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Apple seeks specialist for iPhone ARM upgrade

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An upgraded ARM processor may power future iPhones, if the requirements in an Apple job posting for experienced chip-level programming talent are any indication.

Spotted by sharp eyes at MacRumors, the posting for a "High Perform/Low Level Programmer" on Apple's Job Opportunities site list among its requirements "excellent understanding and knowledge of processor architecture, specifically ARM and its vector unit NEON." Responsibilities would include "designing, enhancing and improving various subsystems running on iPhone OS."

The iPhone and iPod touch are currently powered by the ARMv6 architecture. The aforementioned NEON technology is part of the ARMv7 architecture used in the single-core ARM Cortex-A8 and the multicore ARM Cortex-A9.

NEON is similar to Intel's SSE and the PowerPC's AltiVec engines - also mentioned in the job posting - in that it's a single-instruction, multiple-data (SIMD) scheme specifically designed for processing media such as video and audio. According to ARM, NEON provides twice the performance of the SIMD engine in the ARMv6 processor.

Apple being Apple, there's no way to know whether the hiring of an NEON-experienced coder is an addition to an already existing NEON-experienced team, or if this lucky guy or gal will spearhead a new effort. If the latter, his or her contributions will undoubtedly not be ready in time for the next generation of iPhones, widely rumored to appear this summer.

There's been a wide array of speculation as to what processor or processors will power Apple's next handhelds - or, for that matter, a tablet or other mobile internet device (MID). Some point to Apple's acquisition last year of chip-design company PA Semi and the recent hiring of chip-smart AMD folks to indicate that the company is creating its own chip division.

Others point to an Nvidia-supplied ARM processor, new mobile graphics chips from Imagination Technologies (of which Apple owns a hefty chunk), and even the upcoming Moorestown mobile platform from Apple's Mac-processor partner, Intel, which is scheduled for release next year.

Whatever Apple's future plans may be, this job posting gives us a glimpse into the company's current activities. No matter what's cooking in the labs of Cupertino, Apple appears to be keeping its options open and continuing work with the ARM architecture. ®

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