Smartphones: Now with Twice the Bits!

HTC’s New 64-Bit Phone Begins an Android Era

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More bits certainly seem better. At least on the surface, 64 is twice as good as 32. With the introduction of HTC’s Desire 820, the 64-bit Android hardware era has begun. Users will need to upgrade to Android “L” to take advantage of a 64-bit environment, but Android smartphone makers now have the tools to catch up to Apple’s 64-bit lead: a year ago Apple announced the iPhone 5s, the industry’s first 64-bit smartphone. Bringing a 64-bit computing to a pocketable device really was significant tech news.

HTC’s new Desire 820 runs on Qualcomm’s LTE Snapdragon 615 processor, an octa-core 64-bit capable chipset architecture. The phone has a lot of bits and a lot of cores running under the hood. The missing element is a 64-bit operating system, something that is coming in the Android “L” release later this year. To begin with, the device will run in 32-bit mode as will all the apps.

In addition to the Snapdragon 615, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 410, 610, 808 and 810 chipsets will support 64-bit computing. Nvidia, Samsung and Intel have also announced mobile 64-bit intentions as well. Although it will take time for the software to catch up, the shift is on from 32 to 64. But are bits a selling point or an enabler of other features?

More bits do support better performance and more memory. And devices that are 64-bit capable are more future-proof. And that’s certainly a selling point. Last year with the introduction of iOS 7, Apple was eager to point out in messages aimed at developers the importance of 64-bit enabled devices. The company presented slides full of technical advantages of its 64-bit A7 chipset, but the basic message was that smartphones are catching up to PCs in performance. In the end, Apple talked about its latest device being up to 40 times faster than the original iPhone. That’s an easy number to understand.

The bits do matter, but hardware manufacturers should market bits with caution. Many smartphone makers will begin referring to a doubling of bits. Chances are that will be a bit too much tech talk for most users, and could confuse expectations. Real-world numbers are more likely to hit home.