Since last year, Apple’s been hard at work building out their own CDN and now those efforts are paying off. Recently, Apple’s CDN has gone live in the U.S. and Europe and the company is now delivering some of their own content, directly to consumers. In addition, Apple has interconnect deals in place with multiple ISPs, including Comcast and others, and has paid to get direct access to their networks.
Given some of my experiences attempting to watch the Live Stream from Apple’s combined iPhone, Watch event, I wanted to address CDN. Content Distribution Networks are designed to speed the flow of many types of files from Data Centers or Video head ends for Live Events. So I note, I started this article back on August 1st when this original announcement went out. And now it’s doubly poignant as the video stream difficulties at the start of the show (1PM EDT) kind of ruined it for me and for a few others. They lost me in that scant few first 10 minutes and they never recovered. I did connect later but that was after the Apple Watch presentation was half done. Oh well, you get what you pay for. I paid nothing for the Live Event stream from Apple and got nothing in return.
Back during the Steve Jobs era, one of the biggest supporters of Akamais and its content delivery network was Apple Inc. And this was not just for streaming of the Keynote Speeches and MacWorld (before they withdrew from that event) but also the World Developers Conference (WWDC). At the time enjoyed great access to free streams and great performance levels for free. But Apple cut way back on that simulcasts and rivals like Eventbrite began to eat in to Akamai’s lower end. Since then the huge data center providers began to build out their own data centers worldwide. And in so doing, a kind of internal monopoly of content distribution went into effect. Google was first to really scale up in a massive way then scale out, to make sure all those GMail accounts ran faster and better in spite of the huge mail spools on each account member. Eventually the second wave of social media outlets joined in (with Facebook leading a revolution in Open Stack and Open Hardware specs) and created their own version of content delivery as well.
Now Apple has attempted to scale up and scale out to keep people tightly bound to brand. iCloud really is a thing, but more than that now the real heavy lifting is going on once and for all time. Peering arrangements (anathema to the open Internet) would be signed and deals made to scratch each other’s backs by sharing the load/burden of carrying not just your own internal traffic, but those of others too. And depending on the ISP you could really get gouged by those negotiations. But no matter Apple soldiered on and now they’re ready to really let all the prep work be put to good use. Hopefully the marketing will be sufficient to express the satisfaction and end user experience at all levels, iTunes, iApps, iCloud data storage and everything else would experience the boosts in speed. If Apple can hold its own against both Facebook and Gmail in this regard, they future’s so bright they’re gonna need shades.
Race to sleep, is the new, new thing for mobile cpus. Power conservation at a given clock speed is all done through parceling out a task and with more cores or higher clock speed. All cores execute and comple the task then cores are put to sleep or a much lower power state. That’s how you get things done and maintain a 10 hour battery life for an iPad Air or iPhone 5s.
So even though a mobile processor could be the equal of the average desktop cpu, it’s the race to sleep state that is the big differentiation now. That is what Apple’s adopting of a 64bit ARM vers. 8 architecture is bringing to market, the race to sleep. At the very beginning of the hints and rumors 64bit seemed more like an attempt to address more DRAM or gain some desktop level performance capability. But it’s all for the sake of executing quick and going into sleep mode to preserve the battery capacity.
I’m thinking now of some past articles covering the nascent, emerging market for lower power, massively parallel data center servers. 64bits was an absolute necessary first step to get ARM cpus into blades and rack servers destined for low power data centers. Memory addressing is considered a non-negotiable feature that even the most power efficient server must have. Didn’t matter what CPU it is designed around, memory address HAS got to be 64bits or it cannot be considered. That rule still applies today and will be the sticking point still for folks sitting back and ignoring the Tilera architecture or SeaMicro’s interesting cloud in a box designs. To date, it seems like Apple was first to market with a 64bit ARM design, without ARM actually supplying the base circuit design and layouts for the new generation of 64bit ARM. Apple instead did the heavy lifting and engineering themselves to get the 64bit memory addressing it needed to continue its drive to better battery life. Time will tell if this will herald other efficiency or performance improvements in raw compute power.
