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Apple

The Genius In Apple's Vertical Platform 432

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the a-tad-optimistic dept.
Precision found a nice little piece of speculation on the real reason behind Apple's recent efforts to restrict app development to XCode. While the standard given reason is to kill competition from Flash and other stacks, this story speculates that the real reason has to do with the unusually large die size of the A4 processor inside the iPads. Worth a quick read.
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The Genius In Apple's Vertical Platform

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  • by capt.Hij (318203) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @09:25AM (#31857412) Homepage Journal
    It is a well written, well reasoned article. It even makes sense. It is also pure speculation. Basically it comes down to "die too big" == "epic win" This is tech, and we can do better than this.
  • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @09:29AM (#31857448)

    Not the vertical integration, but the simple "Ok you're Applications are compatible now"

    Apple has moved from 68k to PPC to OS X to Intel to ARM to (proposed) POWER) for both 32/64 bit and all it took in those last steps was flag in the compiler.

    68k emulation in PPC was decent. Classic mode worked for most applications and Rosetta was as seamless as it gets. I understand that Microsoft has a ton of backwards compatibility they need to maintain, but if a company the fraction of your size can do it, why can't you?

    Yes "FAT" Binaries are larger, but given how cheap HD space is, it's not too much of a concern of mine. (I gained more space deleting other languages). But to have a single, double clickable .app that runs on 4 platforms (PPC, Intel / 32, 64bit), naively.

    Side note, and legitimate question, does Linux do fat binaries? Can I compile something that runs on my AMD64 and ARM machines and put it on a thumb drive?

  • by carlhaagen (1021273) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @09:32AM (#31857504)
    What is not speculation is the debate over whether or not the A4 is an ARM core: it *is* an ARM core. Just disassembling the output shows it at once. It also takes an idiot to believe Apple would spend even more time writing an ARM emulator core for PowerPC just to make sure their iPad runs software compiled with the iPhone SDK. This isn't another case of PowerPC->Intel switch. Geez.
  • by MrHanky (141717) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @09:34AM (#31857524) Homepage Journal

    No, the article doesn't make sense at all. Why assume the A4 is a dual-core PowerPC when it's built for an OS that restricts the use of multitasking? It's almost like suggesting using four wheel drive on a motorcycle. This writer is just a total and utter wanker, predicting 50% speed increases for reasons founded in pure fantasy. Bullshit story.

  • by AnonymousClown (1788472) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @09:34AM (#31857530)
    FTFA:

    Apple can essentially treat the CPU as a commodity—and this will enable them to continually adjust 'make vs buy' strategies, wield incredible power over suppliers, and build a long-term halo around their platform.

    I found that to be very interesting. Instead of the old strategy of having multiple kernels for each processor out there and having the customer choose which version they want, Apple is doing the choosing; which puts them in the driver's seat.

    The Micro kernel type of software design never really seemed to take off - Intel killed off or sidelined the other CPU suppliers and it made the Micro kernel a moot point and made Intel the dominant CPU maker out there. AMD still has to follow Intel's lead, btw.

    What Apple is doing.....Intel should be very afraid of the future. Apple also needs to be careful because many of their innovations are going to be copied - they will have to protect that brand vehemently.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 15, 2010 @09:35AM (#31857560)

    The article is interesting, but incorrect.

    Converting from to objective-C is fine for the purposes he's talking about (allowing the compiler to build to 'native', where 'native' can change over time.) If you have a language that is 1:1 with C/ObjC and easily translated (there are many), then this argument is entirely moot.

    (Further, its not just Flash we're talkin gabout.. BASIC, assembler, python, etc, are all impacted and outlawed (again.)) Heck, numerous games use ARM asm, which is now outlawed .. the ASM is to provide superior performance, as Xcode (gcc) is decent compiler, but no match for hand tooled assembly in 'just the right places'. (Don't argue this; compiles are great, but talk to emulation authors for ARM devices about dropping in a few lines of ASM :)

    So no, its not really about native compilation speed. Its about blocking non-Apple tools, with the pretend reason that Apple makes the best tools.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 15, 2010 @09:36AM (#31857564)

    The article is saying the ipad is running an emulator for ARM and that at some time in the future, apps (requiring xcode) will be compiled for PowerPC rather than ARM, skipping the emulator and running at higher performance. Wouldn't one expect debugging under this scenario to give ARM code?

