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Smartphones showing the way to the future of personal computers

The Apple M1 chip is inheriting plenty of “stuff” from smartphones chips, that is what makes it so fast. The dark grey rectangles to the right are the RAM. Image credit: Mike Thornton

The new Apple M1 chip has been around for a few months now and the feedback on its performance are so impressive that quite a few people are asking how is that possible. A low cast Mac Mini is now offering better performance than last year Mac Pro that had a price tag several times higher.

I read a nice article explaining in details the reason for such amazing performances and if you want to look into the details take a look at it.

The key point is that Apple has managed to include in a single chip what used to be spread on several chips (CPU, GPU, RAM, …) and this proximity -plus the architecture that provides a shared memory between the CPUs and GPUs- speeds up the access and sharing of data.

More than that. Apple has taken advantage from its experience on chips for their iPhones model. Chips powering a smartphone have to take power consumption very seriously, both to have the battery last longer (and it is never enough) and to decrease the need for power dissipation (you don’t want to hold a hot brick in your hand). This requirements have led to very refined architectures and solutions that now can be used for laptops, increasing their battery life and getting rid of the cooling fans (this contribute to extend the battery life).

In a way the laptop is actually a smartphone with a much larger screen and a keyboard.

One of the advantages of Apple over their competitors is the control of the whole system, from the hardware to the software (OS). In this area as well we are seeing a convergence. Remember Steve Jobs keynote presenting the first iPhone? At that time he said that they were inheriting the OS used in their computers (a Unix derivative) into the iPhone, thus providing it with a solid OS.

Well, now the process is being reversed. The new M1 chip is supposed to run, native, the smartphone OS (and this is why the apps developed for the IOS can now run on the new Macs). Here again, at the software level, we are seeing the smartphone morphing into a PC:

You can bet this is the future: there is no reason (apart for marketing may be) not o have the new laptops including the radio part, as if they were smartphone, thus providing direct connection to the web (possibly with a soft SIM controlled by the PC manufacturer). The 6G era will surely see this kind of devices, with every microprocessor doubling up as a radio gateway that is also a network node.

The (future) increased availability of edge computing will first be used by our laptops and smartphones and then our laptops and smartphones (plus smart goggles, vehicles, appliances) will become an integral part of the edge, creating both a communication and a processing/storage infrastructure at the edge delivering – guess what- federated emerging intelligence.  These are the topics we are addressing in the Digital Reality Initiative in 2021. If you are interested click and join. The more we are the more fun!

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.