Ever since the first version of OS X, Apple has regularly released the kernel source code for Macs. In theory, you could learn from it or even build your own projects from it. For iOS, though? Not so simple. Even if you had source code, it wouldn’t matter much unless it was optimized for the ARM-based chips that you see in most phones and mobile tablets. However, Apple is shaking things up a bit. The company has quietly posted ARM-friendly source code for the XNU kernels used in iOS and macOS. That’s particularly relevant if you’re interested in iOS, since you now have code that would theoretically run on an iPhone or iPad. However, it’s not quite the breakthrough move it seems at first blush.
To start: this is just the kernel, the low-level code that governs the most critical functions. It doesn’t cover the interface, developer frameworks or apps… that is, the parts that truly define iOS or macOS. Those elements are still closed off, so you would have to build most of the platform from scratch. You won’t see iOS on a Galaxy S8 any time soon. Apple also offers a relatively limited source code license that isn’t as flexible as, say, the GPL license used for Linux.
Moreover, while the presence of ARM-based Mac code is bound to raise eyebrows, this doesn’t mean that you’re about to see a MacBook with an A11 Bionic chip inside. Apple has a long history of writing code for other architectures “just in case” (the PowerPC-to-Intel transition happened quickly because Apple already had code waiting in the wings), so it might never make the switch. You certainly aren’t about to install macOS on your ARM-based Chromebook. And besides, there are rumors of Apple developing ARM-based companion chips for Macs. It may need ARM code even if it has no intention of ditching Intel for CPUs.
All the same, it’s a welcome move. This gives app and OS developers a better sense of how Apple tackles basic system tasks, particularly on iOS. And yes, anyone ambitious enough to write a full operating system could use XNU as a starting point. It’s just not going to change the status quo for Apple.
Source: GitHub, Apple Open Source
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Google wasn’t shy about targeting its Pixel phones at iPhone users (it even helped them migrate), and now that similarity could extend to the processors under the hood. Variety has discovered that Google recently hired Manu Gulati, a key chip designer at Apple, to become its lead system-on-chip architect. While Gulati’s LinkedIn profile doesn’t say much about what he’s doing, sources claim that Google hired him with the goal of designing its own CPUs for Pixel phones. It’s looking for more chip experts, too, and has posted job listings or a “mobile SoC CPU architect” and similar roles.
We’ve reached out to Google for comment and will let you know if it can elaborate on the hire.
It’s not completely shocking that Google would go this route: there were rumblings in 2016 about Pixel phones eventually adopting custom processors. The big concern is whether or not it’s practical. Apple, Huawei and Samsung can all justify in-house CPUs because they sell many millions of devices every quarter. Google hasn’t divulged Pixel sales, but it’s safe to say they’re nowhere near as large as more established rivals with wider availability and bigger marketing budgets. If Variety is accurate, Google is betting either on the Pixel line’s continued growth or is willing to take the likely financial hit that comes with making chips in smaller batches.
The custom chip strategy could also make Google’s Android partners nervous. They’ve had to accept Google as a hardware competitor for years, to varying degrees, but they’ve also known that Nexus and Pixel phones were using off-the-shelf chips that reduced their ability to stand out. If Google can give itself a performance advantage through custom processors, that would change the game. The Pixel line would have an edge over the sea of Snapdragon-based phones on the market, and it might fare better against Huawei and Samsung phones. Apple wouldn’t have as much to worry about (it’s the only choice for iOS, after all), but it might sweat a bit if Google can brag about its hardware brawn.
Source: Variety, LinkedIn
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News leaked in late August that chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) and Apple were working shrinking the A11 processor set to go in next year’s iPhone down to 10nm. But to ensure it stays in business with the tech titan and other device manufacturers, TSMC is planning to build a new plant to build future chips at 5nm and 3nm sizes.
According to Nikkei Asian Review, TSMC announced the new $ 15.7 billion facility a day after Taiwan’s minister of science and technology, Yang Hung-duen, told local media about it. His ministry might select a site in Kaohsiung for the factory, which could start production as early as 2022.
That gives TSMC’s competitors a few years’ breathing room, but the race to smaller and smaller chips continues. While Intel claims it will produce a 10nm processor before its competitors, it conceded that production facilities equipped to pump out increasingly-smaller chips will only get more expensive. That’s why the company is slowing its two-year cycle “tick-tock” innovation cycle to reduce chip size every three years instead, focusing instead of improving internal architecture and performance in the interim.
But even that lead might not be enough: On a conference call back in January, TSMC said it has a plan to push out 7nm chips by 2017 and 5nm by 2020.
Source: Nikkei Asian Review
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