I get some sort of odd satisfaction when Apple releases a product whose fundamental improvement is a new CPU. It happened when Apple first announced the MacBook Air, and it happened once more with the new iPhone 3GS:


From Left to Right: iPhone 3GS, iPhone 3G, iPhone

From a distance you can’t tell it apart from the iPhone 3G, which itself was arguably a step back in design from the original aluminum iPhone. But Apple products only sell because they look pretty right? How on earth would Apple ever justify selling an iPhone 3GS whose fundamental improvement is inside its pretty plastic?

To make matters worse, Apple has trained its users to expect significant changes in styling and UI on a regular basis. Just look at the progression of Mac OS X over the past several years. However, even with the latest iPhone OS release and significant technological pressure from Palm, the UI remains unchanged.

Competing against Microsoft and the other smartphone makers was pretty easy. Just do what they did, only better. But here we have the latest iPhone and it’s already behind the Palm Pre in a number of key features. Uhoh.

Yes, the S stands for Speed with the new iPhone 3GS but is that enough to keep this train rolling? We needed speed last year with the iPhone 3G, and all we got was a faster modem and lower battery life. Now we need multitasking support and we finally get a faster processor. Apple seems to be one step behind in the needs department, which is the perfect recipe for a company like Palm to step in and surprise.

Stepping away from the broader picture for a moment, Apple heads and haters alike can both appreciate the technology behind the 3GS, because the transition itself echoes what we’ve seen happen in the PC industry over the past two decades.

In my first iPhone 3GS article I compared the CPU upgrade to what we saw going from the 486 to Intel’s Pentium processor in the mid 1990s. Perhaps we need a quick refresher in CPU architecture? I’ll see if I can keep this succinct.

A Crash Course in CPU Architecture
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  • psonice - Tuesday, July 07, 2009 - link

    My understanding is that the iphone 3gs GPU is actually a 535, not a 520. At least, this is the current understanding among iphone developers, and there's an SGX535 driver on the phone to support that. The extra power might explain the hit on battery life when playing games.

    Real numbers are pretty hard to come by, but it seems the 535 is roughly 4x faster than the 520. If so, that's a massive upgrade rather than just a decent one. The 535 also supports HD video decoding where the 520 doesn't - not that apple seem to be supporting it if it does.

    I heard too that the palm pre has a 530 GPU, which is 2x faster than the 520. That puts the iphone a long way ahead for graphics instead of behind.

    One thing in the article I really disagree with btw: you say that the phone makers should provide detailed specs. I think they shouldn't, as it's not helpful at all for the average buyer. If you go into a shop without having much clue and ask for an iphone because it's the latest thing, and the shop assistant says "well this is like an iphone, but it runs 200mhz faster" you'll end up buying the "better" phone based on the spec sheet, even if it's running win mobile 5.

    I was in Japan a while back, and they tend to buy phones based on the spec sheets there. The phones all compete on having the most features. They're all really big and HORRIBLE to actually use. None of that please!

    I think apple actually get their commercials right with the iphone on the whole: show somebody actually using the phone to do stuff. If the other manufacturers did the same, that would be a perfect way to compare.
    Reply
  • christinme7890 - Thursday, July 09, 2009 - link

    I agree with you holistically. There are not many people in this world that even understand the specs. Not to mention when it comes to specs, and the person has no clue, they end up getting the one with the highest numbers. This is bad. I think you are right in saying that the way apple works their commercials is perfect for people. They show people all the great apps that they could use and they say that ALL of these apps can be on one phone.

    This is why I hate the Best buy MS commercials where the kid goes into the BB and buys a PC instead of a mac. The person always buys the computer with the best specs and care little about the OS, which is what they will be using. Windows, imo after using a Mac for a year, sucks in comparison to Mac. I rarely have a problem with a mac. I sit in class everyday and watch all the pc people have startup errors and os sleep or hibernation errors. I can close my mac and KNOW WITHOUT A DOUBT that it will wake up totally fine. Not to mention it wakes up seamlessly without load screens or anything. I will not compare the two but for business and usability the MAC gets my vote and I think if Apple does their commercials for the macs just as great. Sure most people are still using MS but that is because MS strong arms people into buying their stuff everytime you buy a Computer (not to mention Apple is very strict with their software and rightly so).
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, July 07, 2009 - link

    Ooh, very interesting - do you have any links to discussions on the 535 being in the 3GS?

    I don't think end users need to be bombarded with specs, but I think there needs to be more information put out about these things. We shouldn't have to play guessing games about clocks and specs; don't market them, but don't hide them either - that's my thinking.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • BlazingDragon - Tuesday, July 07, 2009 - link

    Anand, here it is:
    http://www.macrumors.com/2009/06/25/iphone-3gs-has...">http://www.macrumors.com/2009/06/25/iph...has-more...
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, July 07, 2009 - link

    Very interesting - thanks guys, I've updated the article.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Tuesday, July 07, 2009 - link

    It should probably also be noted that the MBX-Lite supports OpenGL ES 1.1 as implemented by Apple not just OpenGL ES 1.0. I believe it's Android's implementation that currently only supports OpenGL ES 1.0.

    It's also been reported that the iPhone OS 3.1 betas include improvements to the OpenGL stack that include additional OpenGL extensions. Whether these are focused on OpenGL ES 2.0 and the SGX or are also for OpenGL ES 1.1 and the MBX remains to be seen. Although on the issue of reducing market segmentation, it'd be great if Apple could implement the OpenGL ES 1.1 Extension Pack although I don't know if the MBX-Lite can actually support it in hardware.
    Reply
  • BlazingDragon - Tuesday, July 07, 2009 - link

    Anand, here's it is:
    iPhone 3GS Has More Powerful PowerVR SGX 535 GPU?
    Reply
  • kelmerp - Tuesday, July 07, 2009 - link

    I'm trying to decide between the MyTouch or a jailbroken iphone. Reply
  • sxr7171 - Wednesday, July 08, 2009 - link

    JB iPhone vs. MyTouch? They're not even in the same league. Pre vs. iPhone is a comparison. Reply
  • pennyfan87 - Tuesday, July 07, 2009 - link

    anand,

    i love you writing and tech analysis.

    but please, drop the fanboyism.
    3 articles on such a minor upgrade? please.

    more SSD stuff please.
    Reply

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