Apple released Mac OS X 10.6 (codenamed "Snow Leopard") on Aug. 28, and while the upgrade targets the desktop environment, analyst Carl Howe--director for Yankee Group's Anywhere Consumer research group--contends it will also result in dramatic battery life improvements in future iterations of the iPhone. According to Howe, Snow Leopard boasts a feature called Grand Central Dispatch that promises a new method of coding applications for optimization across one or many processors. "It's one of those programming abstractions that makes it significantly easier for app developers to write software for multi-core systems without all the attendant race conditions and latent bugs that belie today's thread-based programs," Howe writes. "Snow Leopard applications like the Finder and Mail use Grand Central Dispatch a lot; it's one of the features that makes the system feel so much snappier than your garden-variety 10.5 Leopard release, particularly since all current Macs have multiple processing cores. Apple also is encouraging all developers to use GCD in their third-party apps for the same reason... So what does this have to do with the iPhone? It's simple: It suggests we'll see iPhones with multi-core processors and apps built for those multi-cores sometime in the next year or two."
While Howe notes that most smartphone functions don't require multiple processor cores, the technology's true promise lies in its impact on device battery life. "The problem is that power consumption increases with processor clock speed, so running processors at high speed depletes battery power faster," he continues. "On the other hand, if a phone can achieve the same app performance with multiple cores running at slower speeds, batteries can last longer. In some cases, depending on the design and if unused cores are turned off when they aren't being used, they can last a LOT longer, by factors of two to five times." Howe predicts Apple will introduce a multi-core iPhone sometime next year, in doing so becoming the first company to drive highly parallel OS services and consumer apps into such a device: "And if that helps drive development of iPhones that can run our mobile apps twice or three times as long, this week's launch of Snow Leopard may have had more strategic import than ‘just a refinement.'"
For more on Howe's Snow Leopard speculation:
- read this Yankee Group Blog entry
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