Apple seeks specialist for iPhone ARM upgrade
Neon job posting
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. ®
did job adverts become newsworthy?
SHOCK HORROR. Apple want to employ engineer with ARM experience. And they already use ARM in their products. And some other stuff which isn't as good.
Woah. Meanwhile, in other news, Microsoft are looking for engineers with Intel experience, and PC world are looking for people who can write their own name.
Perhaps AlitVec experience is required as Apple will be wanting new employe to convert AlitVec based code from parts of OSX through to the ARM world for the iPhone OS?
x86 -> ARM
I have for a while suspected that Apple plans to move their entire line of computers to the ARM processor. After all, the shift from PPC to x86 was in part motivated by power use (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Intel_transition#Reasons) and ARM is much better than x86 in this department (in spite of Intel's attempt at lower-power CPUs). What is currently missing are high-performance ARM processors, but with Cortex A9, ARM processors will start to compete with x86 even in this area.
More important is that Apple can license ARM and include it in their own SoCs, which isn't (AFAIK) possible with x86. The recent acquirements and hirings hint that Applw is, indeed, planning this. SoCs have their greatest benefit in small portable devices (like iPhone or iPod), but it will also enable Apple to make thinner laptops and desktops with smaller form factor (or integrated in keyboards or screens).
Apple may even do like Marvell and license just the instruction set and build their own ARM processor cores. This way, Apple won't have to wait for others to plug the performance gap. There is nothing in the ARM design that precludes high-performance designs. In fact, I think it is easier to make a high-performance ARM than a high-performance x86 -- especially if you want to keep power usage low.