting.

Conclusion

From my observations I noted a few firsts. I’ll end with these.

Firsts
– First dual-tone LED flash
– First 64 bit mobile CPU
– First 64 bit mobile operating system
– First $99 with contract new iPhone model
– First mobile phone with a fingerprint scanner (that actually works)
– First time Apple releases two new iPhones