At its launch events, Apple likes to intersperse the generic imagery of families having fun with its products with raw technical data which is unlikely to be of interest to casual consumers. At the announcement of the iPhone 5S, one of the most interesting bits of hardware information was that the A7 processor that powers the handset uses a 64 bit architecture rather than the usual 32 bit setup preferred in every other smartphone produced to date.
With its rivals mostly focussing on clock speed and the number of physical cores a processor possesses, how does the Apple A7 chip speed compare with alternatives like the powerful pieces of silicon under the hood of the Samsung Galaxy S4? Indeed, are there any differences between A7 and A6 Apple chip versions, since this slightly older CPU is featured on the iPhone 5C?
Apple claimed that the A7 CPU is at least twice as speed as the A6 chip, with twice the graphical grunt. It proved this to a degree during the launch of the iPhone 5S when Epic Games came on stage to show off Infinity Blade 3.
Although the iPhone 5S processor speed is something that Apple is not talking about in public, hardware teardowns and benchmarks show that it has a 1.3GHz maximum clock speed and two physical cores, not four as some had hoped.
Coupled with 1GB of RAM, the A7 chip is a step up from last year’s unit, while the support for both 32 bit and 64 bit apps could make it a very future-proof smartphone indeed.
Another aspect of the iPhone 5S which Apple announced at the launch was the inclusion of the M7 motion coprocessor, which works alongside the A7 chip, but is mostly dedicated to handling information gathered from the various sensors built into the phone. The idea is that the M7 motion chip can do the heavy lifting when the iPhone 5S is being used in conjunction with an exercise application, or indeed a game which uses motion-based controls. The M7 can simultaneously keep track of information being fed to it from the built-in gyroscope, accelerometer and compass, which means the phone will always be able to work out what you are up to, whether you are heading out for a stroll or cruising along in a car at 60mph.
Previous iPhones have supported motion detection and have found success with third party exercise apps, but the point of having the M7 chip on board is that this information does not need to be processed by the A7 CPU. As such, exercise apps will be able to run in the background without taking up the phone’s hardware resources unnecessarily, giving users a smoother experience. You can bet your breeches that Apple is also going to be adding the M7 chip to its upcoming iWatch device, which will make smartwatches a big hit with fitness fanatics.
Real World Rivals
So how does all this compare with the competition? There is an argument that comparing the iPhone 5S against a top tier Android handset like the Galaxy Note 3 and Xperia Z1 is difficult, because the two operating environments in use are so very different.
Although Samsung and Sony’s latest mobiles may not have 64 bit processors, they do use the latest SnapDragon 800 quad core chip from Qualcomm, which is capable of handling 4K Ultra HD video. Apple made no mention of such compatibility at launch and with so little RAM on board the iPhone 5S, it will probably not be able to keep up with the competition in certain arenas.
But the point here is not to look at what assets a phone has on paper, but how it is able to deploy them in the real world. The iPhone 5S has more than enough hardware grunt to make iOS 7 run as smoothly as possible and it is certainly going to be home to the definitive iOS experience, at least until it is replaced in 2014. You should worry less about the number of cores, clock cycles or bits that are advertised by manufacturers and instead focus on how these are translated into meaningful user experiences.