  • by Webz (210489) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @09:41AM (#31857644)

    They can't /because/ they're big. Sure they can do a lot of things from a resource perspective. But inertia is holding them back. Organizational constraints. More people have to want change and agree to change than a small, agile company.

    It's all about inertia.

  • by MikeFM (12491) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @09:43AM (#31857684) Homepage Journal
    Except Apple is gradually adding multitasking. OS 4 is getting much closer to a final solution. They're just taking the time to do it right. Even if the processor is multicore it's still not a 6 core Xeon so they can't just waste CPU time. Unlike most manufacturers they actually care about not pushing out a crap product with all the bells and whistles that won't actually work well.

    I don't think it makes sense not to allow code translation to Obj-C though. I don't know how they can really enforce that anyway since the code can look just like any other code and compile just as well (if not better - thanks to good optimization by the translator).
  • by plover (150551) * on Thursday April 15, 2010 @09:46AM (#31857728) Homepage Journal

    The article is missing a big point: it IS ARM. Just debugging the code shows it is ARM, not PPC.

    I think you missed the point entirely. His speculation is that because the chip is so big, he thinks the extra space on the chip might actually be a native Power processor, and that the CPU is currently running the code in an hardware-based ARM emulator, rather than executing on-die ARM instructions.

    Then, when OS XI comes out for the iPad, it'll be written in native Power instructions and the chip will execute new apps twice as fast.

  • by DrgnDancer (137700) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @09:54AM (#31857850) Homepage

    Given that iPhone OS 4 was well into development when the iPad was released (since it went into developer beta literally days later), and was almost certainly in the planning stages while the hardware of the iPad was being chosen; and given that iPhone OS 4 support multitasking.... Your argument make no sense at all. Not that I don't agree that the writer is quite likely wrong, but your reasoning is completely flawed.

  • by dc29A (636871) * on Thursday April 15, 2010 @09:55AM (#31857854)

    Why does everyone think this has anything to do with technical issues? This is all about lock in, 100% pure business move.

    Apple doesn't want cross compilers because that makes the iPhone just another smartphone because everyone and their dogs will be writing code for smartphones, not iPhones exclusively. Apple has to maintain the image of the iPhone to be unique, not just the 'PC' of smartphones. If cross compiling is allowed, and a person is fed up with the iPhone, nothing stops him/her/it to switch to a WM7, RIM or Android phone. Why? Because the software is probably available on those systems. Now, if some developers will stay iPhone exclusive because of the hassle of maintaining two codebases (One CS5 cross compilable and one Apple approved), people will have harder time to migrate to other platforms because their precious software only runs on iPhone OS. Why don't people switch to Linux en masse? MS Office + DirectX. Apple wants the exact same platform lock in for smarphones as the one Microsoft has achieved for PCs.

    Führer Jobs is shit scared of Android, that's why the new draconian developer restrictions (and HTC patent suits), not because some [insert technical excuse here]. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your point of view) Adobe is going to be collateral damage unless Flash on Android/ChromeOS takes off heavily. Jobs wants to stop the Android momentum at all cost, because if he doesn't, iPhone will be the 'Mac' and Android will be the 'PC'.

    Disclosure: I have an iPhone 3GS.

  • by bickerdyke (670000) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @09:58AM (#31857930)

    I understand that Microsoft has a ton of backwards compatibility they need to maintain, but if a company the fraction of your size can do it, why can't you?

    Because they only have a fraction of the software?

    Because Apple always has been in the position to NOT care about hardware compatibility issues?

  • by Telephone Sanitizer (989116) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:00AM (#31857978)

    http://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/Apple-A4-Teardown/2204/1 [ifixit.com]

    It's not a "dual core Power Architecture."

