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Manufacturer: Apple

One Small Step

While most articles surrounding the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus this far have focused around user experience and larger screen sizes, performance, and in particular the effect of Apple's transition to the 20nm process node for the A8 SoC have been our main questions regarding these new phones. Naturally, I decided to put my personal iPhone 6 though our usual round of benchmarks.

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First, let's start with 3DMark.

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Comparing the 3DMark scores of the new Apple A8 to even the last generation A7 provides a smaller improvement than we are used to seeing generation-to-generation with Apple's custom ARM implementations. When you compare the A8 to something like the NVIDIA Tegra K1, which utilizes desktop-class GPU cores, the overall score blows Apple out of the water. Even taking a look at the CPU-bound physics score, the K1 is still a winner.

A 78% performance advantage in overall score when compared the A8 shows just how much of a powerhouse NVIDIA has with the K1. (Though clearly power envelopes are another matter entirely.)

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If we look at more CPU benchmarks, like the browser-based Google Octane and SunSpider tests, the A8 starts to shine more.

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While the A8 edges out the A7 to be the best performing device and 54% faster than the K1 in SunSpider, the A8 and K1 are neck and neck in the Google Octane benchmark.

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Moving back to a graphics heavy benchmark, GFXBench's Manhattan test, the Tegra K1 has a 75% percent performance advantage over the A8 though it is 36% faster than the previous A7 silicon.

These early results are certainly a disappointment compared to the usual generation-to-generation performance increase we see with Apple SoCs.

However, the other aspect to look at is power efficiency. With normal use I have noticed a substantial increase in battery life of my iPhone 6 over the last generation iPhone 5S. While this may be due to a small (about 1 wH) increase in battery capacity, I think more can be credited to this being an overall more efficient device. Certain choices like sticking to a highly optimized Dual Core CPU design and Quad Core GPU, as well as a reduction in process node to 20nm all contribute to increased battery life, while surpassing the performance of the last generation Apple A7.

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In that way, the A8 moves the bar forward for Apple and is a solid first attempt at using the 20nm silicon technology at TSMC. There is a strong potential that further refined parts (like the expected A8x for the iPad revisions) Apple will be able to further surpass 28nm silicon in performance and efficiency.

Apple A8 Die Shot Released (and Debated)

Subject: Graphics Cards, Processors, Mobile | September 28, 2014 - 10:53 PM |
Tagged: apple, a8, a7, Imagination Technologies, PowerVR

First, Chipworks released a dieshot of the new Apple A8 SoC (stored at archive.org). It is based on the 20nm fabrication process from TSMC, which they allegedly bought the entire capacity for. From there, a bit of a debate arose regarding what each group of transistors represented. All sources claim that it is based around a dual-core CPU, but the GPU is a bit polarizing.

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Image Credit: Chipworks via Ars Technica

Most sources, including Chipworks, Ars Technica, Anandtech, and so forth believe that it is a quad-core graphics processor from Imagination Technologies. Specifically, they expect that it is the GX6450 from the PowerVR Series 6XT. This is a narrow upgrade over the G6430 found in the Apple A7 processor, which is in line with the initial benchmarks that we saw (and not in line with the 50% GPU performance increase that Apple claims). For programmability, the GX6450 is equivalent to a DirectX 10-level feature set, unless it was extended by Apple, which I doubt.

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Image Source: DailyTech

DailyTech has their own theory, suggesting that it is a GX6650 that is horizontally-aligned. From my observation, their "Cluster 2" and "Cluster 5" do not look identical at all to the other four, so I doubt their claims. I expect that they heard Apple's 50% claims, expected six GPU cores as the rumors originally indicated, and saw cores that were not there.

Which brings us back to the question of, "So what is the 50% increase in performance that Apple claims?" Unless they had a significant increase in clock rate, I still wonder if Apple is claiming that their increase in graphics performance will come from the Metal API even though it is not exclusive to new hardware.

But from everything we saw so far, it is just a handful of percent better.

