A lot of speculation and assumptions are being made about Apple's new A7 and M7 chips in the iPhone 5s and it's jump to 64-bit. Some say its pointless to have a 64-bit chip in a mobile device at this point because it'll be years before iDevices need more than 4GB's of RAM. They suggest Apple only did this for marketing purposes, nonsense. While there are other advantages of a 64-bit processor I believe the ultimate reason Apple made the leap has yet to be revealed. It's no accident Apple calls the iPhone 5s, "The most forward-thinking iPhone yet".
Apple has rarely, if ever played the "speeds and feeds" game when it comes to the specs of their hardware. Sure they'll give you the basics but they typically don't spend a lot of time telling you about technicalities unless it relates to a specific feature. So when Apple does announce they're moving to a 64-bit chip architecture, I have to believe it's for a reason, even if it's not immediately apparent.
A7 Processor (64-bit)
There are two possible areas where I believe Apple may have reason to move their mobile chips to 64-bit so soon.
If Apple were looking to move the MacBook Air line to their own custom ARM chips (instead of Intel) they would have to be 64-bit. Of course today's Arm chips aren't as powerful as the I5 Intel chips currently used in MacBook Airs but Apple could be preemptively preparing for the change. It'll be interesting to see how the A7 performs in benchmark test next week. In the past, ARM chips haven't even come close to matching the power of Intel's chips but perhaps in a couple more generations and a faster clock speed they could come close. While ARM is trying to become more powerful, Intel is trying to become more power efficient. It'll be interesting to see who'll reach the sweet spot first. Intel's recent chip architecture, Haswell has increased current Macbook Air battery life about 20-30% (12hrs). Moving to an ARM chip could provide multiple days of battery life and an even thinner and lighter design for an entry level Macbook Air. There's still at lot of things that need to be considered besides the power of the chip before Apple could make the switch, but it's an interesting idea to consider.
When Apple releases a new chip it usually gets used across all of their iOS devices (iPhones, iPads and Apple TVs). The current Apple TV is using the A5 chip which was first released in the iPhone 4S and iPad 2. If Apple is truly gearing up to release an updated Apple TV set-top box or an actual TV that may be reason enough to convert to 64-bit now. An all new Apple TV with 4GB+ of RAM, A7 processor combined with some type of TV subscription service or App Store could be an interesting proposition. The blog CannyVision makes a great case why Apple may want a powerful Apple TV to better compete with the upcoming Playstation 4 and Xbox One. While I can't imagine Apple aggressively going after the relatively small hardcore gaming market, I can see them making a play at a more casual gaming audience. Let's also not forget the game controller APIs that were added in iOS 7. While the games won't directly compete with the latest consoles, Infinity Blade 3 (shown on the iPhone 5s) is approaching Xbox 360/PS3 level of graphical fidelity.
But like the iPhone and iPad, gaming would just be an added bonus to Apple's primary target, disrupting the television. While they've recently added a lot more channels to the Apple TV, I don't expect any new hardware until they have the proper content deals in place. Without content, the fancy hardware and software is ultimately meaningless. However they decided to approach the content problem (IPTV service or an App Store), a 64-bit A7 processor with 4GB+ RAM and storage would make for a compelling media/gaming device.
Announced with the iPhone 5s, the M7 chip will be a low-energy coprocessor that's designed to measure motion data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass. It'll take over these responsibilities from the primary chip but do it constantly, using much less battery power. It'll be able to tell when you're walking, running, or even driving and 3rd party apps will be able to access that information for a number of types of apps. The obvious use care for this type of data is in the health and fitness category. In the short-term it seems like a great way to introduce iPhone users to quantified-self apps. In the long-term it seems like the first step into the wearable computing device Apple is rumored to be working on. I can imagine the M7 being implemented into Apple's wearable product the same way they leverage their ARM chips across multiple devices to drive down cost.
Apple announced during their event that only about 50% of iPhone users have pass codes on their phones. More and more our entire lives are being stored on our smartphones and security will continue to be of an upmost importance. As Apple continues to build features into iOS that will require you store even more sensitive information about you, it's important that iPhones have an incredibly easy way for everyone to secure their devices and authenticate themselves. Robert Scoble talks about how we'll all have a "personal cloud" soon in which our personal data is stored and is intertwined with our smartphones, wearable computers and Low Power Bluetooth sensors around the world. I believe Apple is marching to this future with iCloud, iWatch/iBand, iBeacon, Siri, Passbook etc. All of the groundwork is being laid now.
Horace Dediu of Asymco.com said something about the Touch ID that makes a lot of sense when think of Apple moving into this "personal cloud" space. "....they want to make it easy [security], but preserve the trust. This method is going to boost the usage of secure log-ins...thus increasing trust fundamentally in the data, the cloud and every other asset you're going to unlock with this device."
Both the iPhone 5s and iOS 7 seem to hint at what Apple has planned for the future. Eighteen months from now, we may look back at the iPhone 5s announcement in hindsight as the real start of Tim Cook's vision for Apple.