The Merger of Mac OS and iOS - The Real Secret of iOS 7, the iPhone 5s and the A7 Chip


Back in January of this year we wrote an article, Apple's iOS 7 - A Complete Break with the Past, a Leap into the Future, that strongly suggested that Apple needs to begin pulling together iOS and the Mac OS (“Ultimately the next generation will also require bringing Mac OS into the fold, but that is a few years away.”). We also strongly suggested that iOS 7 and iOS 7-based devices would prove to be the first step towards making this a reality. And, in fact, with the release of the iPhone 5S and the new A7 64-bit chip, Apple has indeed done exactly this, and has confirmed our prediction in the process.

With the introduction of the iPhone 5S and its 64-bit processor, Apple has now taken a clear first step to making the marriage of the Mac OS X and iOS a reality. It is noteworthy that during the launch event, Apple specifically underscored the advent of the 64-bit A7 as bringing “true desktop architecture” to mobile devices. Further, Apple states on page 6 of its 64-bit conversion developer’s guide (dated September 5, 2013) the following: The architecture for 64-bit apps on iOS is almost identical to the architecture for OS X apps, making it easy to create a common code base that runs in both operating systems.

This is well worth repeating: "… making it easy to create a common code base that runs in both operating systems." It is the first step to merging Mac OS and iOS. Pure and simple.

Interestingly, as Apple forges ahead here, it leaves Android in the dust. Even more interestingly, look for iOS 7 to gain a huge conversion of nearly all iOS devices. When the 64-bit version of Android finally appears it will create, instead, an ever larger fragmented Android ecosystem. We'll return to Android later on.

Negating Microsoft's Core Strength

One of the strengths of Microsoft's Windows, Windows Pro and Windows Phone 8 operating systems is that they are intimately related to each other. Integration and use of applications across both Windows hardware and mobile devices - which includes smartphones (Windows Phone) and tablets (Windows 8 Pro), particularly in the enterprise, becomes much easier to deal with when the operating systems share a common core and code base. Although not yet fully realized by Microsoft on the Windows side, the intent is to ensure that this happens in short order.

Microsoft's goal, of course, is to retain its Windows market share within the enterprise. If BYOD devices become much easier to handle and deal with, and integrate easily with laptops within an organization from both an application and management standpoint, the theory goes that most enterprises would opt for the advantages that accrue under such a scenario - especially to IT. Given this long term scenario, Apple, we believe, needs to respond with a well-thought-out and cohesive strategy that ultimately puts iOS front and center across all Apple hardware, including desktops and laptops.

As Apple, ever so slowly, but surely and inevitably, sees its enterprise market share increase in terms of Mac OS X-based hardware within the enterprise, the need to begin bridging and bringing Mac OS X and iOS closer together becomes ever more important. With iPhones and iPads still dominant in the enterprise (at least from a single product perspective - it is of course now true that collectively Android devices exceed iPad enterprise use), Apple now finds itself in need of delivering a holistic operating system message.

Apple, of course, remains steadfastly a consumer-focused company as far as its public persona is concerned. Although it has diligently delivered quite a large number of enterprise-related updates and improvements to iOS over the years, and though Apple has a non-trivial contingent of enterprise-focused employees, the company has been quiet about its enterprise efforts.

Even with iOS 7 and the new iPhones launch, Apple has kept its enterprise initiatives low key. But that doesn't mean that those who need to know what Apple is capable of within the enterprise don't know about it - every enterprise has a handle on this. In fact, rest assured also that the vendors that need to know about the enterprise improvements in iOS 7 - these non-trivial enterprise improvements number 40 in all - are all deeply involved in utilizing them.

A Cohesive and Unified iOS

But we do wonder if even well-informed enterprise folks are really aware of the significance of Apple introducing the 64-bit A7 architecture and building iOS 7 from the ground up on that reference 64-bit platform. It is the first step in eventually merging the two operating systems - a scenario under which we anticipate future versions of Mac OS morphing into full-scale enterprise versions of iOS.

A 64-bit iOS is critical for the enterprise, as well, because it will allow iOS to address far more memory than it can as a 32 bit OS - a critical requirement for enterprise-class hardware. A version of iOS running on Mac Pros, laptops and future "desktop class devices," must handle huge memory requirements, and the 64-bit architecture is a requirement for doing so.

Apple has hinted in various ways and through various SVPs (Bob Mansfield and Craig Federighi among them) that one operating system to rule them all is very much a desired longer term goal and a likely outcome. Back in November 2012, we covered some of this "desire to go holistic with their operating systems" in an article that focused primarily on the future relationship of Apple and Intel. 2015 is the first year in which we are likely to see such integrated operating system scenarios begin to take shape.

The Apple-Intel article also touched on the issue of Samsung - a very peculiar company in all of this future iOS speculation of ours. It has recently been confirmed that Samsung's semiconductor foundry is the manufacturer of the A7 chip. Even as Samsung and Apple continue on the patent wars front, Apple still relies on Samsung to manufacture its processor chips. We certainly wonder how long this particular relationship can last. And we wonder where Apple will turn should the Samsung relationship come to an end.