I would like to applaud Apples 32nm migration plan. By starting with lower volume products and even then, only on a portion of the iPad 2s available on the market, Apple maintains a low profile and gets great experience with Samsungs 32nm HK+MG process.
Anand Lal Shimpi @ Anandtech.com does a great turn explaining some of the Electrical Engineering minutiae entailed by Apple’s un-publicized switch to a smaller design rule for some of it’s 2nd Generation iPads. Specifically this iPad’s firmware reads as the iPad 2,4 version indicating a 32nm version of the Apple A5 chip. And boy howdy, is there a difference between 45nm A5 vs. 32nm A5 on the iPad 2.
Anand first explains the process technology involved in making the new chip (metal gate electrodes and High dielectric constant gate oxides). Most of it is chosen to keep electricity from leaking between the two sides of the transistor “switch” that populate the circuits on the processor. The metal gates can handle a higher voltage which is needed to overcome the high dielectric constant of the gate oxide (it is more resistant to conducting electricity, so it needs more voltage ‘oomph!’ applied it). Great explanation I think regarding those two on-die changes with the new Samsung 32nm design ruling. Both of the changes help keep the electrical current from leaking all over the processor.
What does this change mean? Well the follow-up to that question is the benchmarks that Anand runs in the rest of the article checking battery life at each step of the way. Informally it appears the iPad2,4 will have roughly 1 extra hour of battery life as compared to the original iPad2,1 using the larger 45nm A5 chip. Performance of the graphics and cpu are exactly the SAME as the first generation A5. So as the article title indicates this change was just a straightforward die shrink from 45nm to 32nm and no doubt is helping validate the A5 architecture on the new production line process technology. And this will absolutely be required to wedge the very large current generation A5x cpu on the iPad 3 into a new iPhone in the Fall 2012.
But consider this, even as Apple and Samsung both refine and innovate on the ARM architecture for mobile devices, Intel is still the technology leader (bar none). Intel has got 22nm production lines up and running and is releasing Ivy Bridge CPUs with that design rule this Summer 2012. While Intel doesn’t literally compete in the mobile chip industry (there have been attempts in the past), it at least can tout being the most dense, power efficient chip in the categories it dominates. I cannot help but wonder what kind of gains could be made if an innovator like Apple had access to an ARM chip foundry with all of Intel’s process engineering and optimization. What would an A5X chip look like at the 22nm design ruling with all the power efficiency and silicon process technologies applied to it? How large would the die be? What kind of battery life would you see if you die-shrunk an A5X all the way down to 22nm? That to me is the Andy Grove 10X improvement I would like to see. Could we get 11-12 continuous hours of battery life on a cell phone? Could we see a cell phone with more cpu/graphics capability than current generation Xbox and Playstations? Hard to tell, I know, but thinking about it is just so darned much fun I cannot help but think about it.
Not only did Apple roll out a new processor that was not what it was advertised to be, but it also snuck in a new process technology for the manufacturing of this new A5. The previous generation A5, part number APL0498, was manufactured on Samsung Semiconductors’ 45 nm LP CMOS process. This new A5 processor is manufactured on Samsung’s new 32 nm high-k metal gate, gate first, LP CMOS process technology.
Check out the article at the Chipworks website, just follow the link above. They have a great rundown of what they discovered in their investigation of the most recent Apple A5 chips. These chips are appearing in a newly revised AppleTV but have also appeared in more recently manufactured Apple iPad 2 as well. There was some amount of surprise that Apple didn’t adopt a shrunk down die ruling for the A5X used in the iPad 3. Most of the work went into the integrated graphics of the A5X as it was driving a much higher rez ‘Retina’-like display.
Very, very sneaky of Apple to slip in the next generation smaller die size on a ‘hobby’ product like the Apple TV. This is proof positive that when someone says something is a hobby, it isn’t necessarily so. I for one am both heartened and intrigued that Apple is attempting to get a 32nm processor out there on their ‘low power’ low cost products. Now that this part has also been discovered in the more recently constructed Apple iPad 2 units, I wonder what kind of heat, battery life differences there are versus an early model iPad 2 using the A5 part number APL0498?