    According to the teardown, the chip is "quite similar to the Samsung processor Apple uses in the iPhone."

    iFixit concluded that it was a Cortex A8 in there and I've seen nothing to contradict that.

  • by MikeURL (890801) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:02AM (#31858012) Journal
    If it were a change in policy I'd find it interesting. But Apple has been a closed platform pretty much since the very beginning. Along the way they have alternately paid a huge price for their insistence onthis policy and they have also been greatly rewarded. However, what they have not done is bend one inch from the basic philosophy that Apple controls the user experience on its products.

    This aspect of Apple really, really, should not be news anymore.
  • by Albanach (527650) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:19AM (#31858248) Homepage

    Even if the processor is multicore it's still not a 6 core Xeon so they can't just waste CPU time.

    Yes, I hated the way I could only run one application at a time on my Pentium 3 desktop.

    Seriously now, we've been multitasking for a very long time with /single core CPUs. It's a pretty poor excuse to say .we're taking out time to do it right'

  • by mzs (595629) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:19AM (#31858254)

    I agree the article writer is a moron. I thought you might appreciate this though. I have a newer HP calculator. Since HP years ago laid-off all of the calculator division, no one was left when they made the HP50. An outside group put that one together. It has an ARM and uses an emulator to run much of the old Saturn software from the HP48. It seems to run just as long on a set of batteries as my 48S and 48G did, and it is incredibly faster running the old stuff.

  • by Archimonde (668883) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:25AM (#31858328) Homepage

    So what? Is using words now a crime? Well, not a crime, but immoral?

    Do nazis have a copyright on that phrase? We used "final solution" alot in my math classes. Does that make my teacher a nazi?

    Get a grip man. We have to learn from the past, but leave aside stupidity and ideology in history where it belongs.

  • by Weezul (52464) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:26AM (#31858344)

    Apple cannot make money by first deploying the A4 processor then switching away after another chip beats it, they'd lose that massive investment in chip development.

    Apple might've noticed different constraints for the iPad and iPhone, deploying their own chip for the iPad while using other ARM chips for iPhones. Yes, maybe that's true, but agility doesn't matter there, correct forecasting matters.

    Apple's most likely benefits from the A4 are :
    (1) processor related intellectual property gives them an advantage when buying other chips, i.e. Apple has proven themselves litigious assholes over the last few years
    (2) iPads are far less constrained than iPhones, i.e. save money deploying a slightly faster but overall inferior chip, also cut out the real chip designers when you can get away with designing them yourself.

  • by Nerdfest (867930) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:27AM (#31858350)
    Well, now they're insisting on controlling the developer experience as well.
  • by Archangel Michael (180766) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:27AM (#31858358) Journal

    I believe this guy is onto something. However, I don't think he's gone far enough in his projections.

    Here's what I think. Apple realizes that processors are commodities. They have a tool chain that makes nicely optimized compiled code from multiple processors.

    Apple realizes that it cannot compete with WinTel, but even more than that, doesn't even want to. Wintel is strapped to ancient technologies and trying to break free from those techs (x86) has proven to be nearly impossible for all (Intel, Microsoft, AMD). They HAVE to keep backwards compatibility.

    Apple is going further towards abstraction away from the hardware for all things that don't need to depend on hardware, which will allow them to continue to move from platform to platform as one platform stagnates (Power) to one that is improving(x86). Now that x86 is stuck in between 32 and 64bit HELL, Apple is poised to move to a new platform architecture that isn't limited by 30+ years of legacy holding it back.

    In the end, Apple will be able to build or order chips from the people showing the best capabilities, no matter what they are. It is actually something that makes a lot more sense than holding onto 30 year old technology just for the sake of holding onto 30 year old technology.

    This is not a bad thing. This will break the WinTel monopoly. I believe Apple knows the endgame for this is here. Wintel used to be the commodity item, now it is a single vendor solution, and Apple is providing a better product that "Just Works" (tm), one that people are willing to pay a small premium for.