Samsung's Own 64-bit Architecture

Just how deep and how tall and how wide is the fabled wall between Samsung's semiconductor teams and Samsung's mobile device side? How truly secure are Apple's processor secrets in the hands of its staunchest competitor? Even if Apple has been promised an iron clad, 100 percent certainty on the security of its designs, what is to keep a rogue element within the semiconductor group - or heck, device side spies - from accessing them? If we're Apple, we surely must be feeling some level of discomfort about it.

Samsung's device side, in the meantime, has had no choice but to declare publically that "of course, the company's next smartphone will be powered by a 64-bit architecture.” How can it not? Samsung's mobile chief J.K. Shin himself certainly made this clear when he stated, "Not in the shortest time, but yes, our next smartphones will have 64-bit processing functionality." Samsung had no choice in the matter, having been upstaged by Apple.

Apple wasn't necessarily concerned with upstaging Samsung here - the goals for Apple go far beyond merely one-upping Samsung - as we've noted here throughout. But will Apple feel good about taking a leap over Samsung's current quad core 32 bit processors? Absolutely! It is further important that Apple controls iOS and that Samsung doesn't control Android - at least not at the level where 64-bit architecture matters. That is simply more one-upmanship.

The truth is that Samsung can't take any advantage of a 64-bit architecture whatsoever until Android catches up and delivers on a 64-bit implementation of Android. No one expects any version of Android 4.x to deliver on this - it will take at least until Android 5 (perhaps they'll call it "Android Steroid") for a first generation Android 64-bit implementation to emerge. Might that even happen in 2014? Well, in fact, there is no longer a choice about it. It has to happen.

64-bit and Internals RAM

There is another thing worth noting as far as Apple's motives go for delivering on the 64-bit architecture. We noted earlier on that "big iron" hardware needs to address huge amounts of memory and that a 64-bit architecture is required to allow the operating system to do so. One thing big iron delivers on is a huge internal RAM capacity, so a 64-bit iOS would essentially finally be catching up to what the big iron can deliver.

There are several related issues a smartphone delivering on a 64-bit chip has to deal with and one of them is that in order to really take advantage of what a 64-bit chip can do the smartphone itself needs to have enough internal memory to allow the processor to "strut its stuff" so to speak. Smartphones do not deliver huge internal RAM capacity. Even though 2 GB seems impressive for a smartphone, it isn't really impressive in the least.

This means that even the iPhone 5S - while the first smartphone to deliver on 64-bit architecture, a true 64-bit OS and the first to take advantage of its inherently faster capabilities - can't make the absolute fullest use of it all unless internal RAM is increased. There are costs and power issues associated with increasing internal RAM and the iPhone 5S design team has not chosen to deliver more RAM - it has chosen instead to only deliver incremental improvements with the 5S.

In fact, this is the one key reason we believe the 5S is appropriately called the 5S and not the iPhone 6. There are otherwise enough differentiating features to have warranted a bump to iPhone 6 status. Our take on it is to predict that a 4 GB iPhone - with power and cost issues solved - will emerge as the iPhone 6 at some point.

As we've noted elsewhere, iOS 7 and the A7 work together to remove what we refer to as the "user interface stutter" most of us experience when using any smartphone. The 5S truly eliminates most of this UI noise and as a result also is perceived to be that much faster. The next generation will deliver notably faster application processing as a result of increased internal RAM. Together they will represent a huge leap forward in real execution speed.

Android Fragmentation, iOS Cohesiveness

Well over 200 million iOS devices have already been upgraded as of the end of the day on September 22, 2013. Soon enough we anticipate Apple announcing it has reached 300 million devices upgraded and running the same version of iOS 7. Yes, true, we mean relative to the hardware platform of course, but look, feel and most functionality will be exactly the same and all specifications across all iOS 7 devices will be interoperable from an end user perspective.

Soon enough we can also anticipate iOS and Mac OS becoming much closer - from second cousins to first and eventually to brothers and sisters. Further down the road we'll be left with iOS across all Apple hardware. The iOS ecosystem goes along for a splendid ride in all of this, remaining entirely cohesive and holistic throughout while it expands via the enterprise side of things.

Meanwhile, the next generation high end Android will emerge and will immediately cause all sorts of new fragmentation issues across the land of Android devices. Meanwhile, Samsung will deliver a 64-bit implementation of its smartphones but they will be a full generation behind Apple's devices, although Samsung might make the move to 4 GB of RAM at that point.

It will all be a very interesting game as we move forward. One thing is for sure however - we feel absolutely certain that we are about to enter an entirely new period of innovation following several years of smartphones being perceived as "mature" devices.

Mature? B-B-B-Baby, you just ain't seen na na nothin' yet! (That's right, 1974, Bachman Turner Overdrive - they knew.)

Edited by Ryan Sartor
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TechZone360 Senior Editor

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