After top smartphone makers announced new products at Mobile World Congress this week, Apple's iPhone 5s remains the only 64-bit handset available. But with new chips announced at the show and 64-bit Android now ready, competitive handsets are only a few months away.
After months of careful preparation, Intel announced its dual-core Atom chip code-named Merrifield, a 64-bit chip that it says will come out in handsets during the second quarter. Not many device makers sell smartphones with Intel chips, and it remains unclear who will sell Intel-based 64-bit smartphones. But Intel has signed multi-year product deals with Asus, Lenovo and Foxconn, who will sell x86-based products including mobile devices.
[ Also on InfoWorld: Galaxy S5, Nokia 'Windroid,' BlackBerry Q20: The hype hits the fan. | Get mobile application strategies that work from InfoWorld's Digital Spotlight PDF special report on enabling mobile in your business. | For quick, smart takes on the news you'll be talking about, check out InfoWorld TechBrief -- subscribe today. ]
Closer competition to Apple will come from Qualcomm, whose new Snapdragon 615 eight-core and 610 quad-core chips will be in handsets by the fourth quarter. The new Snapdragon chips are similar to Apple's A7 64-bit chips, with CPUs based on ARM's 64-bit ARMv8 architecture. The Snapdragon 615 could be overkill for smartphones, but it does stand out, with features such as an integrated LTE modem, a video decoder for H.265 4K video, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi technology.
MediaTek, which typically supplies chips for lower-priced handsets, announced its own 64-bit chip for affordable high-end smartphones. The eight-core MT6752 has integrated LTE, 1080p video capabilities, 16-megapixel camera support and other features. Mediatek's chip will become commercially available in the third quarter, though the company did not say when smartphones with its chips would appear.
One disappointment at MWC was Samsung, which announced the highly anticipated Galaxy S5 smartphone with 32-bit chips. The S5 was supposed to be Samsung's answer to the iPhone 5s, but it will launch initially with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 801 and Samsung's new Exynos 5 Octa 5422 eight-core chip, which is based on ARM's older Cortex-A15 and A7 cores.
Nvidia said in January that its first 64-bit ARM chip, called Tegra K1, would be in smartphones and tablets by the second half of this year.
After the iPhone 5s launched, industry observers questioned the benefits of putting 64-bit chips in smartphones. But smartphone makers are moving ahead, and none wants to be seen as lagging behind Apple, said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates.
"I don't think device makers are desperate, but they need to be on a par with Apple at least from a marketing perspective," Gold said. "Being able to say they have 64 bit is important, at least at the high end of devices."
Handsets could take nine months to a year to reach the market after a chip is announced, said Ian Ferguson, vice president of segment marketing at ARM.
When they arrive, the 64-bit chips will bring new features to smartphones and some applications will benefit, Ferguson said.