    This is why people like Taco make "lame" comments, because it isn't about Ghz, Giga, Tera or anything else, it is about being useful without being hassled. My wife doesn't care about specs, she cares about doing stuff, and it being easy.

    Would you buy a toaster based on wattage used, types of heater elements, what kind of processor is used for the timing mechanism? Or do you buy a toaster to make toast? Apple is making toasters; sealed appliances. And abstracting the function away from the hardware makes perfect sense, then the hardware matters less than functionality.

  • by Viol8 (599362) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:36AM (#31858482)

    Its essentially OS/X under the hood - ie unix. However apple have deliberately set it up so GUI apps are suspended when minimised (or whatever you want to call it). So its not a case of how well the OS does multitasking , its a case of how well apple have made it look like it can't.

  • by hattig (47930) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:44AM (#31858578) Journal

    The Chipworks analysis is solid. It is a 45nm die. It's 53.3mm^2, compared to the 65nm 73mm^2 3GS die.

    The author assumed perfect scaling of transistor density, thus he came up with an additional ~50m transistors on the new die.

    1MB of L2 cache (6T) is 6 * 8 * 2^32 transistors, + L2 cache tags. That's 50m transistors at least. If the 3GS CPU had a 256KB L2, this one could have a 1MB L2. It would account for a lot of the performance increase as well. If there are more spare transistors, then maybe the power management is more aggressive (requiring transistors), or the graphics are better, or a myriad of other options.

    Hopefully Chipworks will be able to grind the A4 die down to a lower metal layer, and get to see the actual functional blocks on the die.

  • by Yenya (12004) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @10:53AM (#31858688) Homepage Journal

    no one in their right mind would ever use a CPU emulator on a mobile platform OS. It's one of the best ways to completely nuke your battery life, not to mention performance.

    Like, er, Transmeta?

  • by mini me (132455) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @11:04AM (#31858850)

    iPhone OS has supported multitasking since day one. The issue is finding a solution that prevents developers from doing stupid things, with respect to battery life, with their new-found multitasking abilities.

  • by hitmark (640295) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @11:07AM (#31858900) Journal

    at a "small" premium and a visit from a IBM representative to move a "magic" jumper.

    one thing the A4 speculation fails to take into account is that iphone os 4 is also to be used on existing iphone and ipod touch devices, and those clearly do not have a A4 under the hood. Now if the iphone os 4 was only to be found on new iphones and ipad, the speculation may have more merit. As it stands, any architecture change is more likely to happen at a later date; once more products with the A4 inside have been launched, and old devices without have been replaced or abandoned.

  • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @11:12AM (#31858972)

    the iPad has 10-12 hours of on in heavy use time. Everything else is an epic fail in comparison. I'd gladly give up features to get that kind of battery life from a windows tablet or a netbook.

    Asus netbooks have 10+ hours of battery life doing the things that are "heavy use" on the iPad (which are very light use on the netbook's scale).

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @11:30AM (#31859274) Journal

    The problem here is that the guy's (and yours) assumptions are irrelevant, in that everything you wrote is not an explanation for why Apple banned code translators from other languages to Objective-C. Those things just aren't affected by architecture changes.

    And the guy in TFA uses that ban as a starting point for his speculation...

  • by mini me (132455) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @11:52AM (#31859616)

    And that is why everyone is lining up to buy Palm devices and why they are not putting the company up for sale, right?

    Geeks, which I am assuming you tend towards because you are reading Slashdot, understand the limitations of multitasking and are generally willing to make the necessary sacrifices to allow for its use. iPhone users, on the other hand, are typically not geeks. They expect it to work perfectly out of the box. That is a hard problem when developers are generally free to execute any kind of code they wish, bugs and all.

    I have not had the pleasure of using a Pre myself, but the reviews I have heard are generally negative in regards to performance and battery life. That is the exact situation Apple is trying to avoid from developers who don't have the resources to do what Apple is able to do.

