If you’ve ever wanted to know how the iPhone 5s’ Touch ID fingerprint security works beyond a basic overview, you’ll be glad to hear Apple has just delivered a motherlode of new details. An updated version of its iOS Security white paper (PDF) explains much of what happens to your finger data after you touch the sensor. In short, your information may be more hack-resistant than it seems at first glance. Each A7 chip has a unique secure space that neither the A7 nor Apple can read, and every authentication session is encrypted end-to-end. The company is also offering a deeper explanation of what it does with your fingerprint image, noting that the print only lasts in memory until it’s turned into a decryption key. As we’ve known for a while, there are safeguards that wipe out that key after 48 hours of inactivity, a reboot or five failed login attempts. While the new insights will only have so much usefulness whendevelopers can’t use Touch ID for their own apps, they suggest that there’s little to no chance of fingerprint theft or a large-scale data breach.
ARM, the company that develops the chip architecture used by Apple in its iOS devices, has acquired Geomerics, a developer of graphics technology that’s used to create realistic lighting effects in games. The acquisition may lead to ARM processor designs with more sophisticated graphics capabilities. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, according to VentureBeat.
Geomerics’ claim to fame is a software tool called Enlighten, licensed by video game developers to produce more realistic and dramatic lighting and shadowing effects in their games. Enlighten is cross-platform; it works on game consoles, iOS, Android and PCs. It’s available either as a standalone software development kit (SDK) or integrated into the broadly-licensed Unreal Engine 3 and 4 technology from Epic Games; there’s also plug-in support for Max and Maya, to assist 3D artists working on games.
ARM is the dominant mobile processor designer; their products are used in Apple iPhones, iPod touches and iPads, Android tablets and smartphones, smartwatches, laptops including some ChromeBook variants, PCs and and other devices. ARM is a “fabless” semiconductor company: they design chips architectures and the instruction set used in the chips, but license the designs to other companies which in turn manufacture the actual processors.
Apple’s vaunted A7 chip, for example – the brains inside the iPhone 5s, iPad Air and Retina iPad mini – is based on the ARMV8-A architecture. Besides Apple, ARM’s clients involve Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Samsung. Apple’s partnership with ARM goes back to the late 1980s, when it sought a suitable low-power processor design to work in the Newton MessagePad PDA.
The PR information posted to Geomerics’ web site is carefully worded to soothe current Geomerics customers, suggesting that the ownership change will have little effect on Geomerics’ day to day operations. But ARM does say that its acquired Geomerics in part because of its suitability for mobile devices, which suggests that Geomerics-derived instructions may be embedded in future versions of the Systems on a Chip (SOCs) that ARM designs.
What does this mean for Apple? For the short term, nothing – after all, Apple’s current mobile designs use PowerVR graphics processors. It’s going to take a while for Geomerics’ technology to make it into ARM designs, and longer still for licensees like Apple to make use of it. But as ARM integrates Geomerics technology into future chip designs, we could see iOS devices with even more sophisticated graphics technology than we do now. Mobile devices are already starting to give consoles a run for their money; ARM’s acquisition of Geomerics looks like a solid step towards keeping future mobile devices competitive as gaming machines.
If you picked up a new iPhone 5s this year, you’d better take good care of its home button, because you can no longer pick up a cheap replacement on eBay and fit it yourself. The repair experts at mendmyi have discovered that Apple pairs every Touch ID sensor with an A7 chip, and if you install a home button that doesn’t match up, Touch ID simply won’t work.
The discovery was made when a mendmyi customer sent in their iPhone 5s for the color lab treatment, which is when its aluminum parts — including the handset’s main chassis — are replaced with colorful ones. When they received their handset back, they found Touch ID wasn’t working.
It took a little while and lots of digging to figure out what the issue was, but mendmyi eventually found that a replacement home button was to blame.
Image courtesy of iFixit.
“In order to try and rectify the problem, many steps were attempted. These included swapping out the Touch ID sensor for one verified to work, replacing the dock connector the Touch ID makes contact with, and even replacing the logic board itself,” iMore reports. “Nothing worked. It was baffling.”
Once the original home button was installed back into the device, Touch ID began working again. After further digging, mendmyi found that it’s actually the button’s flax cable — which connects it to the logic board — that is tied to an individual A7 chip.
But why? Does Apple do this just to be difficult, and to prevent us from buying cheap replacements when our home buttons die? Well, probably not. It’s more likely that these steps are taken to make Touch ID as secure as it possibly can be, and to eliminate the possibility that it could be hacked.
Apple has already explained to us that our fingerprints are not accessible by iOS apps, and that they are never stored on its servers or backed up to iCloud, so there’s no easy way for someone to get hold of them. And by tying Touch ID sensors to their accompanying A7 chips, Apple also rules out the possibility that hacked home buttons could intercept communications between the two.
Apple really has gone to great lengths to make Touch ID secure, then. For users, this is (mostly) great news, because it means it’s near impossible for anyone to get hold of the fingerprints stored on your iPhone. It may mean home buttons are very difficult to replace, but if you’re concerned about your privacy, this should give you peace of mind.
