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Apple stuns with 64-bit iPhone 5S; unveils lower-priced 5C

John Cox | Sept. 11, 2013
Both new iPhones available with iOS 7 on Sept 20

Apple unveiled its new high-end iPhone, and stunned observers by implementing a 64-bit CPU architecture and operating system for it. It also unveiled a lower-cost plastic model that's half the price of its aluminum cousin.

iPhone 5S

Both phones will be available on Sept. 20, with the plastic phone, iPhone 5C, available for pre-ordering on Sept. 13.

The high-end iPhone is now available in three new shades of anodized aluminum: silver, gold, and a gray or graphite.

There had been speculation that Apple might debut a 64-bit processor, but it was not widely expected, in part because ARM Ltd, from whom Apple licenses its instruction set, will not be introducing its own 64-chips until later in 2014. The iPhone 5S is the first 64-bit smartphone.

Apple executives say the combination of 64-bit CPU, dubbed the A7, and the rewritten iOS 7 and Apple apps will have a dramatic impact on performance: the CPU is twice as fast as the A6 and graphics performance is twice as fast also. According to Apple, iPhone CPU performance has jumped 40 times from the first iPhone to the new 5S: but that fully half of that increase is due to the 64-bit architecture in the new iPhone.

The A7 has twice the general purpose registers and floating point registers, and over 1 billion transistors on a die size that's the same (at 32 nm) as the year-old A6. For the first time, it supports the Open GL ES 3.0 graphics standard.

In a demo of a new version of Infinity Blade 3, EPIC Games co-founder Donald Mustard showed how the new CPU supported much greater level of detail in the animations. And he noted how quickly his engineers were able to convert the code for 64-bit. "Typically, converting to 64-bit is a lengthy process," he said. "But with Apple's tools, one person converted the code in two hours."

Apple has created a native 64-bit kernel for iOS 7, along with companion drivers and libraries.

Also new is a "motion co-processor," a separate chip dubbed the M7. It coordinates data from the phones' sensors accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass, without having to wake-up the A7. Apple also updated the CoreMotion API. Together the M7 and the various sensors can track and act up the user's activities and location.

Apple improved the main camera with a new five-element, Apple-designed lens, with a larger aperture at f/2.2. The 15-percent larger sensor area, and new, larger pixels at 1.5 microns deliver crisp, accurate images. There's also improvements to iOS 7 software to automatically white balance images, handle exposures, and created what the company called a "dynamic local tone map" around each image to get better highlights and shadows.


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