First Apple A8 Benchmarks Show... "Modest" Increase

Subject: General Tech, Processors, Mobile | September 12, 2014 - 10:30 AM |
Tagged: apple, apple a8, SoC, iphone 6, iphone 6 plus

So one of the first benchmarks for Apple's A8 SoC has been published to Rightware, and it is not very different from its predecessor. The Apple A7 GPU of last year's iPhone 5S received a score of 20,253.80 on the Basemark X synthetic benchmark. The updated Apple A8 GPU, found on the iPhone 6, saw a 4.7% increase, to 21204.26, on the same test.

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Again, this is a synthetic benchmark and not necessarily representative of real-world performance. To me, though, it wouldn't surprise me if the GPU is identical, and the increase corresponds mostly to the increase in CPU performance. That said, it still does not explain the lack of increase that we see, despite Apple's switch to TSMC's 20nm process. Perhaps it matters more in power consumption and non-gaming performance? That does not align well with their 20% faster CPU and 50% faster GPU claims...

Speaking of gaming performance, iOS 8 introduces the Metal API, which is Apple's response to Mantle, DirectX 12, and OpenGL Next Initiative. Maybe that boost will give Apple a pass for a generation? Perhaps we will see the two GPUs (A7 and A8) start to diverge in the Metal API? We shall see when more benchmarks and reviews get published.

Source: Rightware

One More Thing from Apple... the Apple Watch

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | September 9, 2014 - 02:51 PM |
Tagged: apple, smartwatch, ios

After Apple announced the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and Apple Pay, they unveiled their smart watch project: the Apple Watch. Technically, they actually announced three families, the Apple Watch, the Apple Watch Sport, and the Apple Watch Edition, with a combined total of 34 different models. They will launch early next year with a base price of $349. About half of the 34 models are a few millimeters smaller, 38mm vs 42mm, although both are unisex.

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Apple Watch

The main feature is its "Digital Crown". It is basically a mouse wheel which can be clicked as a Home button. This wheel can be adjusted to zoom in, adjust meters, and so forth (like a mouse wheel). Below the "Crown" is a Contacts button which, well, brings up your contacts. It has a touchscreen with force sensors, to differentiate between touch and press. The screen also provides haptic feedback for tactile sensations, which actually interests me (in terms of what developers learning what it can do if it is accessible).

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Apple Watch Sport

Each model charges with a magnetic attachment on the back, although battery life is not described. I would be surprised if it was anything less than a full, woken day, but it is possible that it will not stay awake as long as you are. We just do not know at this point. This is probably the best reason to wait for a review before purchasing, if you have any level of interest. That could easily be a deal breaker.

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Apple Watch Edition

The watches are all basically the same from a technological standpoint. Every model, besides the Apple Watch Sport, has a Sapphire-protected screen (the Sport uses "Ion-X glass" which we currently know nothing about). The bands are replaceable via a button latch on the back, allowing the strap to slide off of the face. The "Watch Edition" (that name...) is created from 18-karat gold. Specifically, "Each has a watch case crafted from 18-karat gold that our metallurgists have developed to be up to twice as hard as standard gold". Yes Apple, because gold is a soft metal... but I digress.

The Apple Watch will arrive in early 2015 and will start at $349. It is currently not certified by the FCC, although I am sure that the major tech blogs will announce when that happens. It requires iPhone 5 (or later).

Source: Apple

Apple Announces New iPhone 6 and Larger iPhone 6 Plus

Subject: Mobile | September 9, 2014 - 12:45 PM |
Tagged: mobile gpu, mobile cpu, mobile, iphone 6 plus, iphone 6, iphone, apple, 5.5, 4.7

Today Apple finally catches up with the current smartphone industry as they announce not just a new iPhone, but two new phones - both with much larger screens.

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Image credit: Apple, Inc.

