Apple just announced two new iPhone models, the 5S and the 5C, both of which are designed to take advantage of its new iOS 7. While the 5C – billed as Apple’s cheap iPhone model – offers mostly cosmetic changes, leaving most of the iPhone 5 internal specs intact, the 5S includes several significant hardware upgrades, each with implications for developers. Most notably, the 5S will be the first smartphone to use a 64-bit CPU architecture. While onlookers debated how much of an immediate change these improvements will actually prompt, it’s clear that developers will want to pay attention to the overhaul. A few initial sticking points include:
The 64-bit processor
Paired with iOS 7, which has been rewritten and optimized for the new A7 processor, the iPhone 5S will boast CPU performance that’s twice as fast as the previous A6 processor, and graphics performance will double in speed as well. Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller billed the A7 as “desktop-class architecture,” noting that the 5S has computing power of 40 times that of the original iPhone. The most immediate gain may be in handling high-end graphics: The 5S supports the Open GL/ES 3.0 graphics standard, making it a boon for game developers.
At first, the cases in which 64-bit matters are likely to be limited, ZDNet Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan noted. But while the first apps to take advantage of the new architecture may be graphics-intensive games, the 64-bit processor has implications that matter to a wider variety of users, particularly enterprises. Most immediately, the upgrade allows Apple to include two new hardware components – a higher-quality camera with added features and a fingerprint reader – that will likely facilitate many innovations down the line.
“In other words, 64-bit is an enabler to features that may matter to the masses,” Dignan wrote.
Naturally, transitioning to a 64-bit architecture could also be a bit of a nightmare for mobile developers, particularly given the rapid adoption cycles of mobile phones as compared to PCs (on which developers had years to prepare for 64-bit hardware). However, Apple promised to make this transition easy: the iPhone 5S can run both 32-bit and 64-bit apps, and it’s offering tools that are designed to make the conversion as rapid as possible. According to EPIC Games co-founder Donald Mustard, who offered a demo of a new version of “Infinity Blade 3” as part of the announcement about improved graphics capabilities, the normally challenging conversion process was reduced to a two-hour job for one person with Apple’s tools.
The M7 motion co-processor
A more immediate feature for developers to leverage might be the new M7 co-processor, a dedicated chip for handling the data from the phone’s various movement and geo-location sensors. Not only will the sensors draw less on the phone’s CPU and battery, they will be easier for developers to incorporate into applications as a result of the overhauled Core Motion Framework API. Forbes contributor Ewan Spence noted that many apps are already being modified to take advantage of the new capabilities, particularly apps in the health and fitness category.
Apple’s offering what could potentially be a game-changing security update by incorporating fingerprint-reading technology from AuthenTec into the 5S. Dignan noted that the added security of the fingerprint reader could make a strong case for Apple in the enterprise, particularly as more third-party tools take advantage of it.
Unfortunately, apps that leverage the new security feature won’t be arriving any time soon. The fingerprint reader can only be used for two purposes at the moment: unlocking the phone and verifying iTunes purchases. AllThingsD reported that developers will not be given access to fingerprint authentication, at least initially. This may be for security reasons, although Apple has said that fingerprint data will not be stored on remote servers. However, the use of the fingerprint reader could very well expand over time.
“You can probably imagine a lot of [other] uses,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told AllThingsD.
Initially, the iPhone 5S may not spur massive changes. However, with three promising new hardware features, the potential for innovation that takes advantage of desktop-grade processing, the overhauled Core Motion Framework API and dedicated M7 co-processor and, eventually, fingerprint authentication is immense. Coding for these new tools may require a bit of a transition for developers – and avoiding errors through the use of tools like sourc code analysis will be essential – but ultimately these improvements could offer one of the biggest catalysts for iOS application development yet.
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