  • by recoiledsnake (879048) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @12:41PM (#31860330)

    If this is indeed the case, then iPhone OS 4.0 would bring incredible speed improvements to the iPad, since it would no longer run applications on an ARM processor emulator. Can you imagine if OS 4.0 improved the iPad’s speed by 50% on day 1? Apple would be heralded as a software God. But in order for these speed improvements to be realized, apps would need to be written in objective C—which is exactly what Apple is now telling developers to do.

    The writer doesn't realize that Adobe/MonoTouch were making a cross compiler from ActionScript/C# to Objective-C. So any improvements made to XCode will be available to those Apps too and if regular Apps are speeded up by 50%, so would the CS5 and MonoTouch Apps.

    Posters below have already explained what a bunch of crock the speculation that the processor is actually a Power CPU is. Anyway what can you expect from a blind fanboy who writes stuff like:

    Apple's DNA in this area is untouchable, helping it to innovate at the confluence of software and hardware.

    I find it fascinating that Apple has been so good at diverting attention to the Flash argument, that people don’t see the true genius behind Steve Job’s vision and moves. Apple is setting the stage to become one of the biggest winners in the storied history of vertically integrated companies.

    Huh? Wtf?

    Why is this crap posted on Slashdot anyway?

  • by Jurily (900488) <jurily&gmail,com> on Thursday April 15, 2010 @12:52PM (#31860466)

    Major software upgrades for the iPad are probably not going to be free (except maybe the first one).

    Don't suck the dick if you're not ready to swallow.

  • by moosesocks (264553) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @12:59PM (#31860550) Homepage

    That's not a solution for those of use who don't want to be constantly carrying around, swapping, recharging, and paying for spare batteries.

    It's a shame that nobody even seems to want to compete with Apple in terms of battery life.

    Like the GP mentioned -- it's hard to take any non-Apple laptops seriously these days, given just how superior their hardware is. Even if you can't easily swap the batteries, it doesn't really matter, because they already last more than twice as long as the competition.

    The non-removable battery isn't a Jobs-ian lockdown either. The design allows Apple to extrude a lithium-polymer battery to fit into all of the nooks and crannies of the computer's chassis, making more efficient use of the space inside the laptop, and therefore increasing capacity. If you find that it no longer holds a charge (unlikely, since Li-Pol batteries are supposedly more resilient than normal Li-ion cells) replacement takes only a few minutes with a screwdriver.

    (Long Disclaimer: I'm not an Apple fanboi per se. I disagree with their current politics. However, I'm a (very) satisfied owner of a 5-year-old 12" Powerbook that has served me incredibly well. Tough as nails, tiny, full-featured, and pretty fast back in its day. Few laptops today can make that claim. You'd be crazy to contest that Apple are the market leaders for laptop design, and have been for quite some time.)

  • by Mr Bubble (14652) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @01:12PM (#31860758)

    I just blew coffee out of my nose when you said Jobs is shit-scared of Android. First of all, I don't think Jobs is shit-scared of anything. Secondly, Android will never have more than 30% of the market, it's just going to be too fragmented of an offering with too many different hardware specs and too much control ceded to the carriers over os updates and app stores.

    But the main point is that Apple does not want to fill their platform up with mediocre apps written to support the lowest common denominator feature set and UI conventions. Apple users have put up with shit software for years from the likes of Adobe and other vendors who wished the Mac would just go away while they concentrated on Windows. Jobs is demanding excellent software for an excellent device - one that is programmed and compiled in a way that utilizes the OS frameworks to their fullest.

    And, more importantly, while the author's facts are wrong, the idea of the post is correct. If jobs allows another company to control the development trajectories of, say, even 10% of the apps on the store, Apple can no longer plan their product change and enhancement cycles around their own timeline - they will have to wait until companies like Adobe are ready to change their tools - and, history has proven that it can be a very long wait.

  • by Yakasha (42321) on Thursday April 15, 2010 @03:02PM (#31862482) Homepage

    Huh? Wtf?

    Why is this crap posted on Slashdot anyway?

    Same reason "Linux on the desktop" stories get published. People have different viewpoints of what "crap" is.

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