Intel: future iPhone to be Atom powered
ARM emulation in place, sort of - just waiting for the right chip?
An Intel executive has apparently claimed a future iPhone will be based upon the chip giant's Atom processor.
Speaking in Germany, one Hannes Schwaderer, Intel's MD for Central Europe, made the claim, according to a German-language ZDNet report.
Sachwderer also promised a raft of Atom-based devices in the next 12 months, all of them "a bit bigger than the iPhone".
Of course, what one Intel executive claims and what Apple will actually do are two separate things. More to the point, the current generation of Atom isn't sufficiently power efficient for device as small as the iPhone.
The 'Silverthorne' Atoms, launched last month, are aimed at what Intel calls Mobile Internet Devices. Yes, that's a term that could be applied to the iPhone, but what the chip maker has in mind are larger, more tablet-like devices not gadgets like phones.
For that, we have to wait until 2009-2010 when 'Moorestown', the next generation of Atom, complete with on-board graphics and a power consumption characteristic suitable for phones, is due to ship.
Even then, will Apple shift from the ARM chip the iPhone currently uses? It could. The current iPhone Software Development Kit already includes an iPhone emulator. Since that code runs on Intel's x86 architecture and is, therefore, fully compatible with Atom, running iPhone emulation on a future, Atom-based handset isn't beyond the bounds of possibility.
Emulation would be essential to allow Apple to carry forward all the third-party development work done on iPhone software up to that point.
We shall see...
Alun Taylor contributed to this report
And yet MS must have known it was burning a portability bridge when it discarded NT on Alpha and focused on x86.
While the ARM chip stands still
As others have pointed out, Intel has already denied this, but nevertheless another thing that shows it makes no sense is the assumption that the ARM chips will just sit still waiting for the Intel Atom chips to catch up. If the Atom chips have finally achieved the same heat/power characteristics as the ARM chips by 2009/2010, won't the ARM chips have done even better in the interim? I guess it's possible that there are other considerations, such as x86 compatibility, Intel's marketing clout etc, but heat/power are very important for a small mobile device.
It's a moving target
By the time Intel get x86 down to current ARM power levels, ARM would have moved on to the next level. x86 will always be playing catchup in this space.
As another poster said, most software porting is a matter of setting compiler flags. It is not the software that is keeping designed committed to ARM, it is the fact that ARM uses less power to do the same job.
These days most higher-level software is close to being CPU agnostic: Linux, BSD etc. That's why Ubuntu can roll out an ARM version with a bit of effort.
Most x86 lock-in is forced by Windows. Anyone rolling out portable x86 systems (including EEPC and OLPC) are doing this so that they could keep the door open to run Windows. If these devices were ARM based, you could have better battery life (or smaller batteries), simpler circuit boards (less power being converted, higher chip function densities) and less cost.