Move to 64-bit Android phones accelerating, says ARM

ARM tells CNET that the shift to 64-bit devices is taking place faster than expected. Part of the reason is that even 32-bit code runs faster on ARM's newest 64-bit chips.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
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Phone and tablet makers are rushing to embrace 64-bit designs, surprising even those executives behind the chip platform.

Tom Lantzsch, ARM's executive vice president of corporate strategy, spoke with CNET after the company reported first-quarter earnings on Wednesday.

ARM supplies virtually all of the basic processor designs for phones and tablets running on Android.

"Certainly, we've had big uptick in demand for mobile 64-bit products. We've seen this with our [Cortex] A53, a high-performance 64-bit mobile processor," he said.

This caught the chip designer's executives off guard, as they believed that 64-bit ARM would only be needed for corporate servers in the initial phase of the technology's rollout.

"We've been surprised at the pace that [64-bit] is now becoming mobile centric. Qualcomm, MediaTek, and Marvell are examples of public 64-bit disclosures," he said.

This echoes comments from a Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. executive last week, who said the conversion to 64-bit has in the mobile device industry accelerated in the last six months after Apple made its 64-bit A7 processor -- also an ARM design -- announcement.

So, when will the transition to 64-bit processors happen for Android phones and tablets?

"We believe the capability will be there for a 64-bit phone by Christmas," he said, referring to phones and tablets with 64-bit bit processors.

Lantzsch could not comment about when a 64-bit version of Android would be released. All software, nevertheless, will run faster, he said.

"Even existing 32-bit code will run more efficiently on [ARM's 64-bit] v8-A architecture than on native 32-bit ARM architecture" he said, referring to the company's newest processors like the Cortex-A53 chip.

"The architecture itself allows for more efficiency in the code. So, that means better battery life, quicker responsiveness, better features," he added.

And when 64-bit software finally does arrive, products could change in a big way.

"There will be early adopters. The applications with the most need will certainly go first. And then the rest will come over time," he said.