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The smartphone is moving into a laptop, as a start…

The new M1 Apple chip may be more than producing chip in house by Apple. It might signal the turning point when everything becomes a smartphone at the core. Image credit: Apple

Few days ago I read an interesting article on Wired discussing the announcement of new Apple Mac products embedding the M1, the chip developed by Apple. It is not the first time Apple develops chips for its products but it is the first time it does so for its Mac lines. So far the in-house chips targeted the iPhone and iPad.

The M1 adopts the 5nm technology already used in the newest version of the iPad and iPhone chip, the A14, packing over 11 billion transistors. The M1 packs 16 billion transistors, to run 8-core SoC (System on Chip). Interestingly, of the 8-cores 4 are high performance cores with 192KB of instruction cache plus 128 KB of data cache, the other 4 are high-performance (read low power consumption) flanked by 128 KB of instruction cache and 64 KB of data cache. All cores share a 4MB on-chip storage.

Let’s turn to the interesting part. Apple designed the M1 leveraging on the A14 and now the new Macs can run the apps that run on the iPhone/iPad (with minor modifications). It also inherits the low power capability resulting in 18 hours of autonomy. The A14 chip was designed for portable devices, hence it took into consideration the need for energy saving as well as the need for being “autonomous” as much as possible, that is able to run applications with minimum connectivity requirement. This is quite a change of paradigm, since in the past mobile devices trade power with connectivity, deferring processing as much as possible to the infrastructure (servers, cloud…). Artificial intelligence run in the cloud and delivers results to the device.

Now, as more processing power becomes available in the device, AI moves to the device and use connectivity to share results with the web, when needed.

This shift is just beginning but the trend is clear. This is setting the scene to the “very interesting” part: the embedding of smartphones into laptops and eventually, as price keeps decreasing, into any object.

In the near future our laptop will be powered by a smartphone “hardware” and software. It will be a connected device, not because it has a radio module but because it is a “smartphone”. That will be just a beginning. Many objects will embed a smartphone hardware and software, the soul of a smartphone, and will be part of a local network. 6G will both enable this new scenario and be the outcome of it, a fabric connecting autonomous systems.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.