Keeping up with the Samsungs is all important these days and Apple has got to keep its CPU die rulings in step with the next generation of of chip fabrication giants. Intel is pushing 22nm, Samsung has been on 32nm for a while and then there’s Apple sitting 1 or 2 generations behind the cutting edge. I fear this may have resulted in some of the heat issues that were first brought to people’s attention by Consumer Reports weeks after the introduction of the iPad 3. With any luck and process engineering speed, the A5X can jump ship to the 32nm fabrication line at Samsung sooner rather than later.
Reading through all the hubbub and hand-waving from the technology ‘teardown’ press outlets, one would have expected a bigger leap from Apple’s chip designers. A fairly large chip sporting an enormous graphics processor integrated into the die is what Apple came up with to help boost itself to the next higher rez display (so-called Retina Display). The design rule is still a pretty conservative 45nm (rather than try to push the envelope by going with 32nm or thinner to bring down the power requirements). Apple similarly had to boost its battery capacity to make up for this power hungry pixel demon by almost 2X more than the first gen iPad. So for almost the ‘same’ amount of battery capacity (10 hours of reserve power), you get the higher rez display. But a bigger chip and higher rez display will add up to some extra heat being generated, generally speaking. Which leads us to a controversy.
Given this knowledge there has been a recent back and forth argument over thermal design point for iPad 3rd generation. Consumer Reports published an online article saying the power/heat dissipation was much higher than previous generation iPads. They included some thermal photographs indicating the hot spots on the back of the device and relative temperatures. While the iPad doesn’t run hotter than a lot of other handheld devices (say Android tablets). It does run hotter than say an iPod Touch. But as Apple points out that has ALWAYS been the case. So you gain some things you give up some things and still Apple is the market leader in this form factor, years ahead of the competition. And now the tempest in the teapot is winding down as Consumer Reports (via LA Times.com)has rated the 3rd Gen iPad as it’s no. 1 tablet on the market (big surprise). So while they aren’t willing to retract their original claim of high heat, they are willing to say it doesn’t count as ’cause for concern’. So you be the judge when you try out the iPad in the Apple Store. Run it through its paces, a full screen video or 2 should heat up the GPU and CPU enough to get the electrons really racing through the device.
And then the reveal: Mac OS X — sorry, OS X — is going on an iOS-esque one-major-update-per-year development schedule. This year’s update is scheduled for release in the summer, and is ready now for a developer preview release. Its name is Mountain Lion.1
Mountain Lion is the next iteration of Mac OS X. And while there are some changes since the original Lion was released just this past Summer, they are more like further improvements than real changes. I say this in part due to the concentration on aligning the OS X apps with iOS apps for small things like using the same name:
iCal versus Calendar
iChat versus Messages
Address book versus Contacts
Reminders versus Notes
Under the facial, superficial level more of the Carbonized libraries and apps are being factored out and being given full Cocoa libraries and app equivalents where possible. But one of the bigger changes, one that’s been slipping since the release of Mac OS X 10.7 is the use of ‘Sand-boxing’ as a security measure for Apps. The sand-box would be implemented by the Developers to adhere to strict rules set forth by Apple. Apps wouldn’t be allowed to do certain things anymore like writing to an external Filesystem, meaning saving or writing out to a USB drive without special privileges being asked for. Seems trivial at first but on the level of a day to day user of a given App it might break it altogether. I’m thinking of iMovie as an example where you can specify you want new Video clips saved into an Event Folder kept on an external hard drive. Will iMovie need to be re-written in order to work on Mountain Lion? Will sand-boxing hurt other Apple iApps as well?
