Apple goes Rogue with next-gen iPhone's super-fast graphics

Apple [AAPL] is expected to begin iPhone 6 (aka iPhone 5S) production this month for launch in summer, and it seems likely this will offer much improved graphic performance with battery life enhancements, as Imagination Technologies extends its range of licensable Series6 GPU cores (Rogue).

Faster, prettier -- for longer

iPhones use Apple's own marque of A-series processors, based on ARM reference designs and equipped with PowerVR GPU cores licensed from Imagination. The iPhone 5 uses an Imagination Series5 GPU. By combining these technologies with its own, Apple's processor engineers can deliver high performance chips that remain miserly on battery life.

Apple also builds the OS that runs on its hardware. This means the company can integrate its devices in order to achieve the best possible software performance from its hardware.

This is why chip speeds are less relevant when comparing iDevices with those from other manufacturers -- in some cases other chips may offer higher "book" speeds, but the software isn't (in general) built to fully exploit the hardware -- integration is simply not as strong.

Imagination recently introduced the entry-level PowerVR G6100 GPU core -- meaning hardware developers now have a range of Series 6 chips available for use inside their products. These GPU's also meet the OpenGL ES 3.0 compliance test.

"The Series6 is Imagination’s premier GPU core for high-end mobile devices and DTV which can support the leading edge of graphics APIs and GPU compute APIs," reports Microprocessor Report.

There are numerous technological achievements within Series6:

  • These chips support up to 8Kx8K display resolution.
  • The high-end core (G6630) offers six shader clusters alongside performance and power optimizations.
  • The new entry-level G6100 chips offers one shader cluster along with a pixel texturing unit.
  • Series6 GPU's are fully compatible with Series5 and Series5XT GPUs, which should ensure a smooth migration path for developers upgrading apps.

Apple goes Rogue?

There was some expectation Apple would "go Rogue" with the iPhone 5, this didn't happen but it seems possible the firm could adopt Series6 GPUs inside the next iPhone upgrade.

With this in mind it shouldn't be such a surprise Apple has put members of its OS X team onto iOS development. Series6 processors support the relatively new OpenGL ES standard for embedded systems. A standard managed by the not-for-profit technology consortium known as the Khronos Group.

Apple watchers may recall that the company joined that group way back in 2006. A move to support Open GL 3 (more effectively than the support inside Mountain Lion) would clearly demand development resources from within both Apple's OS teams. Apple is listed as an adopter company to the Open GL ES standard, so a move to broaden support for version 3 makes sense.

Any move to a new processor architecture has obvious implications for Apple's other rumored products: For example, the Series6 GPU was first demonstrated by LG within a digital TV shown at CES earlier this year, might Apple might adopt the GPU for use in its much-rumored Apple television?

It's also inevitable the company will deploy improved processors within future iterations of the iPad, iPad mini and iPod touch. A move to improve power consumption, computational and graphics power in these devices will make them even more effective PC replacements. (To be fair it is worth noting the standard is primarily geared toward consumer devices -- leaving plenty of room for the development of an iPad Pro, perhaps, or even a hybrid iPad/MacBook.)

Big deal

In the event Apple does deploy Series6 GPU cores beside the most appropriate new ARM reference design in a future processor will be a big slap against Samsung, which is only now adopting Imagination's Series5 GPU within its recently announced Galaxy S4.

With a raft of additional products planned across the next 12 months and claims of some form of low-cost iPhone scheduled for a September launch, it seems pretty clear Apple's getting set to regain its reputation as offering the best smartphone in the market.

Apple is accelerating its competitive cycle.

One more thing: Imagination says devices implementing its GPU should begin reaching market in Q3 2013, which could equate to July -- a notion which marries well with a WWDC announcement of the iPhone 5S, iPhone 6 or whatever Apple may choose to call its device.

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