iPhone 4, with 512MB of RAM, to offer 'robust performance'

Increased memory a 'great move on Apple's part,' says hardware expert

Apple's iPhone 4 boasts 512MB of system memory, double the amount in last year's iPhone 3GS and the newer iPad tablet, Computerworld has confirmed.

The additional memory will give the iPhone 4 much more robust multitasking, an Apple hardware expert said today.

Although MacRumors first reported the story Thursday morning, Computerworld independently confirmed the Phone 4's additional memory.

According to MacRumors, iPhone developers were told last week of the memory boost at Apple's annual developers conference, where CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone. The new model is slated to go on sale June 24.

The first two models -- 2007's original iPhone and 2008's iPhone 3G -- sported 128MB of system memory. Last year, however, Apple doubled that to 256MB in the iPhone 3GS.

This year's increase is a "great move on Apple's part," said Aaron Vronko, CEO of Portage, Mich.-based Rapid Repair, a repair shop and do-it-yourself parts supplier for the iPhone, iPod and iPad. Vronko regularly tears apart Apple hardware products to get an idea of how they're built and what capabilities they have.

"This is really about allowing [iOS 4's] limited multitasking to actually have a robust performance," said Vronko. "With only 256MB, the iPhone would waste a lot of time and battery power managing memory [during multitasking]. This definitely helps, and will let you keep more apps in the background without affecting battery life."

When Apple previewed iOS 4 -- then called iPhone OS 4 -- last March, it announced what Vronko dubbed "partial multitasking" via seven new APIs that will allow very specific scenarios where more than one application is running.

In iOS 4, which will launch on Monday, software like Skype or Pandora will be able to take incoming VoIP calls or play tunes while other applications are in the forefront. The mobile operating system upgrade will also let users quickly switch between in-memory applications using an "app tray" that appears when users double-tap the iPhone's home button.

"256MB of system memory will still be pretty robust," said Vronko, but the iPhone 4's doubling means that it will seem snappier, be able to keep more programs in memory for instant access and, most importantly, eat up less battery power. That's because it won't have to swap out sections of system memory to the smartphone's flash RAM-based storage space.

The 256MB mark appears to be the minimum required for iOS 4 to multitask; while iPhone 3G owners can upgrade their phones to the new OS, they won't get multitasking.

By bumping up memory to 512MB, Apple leaves the door open to later expanding the iPhone 4's multitasking abilities. "The bigger issue is that this lets Apple release, maybe gradually, as it has always done with the iPhone, more functionality," said Vronko. "It can provide more [multitasking] APIs, maybe this year, maybe a year from now, that allow for more resource-hungry multitasking."

By this time in 2011, Vronko said, the difference between the iPhone 4's ability to multitask and that of the iPhone 3GS might be stark.

Half a gigabyte of system memory is now standard on top-tier smartphones from Apple's rivals, particularly those powered by Google's Android operating system, Vronko pointed out. "In a sense, then, Apple is just catching up.

"But Apple can better manage the memory it has in the iPhone with its centralized memory management than can Android phones," Vronko claimed. The difference isn't huge -- Vronko estimated that iPhone apps require 10%-20% less memory than similar Android software -- but every little bit helps.

The confirmation of 512MB in the iPhone 4 contradicts evidence gleaned from photographs of prototypes leaked by the Gizmodo technology blog in April, and a Vietnamese site last month. In both instance, experts said that the next-generation iPhone would probably have only 256MB, the same as in the iPhone 3GS and the iPad.

After examining the photographs published by Gizmodo, Vronko said that there was a 50-50 chance that the final version of the new iPhone would have 512MB of system memory.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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