Then there is the matter of ‘GateKeeper’ which is another OS mechanism to limit trust based on who the developer. Apple will issue security certificates to registered developers who post their software through the App Store, but independents who sell direct can also register for these certs as well, thus establishing a chain of trust from the developer to Apple to the OS X user. From that point you can choose to trust either just App store certified apps, independent developers who are Apple certified or unknown, uncertified apps. Depending on your needs the security level can be chosen according to which type of software you use. some people are big on free software which is the least likely to have a certification, but still may be more trustworthy than even the most ‘certified’ of AppStore software (I’m thinking emacs as an example). So sandboxes, gatekeepers all conspire to funnel developers into the desktop OS and thus make it much harder for developers of malware to infect Apple OS X computers.
These changes should be fully ready for consumption upon release of the OS in July. But as I mentioned sandboxing has been rolled back no less than two times so far. First roll-back occurred in November. The most recent rollback was here in February. The next target date for sandboxing is in June and should get all the Apple developers to get on board prior to the release of Mountain Lion the following month, in July. This reminds me a bit of the flexibility Apple had to show in the face of widespread criticism and active resistance to the Final Cut Pro X release last June. Apple had to scramble for a time to address concerns of bugs and stability under Mac OS X 10.7 (the previous Snow Leopard release seemed to work better for some who wrote on Apple support discussion forums). Apple quickly came up with an alternate route for dissatisfied customers who demanded satisfaction by giving copies of Final Cut Pro Studio 7 (with just the Final Cut Pro app included) to people who called up their support lines asking to substitute the older version of the software for a recent purchase of FCP X. Flexibility like this seems to be more frequent going forward which is great to see Apple’s willingness to adapt to an adverse situation of their own creation. We’ll see how this migration goes come July.
Ubiquitous computing, One Laptop per Child, Wearable Computers, the iPod Touch, the iPad and now the iPhone all descendants in a long lineage of predictions about the Future of Computing. But the newest wrinkle (pun intended) is the topic of ‘wearable’ computers. Given how portable and powerful smart phones are these days, why do we need to ‘wear’ the computer? (more)
Wearable computing is a broad term. Technically, a fancy electronic watch is a wearable computer. But the ultimate version of this technology is a screen that would somehow augment our vision with information and media.
Augmented Reality in the news, only this time it’s Google so it’s like for rilz, yo! Just kidding, it will be very interesting given Google’s investment in the Android OS and power-saving mobile computing what kind of wearable computers they will develop. No offense to MIT Media Lab, but getting something into the hands of end-users is something Google is much more accomplished at doing (but One Laptop Per Child however is the counter-argument of course). I think mobile phones are already kind of like a wearable computer. Think back to the first iPod arm bands right? Essentially now just scale the ipod up to the size of an Android and it’s no different. It’s practically wearable today (as Bilton says in his article).
What’s different then with this effort is the accessorizing of the real wearable computer (the smart phone) giving it the augmentation role we’ve seen with products like Layar. But maybe not just limited to cameras, video screens and information overlays, the next wave would have auxiliary wearable sensors communicating back to the smartphone like the old Nike accelerometer that would fit into special Nike Shoes. And also consider the iPod Nano ‘wrist watch’ fad as it exists today. It may not run the Apple iOS, but it certainly could transmit data to your smartphone if need be. Which leads to the hints and rumors of attempts by Apple to create ‘curved glass’.
This has been an ongoing effort by Apple, without being tied to any product or feature in their current product line. Except maybe the iPhone. Most websites I’ve read to date speculate the curvature is not very pronounced and a styling cue to further help marketing and sales of the iPhone. But in this article the curvature Bilton is talking about would be more like the face of a bracelet around the wrist, much more pronounced. Thus the emphasis on curved glass might point to more work being done on wearable computers.
Lastly Bilton’s article goes into a typical futuristic projection of what form the video display will take. No news to report on this topic specifically as it’s a lot of hand-waving and make believe where contact lenses potentially can become display screens. As for me, the more pragmatic approach of companies like Layar creating iPhone/Augmented Reality software hybrids is going to ship sooner and prototype faster than the make believe video contact lenses of the Future.The takeaway I get from Bilton’s article is there’s more of a defined move to create more functions with the smartphone as more of a computer. Though MIT Media Lab have labeled this ‘wearable computing’ think of it more generally as Ubiquitous Computing where the smartphone and its data connection are with you wherever you go.