In 2007 Steve Jobs proclaimed that the just-announced iPhone was five years ahead of the competition. In many ways, he was correct - though by 2012 the market had more than caught up. In fact, Apple was behind when they announced the 4-inch iPhone 5, which managed to tick the larger-screen checkbox by simply increasing the vertical resolution by 100 pixels or so. In the area of the "phablet" the iterative refresh that followed in 2013 was hardly news, and Samsung, LG, and HTC busied themselves with larger, higher-resolution offerings that made the iPhone look tiny in comparison.

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Image credit: The Verge

The new iPhone 6 features a smooth (and widely leaked) design with a thin profile and rounded corners, and the expected 4.7-inch screen. However this screen is a disappointing (and very odd) 1334x750 resolution. Contrast the Nexus 5’s 4.95-inch 1080p screen, which represents what has simply become an industry standard for smartphones in the 5-inch range.

But the bigger news here (literally) is the announcement of the iPhone 6 Plus. This 5.5-inch phone has a full 1920x1080 resolution, and there are UI tweaks to iOS 8 that are only enabled on this larger version, such as an expanded landscape keyboard and horizontal home screen. The Plus also features a better camera than its 4.7-inch sibling, with optical image stabilization (OIS) implemented along with the same new image sensor.

Speaking of the image sensor, which is “all-new” according to Apple, the next-gen 8 MP iSight camera has same 1.5(micron) pixel size as before, f/2.2 aperture. True Tone flash returns, and the new camera also boasts faster “phase detection” autofocus. The image signal processor in the A8 chip is also custom designed by Apple. Another change is video slo-mo support, with up to 240fps capture.

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Image credit: The Verge

The A8 itself is a second generation 64-bit chip, with 2 billion transistors on a 20nm process. This is 13% smaller than the A7, and Apple claims a 20% faster CPU, 50% faster graphics than its predecessor. Apple is also placing emphasis on sustained performance with this new chip, showcasing graphs with maintained speed within their thermal envelope during extended use. This is accompanied by the new M8 motion coprocessor, which adds new functionality for motion applications (just in time for iOS 8).

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Image credit: The Verge

The screen is ion-strengthened glass (no sapphire here) with an “improved polarizer", and photo-aligned IPS LCD technology. Whatever that is. If you're interested, Sharp previously published a paper with technical details on this technology here (PDF). 

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Image credit: Apple, Inc.

The phones are thin, too. The iPhone 6 is 6.9mm thick, and the 6 Plus is only slightly thicker at 7.1mm.

As far as wireless communication goes, these new iPhones feature 20 bands of LTE as well as VoLTE support, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. And Apple users can get ready to start waving their phone wildly at checkout as NFC payments come to the iPhone via “Apple Pay”. Some 22,000 retailers will work with it (it seems to be using conventional wireless credit card infrastructure).

The battery life should be improved with both phones compared to the current iPhone 5S, and particularly so with the larger iPhone 6 Plus. Apple is claiming up to 24 hours of 3G talk time and 12 hours of LTE browsing on the 5.5-inch phone, along with a 16 day standby.

The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will be available September 19, with the 16GB versions starting at $199 and $299 respectively with a 2-year contract. Of note, while the entry-level capacity remains at just 16GB, the next model for both phones jumps to 64GB for an additional $100 each.

Source: The Verge

Apple and IBM; together again

Subject: General Tech | July 17, 2014 - 12:52 PM |
Tagged: zip drive, powerpc, IBM, apple

Ah, sweet nostalgia.  It seems like only a short while ago that Apple was saved by IBM, and Motorola, granting access to the PowerPC chips which were near the top of the field back in 1991.  The Motorola 68K was falling behind the Pentium MMX chips in PCs and Apple needed some way to compete in the market and the 200-MHz 603e PowerPC was the answer.  Now history is repeating itself with a partnership between IBM and Apple to bring iPhone apps to the enterprise, with apps specifically for enterprise environments as well as updates to existing apps to make them more enterprise friendly.  Read up on your history, or refresh your memories of times gone by as well as what this partnership will bring in the future on Slashdot.