Source: Cult of Mac.
We’ve all heard the rumors that Apple will move away from Samsung and find another fab to make all of their sexy, super-fast A-series processors, but today, The Korea Times is reporting it as a done deal, saying that Apple has shut Samsung out entirely from the design of their A7 processors. Who are they going with instead? The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, or TSMC for short.
The Korea Times says that the A7 chip is actually still a ways away, and won’t be released until the first half of next year. When it does, it will boast a 20-nanometer processing technology, and TSMC will be the chip’s sole manufacturer.
This is a big blow to Samsung’s foundry business, which makes billions off of the production of Apple’s chips. This is going to hit Samsung where it hurts.
“If Samsung fails to win Apple orders for A7 chips, then some of Samsung’s system chip-manufacturing lines will be stopped. That’s a scenario Samsung really doesn’t want to see,” said a source speaking to the newspaper, which further suggests that “amid sluggish demand for conventional chips hit by poor sales of personal computers, Apple’s orders were a big help in lifting Samsung’s semiconductor business.”
Apple, of course, has wanted to shift away from using Samsung to make their processors for a while. Samsung can glean a lot of information on what Apple has up its sleeves by keeping an eye on what Apple orders from them, and it’s untenable for Apple that a direct competitor should profit on every iPhone sold. Still, TSMC in the past has had difficulty ramping up production and yielding enough chips to satisfy a company like Apple’s massive needs… which may explain the long gap we are now apparently looking at between the A6 and A7.
Source: Cult of Mac.
It’s not the first time we’ve heard it, but it does appear that Apple and Samsung’s long-standing component manufacturing partnership is coming to an end. It’s hardly surprising considering the number of legal battles and animosity between the two giants of the smartphone market. For years, Samsung has been building Apple’s custom chips for its iDevices. A4, A5, A5X and A6 have all been built in Samsung’s Texas-based factories.
The latest speculation comes via Taiwan’s Economic Daily News, and details that Apple will be building the A7 chip for next year’s products using a smaller 20nm technology. Essentially, boosted performance, in a much smaller package. The tasty news however is that it look increasingly likely that TSMC will be building most of the chips required, and Samsung will no longer be in the picture.
It’s unlikely that this A7 chip will feature in this year’s iPhone 5S, instead, it’ll likely be the brains behind the iPhone 6 which is predicted to land during 2014. The iPhone 5S will – if following Apple’s current pattern – feature a boosted A6 chip.
It’s expected that Apple’s next generation system-on-a-chip custom processor will be the A7, and will most likely power the next major update of iDevices. While that much is virtually certain, there have been whisperings a divide between Samsung and Apple when it comes to production. It seems that the constant legal battling has soured the relationship and Cupertino is looking at other manufacturers for its displays and components. We’ve already seen evidence of the iPad display making being shifted to Sharp, and rumors have been for a while that Apple could use TSMC to make its custom processors.
The most recent report from the usual suspects, DigiTimes indicates that production of the A7 is about to begin over at TSMC’s manufacturing plants. The publication reports that the production is in its very early stages, and that the chips should be ready to incorporate in to devices by the first quarter of next year.
“TSMC is expanding production facilities at 14-fab at the Tainan Science Park with a total investment at the park of NT$500 billion (US$16.87 billion), said the sources, adding that TSMC will utilize 14-fab to manufacture the A7 chips for Apple.”
If true, then we can expect to see the TSMC A7 chips within iPads and iPhones from 2014 at some point.
As Intel enters the world of chip contracting, a report says that the company could grab as much as 10% of Apple’s next-generation mobile chip orders.
“Institutional investors” cited by DigiTimes on Tuesday believe Intel could be making a play to get a slice of Apple’s business for its so-called “A7″ chip, expected to power the company’s next-generation iPhone. Apple has reportedly been looking to move its chip production contracts away from rival Samsung, which currently handles all of the company’s current A-series chips.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is expected to be the company to take the lion’s share of Apple’s chip fabricating business from Samsung. Rumors have floated for years that TSMC would be building chips for Apple, but no rumors have come to fruition as of yet.
The DigiTimes report claims that Samsung and TSMC are both competing for contracts to build “A7″ chips for Apple. TSMC is expected to begin production of A-series chips in 2014.
Industry expectations are that Samsung will get half of the “A7″ orders, with TSMC receiving 40 percent, and Intel picking up the remainder.
“In the past, Apple’s processor orders were unattractive because of low profit margins and Samsung was the only cooperating firm,” the report said. “In addition, at the time Samsung’s smartphones were no threat to Apple’s iPhone. But Samsung has since become the biggest smartphone vendor in the world.”
A report last week suggested that Apple and Intel were in talks for Intel to build chips for the Cupertino company’s iOS devices. Intel is looking to delve deeper into the chip contracting business as the PC market has struggled in recent years due to competition from smartphones and tablets.