While Apple's (AAPL) iPhone 5S may not be the technological leap we all hoped it would be, one internal component apparently has manufacturers scrambling to catch up.
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Back in September, many analysts and consumers greeted the iPhone 5S with halfhearted praise. Given the leaps and bounds that Google (GOOG), Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF), and other Android manufacturers have made in recent years, the iPhone no longer seemed to be a must-buy when compared to the wide variety of competitors. So when Apple unveiled another half-measure "S" release when the industry demands that every new device leapfrogs to the latest and greatest, it seemed that Cupertino fell short of the mark.
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However, the iPhone 5S boasted a feature that no other smartphone had: a 64-bit microprocessor. But the A7 chip, now also powering the 2013 line of iPads, didn't appear to "rock" the industry upon its announcement. Despite the boost in capabilities and performance benchmarks, users wouldn't see much benefit until a wider rollout of 64-bit apps and a significant upgrade in the iPhone's RAM. And considering the only certainties in life are death, taxes, and incrementally faster processors, it would only be a matter of time before every smartphone sported 64-bit chipsets.
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In fact, Qualcomm (QCOM) CMO Anand Chandrasekher referred to the A7 chip as a "gimmick," adding, "There's zero benefit a consumer gets from that." Following the executive's comments, Qualcomm quickly played damage control, claiming the comments about 64-bit computing were "inaccurate" and reassigned Chandrasekher to a different position.
And now, three months later, an anonymous insider at Qualcomm told Dan Lyons at Inbound Hub that the A7 chip is far from a gimmick to other manufacturers and a much bigger deal than originally suspected.
"The 64-bit Apple chip hit us in the gut," the employee said. "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 won't benefit. But in Spinal Tap terms it's like, 32 more, and now everyone wants it."
"Apple kicked everybody in the [euphemism for male reproductive organs] with this," the insider colorfully described. "It's being downplayed, but it set off panic in the industry."
Indeed, 64-bit chips were always an inevitability, but there is always something to be said about being first -- especially when a company beats its competitors' timelines by months or even a year. Apple blindsided competitors and put them back on the fast track to deliver beefier chipsets to their mobile lines.
And that's not as easy as it sounds.
Qualcomm recently announced its 64-bit Snapdragon processor, and Samsung is expected to debut its own version in a mobile device early next year. Qualcomm's timeline isn't as optimistic: The company plans on introducing its 64-bit microprocessor in a smartphone in the second half of 2014, making the A7 chip basically a year ahead of the industry.
This is a huge win for Apple, one that was desperately needed. Its once-innovative reputation has suffered following the loss of its former CEO, and several good-but-not-stupendous updates to its line of existing products hasn't helped. It's been years since it last debuted a new device, and many have declared Cupertino to be behind the curve in terms of industry-leading development.
And although there is some validity to that sentiment, it's just nice see Apple still have an ace or two up its sleeve.