Last week, I waxed poetic on why Windows Phone can’t afford to not jump into the quad core fray. Most of the reasoning behind the opinion was based on marketing, pure and simple. Quad core is greater than dual core in the eye of the average consumer. So, in order to gain that priceless market share that we all know and love, it was reasoned that if you want to win hearts and minds, it will have to be done with four shiny cores resting snugly in the belly on the Lumia 980 Epic Superphone Plus.
“Quad Core” is a marketing sign that writes itself. But when it comes down to brass tacks, we’re talking about what people might want versus what a phone actually needs. And when it all comes down to it, Windows Phone don’t need no stinkin’ quad cores.
Built For Efficiency
Microsoft has taken a page from Apple’s playbook and designed an operating system that is extremely fluid and efficient. More cores would not really serve any great purpose with an operating system that is designed from the ground up to do more with less. The key is to understand the architecture involved here
Four cores basically allow a processor to either do four tasks simultaneously, or to split up one task four ways. This is really nice when one is rendering video editing, or calculating pi to the gazillionth place, but for surfing facebook, you don’t really need to break up the work all that much. Further, most apps and operating systems won’t work like that unless they’re specifically designed to. Video streaming for example is not generally a task that can be broken up into four parts and stitched back together like a video Frankenstein. Some processor manufacturers boast that their processors CAN do that, but not all processors can.
Unless an app is specifically designed to break up it’s processing mojo into equal parts, it will not allow the architecture to capitalize on that particular benefit. Most apps are not designed to do this, for a number of different reasons. Most commonly, these reasons range from the “It vastly complicates the code needed to do XYZ task” to “It’s a major pain to troubleshoot should issues arise”. At the end of the day, the benefit doesn’t outweigh the cost that goes into designing an app to make the most out of four or even two cores in a processor.
The Great Battery Debate, Part Deux
The battery life myth has to rear its ugly head again in this article. We already touched on this topic in explaining why four cores would be good, but it bears repeating that if you talk to 10 different experts about the “more cores equals more battery” phenomenon, you’ll get five who agree and five who disagree. And then they’ll all go out for martinis and stick you with the bill. Rude.
Once again, it comes back to the architecture involved. Samsung’s Octo-goblin processor, featuring a fast quad core and slower quad core chip in the same boat is designed with battery life in mind. Presumably, the faster processors will be tasked with the heavy lifting – video, games, etc. While the light-weights get to handle the girly-girl tasks like email retrieval, SMS, Facebook, etc. This indeed could lead to a more efficient battery use, and in theory a quad core, or dual-dual core system could work in that way as well. As a matter of fact, ARM is working on that very concept with their BigLittle Processing initiative that it claims can improve battery efficiency by as much as 70%.
I’m not so sure the technology is there yet.
More Is Not So Much Better
For what it is worth, Windows Phone is an extremely efficient operating system, built around the idea that more is not necessarily better. They’ve even designed a few tricks and animations to make the flow even more seamless, as displayed by our own Adam Lein last summer. With that in mind, and knowing that the next Lumia supergodphone extreme 980 will sport updated hardware, more memory and a luxurious camera, I’m not so sure we need to wait with bated breath to see how many cores this bad boy will be packing. Windows Phone already makes the best with what it has and doesn’t suffer from much if any lag, even when the Lumia 900′s lonely-heart core is running Windows Phone 7.8.
There is another factor that cannot be ignored – money, dollars, euro, pesos, and in some cultures, livestock. Looking more so at Nokia, arguably the godfather of Windows phones, it doesn’t make financial sense to go with quad core CPUs given the overall limited benefits. Depending on what numbers you look at the price differential between a dual core processor and a quad core processor is somewhere around three dollars. Not a bank breaker in many cases, but when you’re selling off your headquarters in order to make payroll, an extra three million dollars for every million phones is not exactly small potatoes. In this case, we’re not talking about an overall savings to the consumer, one way or another, but if you look at the price of Samsung’s Octa-core processor versus a dual core processor, now you’re looking at closer to thirteen million dollars, which in Chicago will buy you an outfielder with average defense.
Specifications are pretty. Four is greater than two, and yes, chicks dig the long ball. But when all is said and done, what makes a great phone is a great, smooth, fluid user experience. And Windows Phone has that in spades.