Another step change from Apple?

In this morning’s Observer, John Naughton wonders if the relatively low-key launch of new iPhones from Apple masks a more significant technological step-change – one that the competition will leap to emulate as soon as possible.

More than flat icons or colourful phones, there may be some less obvious, yet more significant.

And although the 5s came with a more powerful processor, a motion-sensing chip and a significantly better camera, it was really just more of the same. Well, except for the fact that it had a fingerprint sensor for user authentication. And as for iOS 7, well, the only really interesting thing about it was that it now had flat icons rather than the faux-3D ones of iOS 6. It all went to show (so the narrative implied) that Apple had lost its mojo.

As a case study in how a media narrative can miss the point, this one would be hard to beat. So here’s an alternative one. What Apple did on 10 September was to release the first operational 64-bit hardware and software ever seen in a mobile device. The number of bits is important, because every mobile processor up to this has been a 32-bit chip, which means in essence that it can only address 4GB of working memory. This has hitherto been enough for mobile devices (and indeed most desktop machines) but it’s not enough for more powerful computers. So the really intriguing questions raised by the iPhone 5s’s A7 processor, with its ability to address colossal amounts of memory, are: why is it there? And what clues does it give as to what Apple is planning next?

Remember, we’ve been here before:

Readers with long memories will recall that Apple was the first to drop floppy disks, internal modems, CD/DVD drives and laptop hard drives, and that on each occasion the omissions were greeted by howls of derision from the industry, followed rapidly by shamefaced adoption.

What significant change have we just witnessed? How will we look back at this keynote and remember its impact on mobile computing?

Or will it all just be about multi-coloured smartphones?

  1. I always say when buying tech: get the fastest processor, above all. It guarantees that your device will have at least an extra year of use (as software always becomes more demanding).

    That said, I’m still not going for the 5s unless several months from now, there’s a good offer on a used one. I have the cash for it — knowing between my birthday in October, Apple’s usual autumn releases and the fact that my 4s has been wiggy for about a year? I was ready. I’m just not willing to throw down my $400 (upgrade, new 2 year contract lock-in) for something that apart from processor, I’m not excited about.

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    1. I admit it, I was suckered into upgrading. Didn’t *need* it, just wanted it. And it works for me, but I’d probably have been just as well holding out for the next model. Especially as I’ve now realised I’m going to need a new laptop in the coming months. My Macbook Air is three years old and is beginning to show its age.

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      1. My iMac is looking its dotage. It give me theSad. I opted for tinting the windows on my car instead of the new phone. I want *everything* new and shiny!

        I just would rather wait this time (so far).

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