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"Apple and IBM, which just announced partnership to bring iOS and cloud services to enterprises, have helped each other before. IBM played a key role in turning the Macintosh into a successful hardware platform at a point when it — and the company itself — were struggling. Nearly 25 years ago, IBM was a part of an alliance that gave Apple access to PowerPC chips for Macintosh systems that were competitive, if not better performing in some benchmarks, than the processors Intel was producing at the time for Windows PCs."

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Source: Slashdot

Get some help choosing your next mobile device

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | June 18, 2014 - 10:57 AM |
Tagged: Transformer, tablet, laptop, Chromebook, apple

If you are overwhelmed by the choice of mobile products on the market and are looking for a little guidance this article at The Tech Report is a good resource.  Their staff have picked out what they feel are the best mobile devices from tablets to transformer pads to full sized laptops.   You can choose between several models in each category depending on your budget, as the best solutions tend to be the most expensive.  The budget models are nothing to sneer at though as even on the low end mobile devices pack a lot more power than they used to.

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"Earlier this year, we revised the structure of the TR System Guide to focus exclusively on PC components. Our aim was to cover peripherals and mobile gear in separate articles. We posted our first standalone peripheral picks in April, and today, we're completing the set with our first standalone mobile staff picks."

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Apple and Google-Motorola Stop Suing Each Other

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | May 17, 2014 - 01:07 AM |
Tagged: Lawsuit, google, apple

If we all could just get along and get back to work...

On Friday, May 16th, Apple and Google (including the remains of its Motorola Mobility division) released a joint statement marking the end of all patent litigation between the two companies. The two companies have been in legal warfare for three-and-a-half years, now. The two companies will also "work together in some areas of patent reform". It is unclear what that actually means.

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This decision does not seem to affect Apple's ongoing litigation with Samsung. Those two companies are still in a famous and fierce skirmish over mankind's greatest UX innovations, like slide-to-unlock and the little bounce that happens when you scroll to the end of a list too fast. Those are, honestly, the issues that we are facing. I have a suggestion for an area to reform...

... but that has been beaten to death for years, now. It, at least, shows a willingness to cooperate going forward. It also shows a slight bit more promise for products like Ubuntu on phones, Firefox OS, and even smaller initiatives. You can say what you like about the current litigation, but closing the road for independent developers with great and innovative ideas is terrible and bad for society. Unique smartphones could be made, each with slide-to-unlock, just like unique OSes can use icons and web browsers can use tabs.

Source: Reuters

TSMC scores a big win over Samsung

Subject: General Tech | March 7, 2014 - 11:02 AM |
Tagged: apple, Samsung, TSMC, rumour

According to the inside information that The Inquirer acquired, the next generation of Apple's SoC will be fabbed by TSMC not Samsung.  The A8 will be a 64bit quad-core processor of unknown speed with a GPU described as a four-cluster configuration similar to the PowerVR G6430.  This is not terribly surprising considering the abusive relationship that Apple and Samsung have developed over the past few years and will certainly swell TSMC's coffers.  Even better TSMC will also pick up the manufacturing other parts of a variety of Apple devices, check the (rumoured) list out here.

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"The next generation of Apple's custom system on a chip (SoC) for mobile devices will be manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) rather than Samsung, and so will several other chips to be used in the forthcoming iPhone 6, a report has claimed."

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Source: The Inquirer

Nobody loves the iPhone 5c

Subject: General Tech | November 19, 2013 - 11:16 AM |
Tagged: foxconn, apple, iphone 5c, iphone 5s

It would seem that the lower priced iPhone 5c is not very popular with Apple fans as the 5s model has sold twice as many units.  This has required some changes be made to production lines at Foxconn and Pegatron as Apple's sales estimates of the two models were way off.  Until the lines can be retooled to ramp up production of the more expensive model you can expect to wait a bit for your shiny new iThang to arrive.  DigiTimes doesn't mention what will happen to existing supplies of 5c's, they may simply age in a warehouse until someone is willing to pay full price for one.

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"Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn is shutting down production of the iPhone 5c in one of its factories in order to shift production to the higher-end iPhone 5s, sources claim."

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Source: The Register