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Apple's new iPhones prepare iOS for future

(MoneyWatch) On the surface, Apple's announcement last week that it is releasing two new iPhonesseems to confirm the suspicion that that the company has lost its way since the loss of Steve Jobs. After all, the new phone models seem to offer very little in the way of excitement or innovation.

Indeed, Apple looks like it's getting lapped by Android. The iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s don't look noticeably different than their predecessors. And while online forums are filled with disappointed iPhone customers vowing to switch to Android to get the longer battery life and larger screens they were hoping for, it's intriguing to look at the newest iPhones as laying the groundwork for the next generation of iOS phones. Much like how Microsoft engineered Windows 8 to prepare the Windows platform for the next generation of post-PC computing, there's strong evidence that Apple is readying itself for what phones should look like five years hence.

The new 64-bit architecture is the strongest evidence that Apple has decided to make the newest generation of iPhones all about investing in the future of the platform. The 5s is equipped with the new A7 processor, which should have essentially no effect on the performance of the current crop of apps. Apps will need to be optimized for the 64-bit pipelines, and even then, it's arguable whether any apps even exist that need such performance. Angry Birds, for example, won't run any better in 64-bit than 32.

But that's a myopic view. If you acknowledge that mobile devices like phones and tablets are the future of mainstream computing, then it's entirely possible that apps will continue to get more demanding over the next five to 10 years. And when photographers are using Photoshop to edit images on the go on a small handheld device, that 64-bit platform will be essential.

The new M7 processor in the iPhone 5s is also worth noting. Ordinarily, phone customers don't -- and probably shouldn't -- care a whole lot about the chips in their phone, but the M7 has a lot of promise and is worth understanding. It's a new approach to phone design; the M7 handles sensor data -- such as the phone's gyroscope, accelerometer, and compass -- without waking or taxing the main A7 processor. This co-processor approach means that the phone can collect and manage location and orientation information while the A7 does something else, or while the phone is sleeping while putting a lower load on the battery. It remains to be seen how effective this innovation will be, but it promises to make fitness applications more powerful and seamless. And that, if you haven't noticed, is an important trend in phones.

Finally, there's the fingerprint reader, Touch ID. This is the halo feature in the new iPhone, and the one getting the most buzz. It's more than just a way to get into your phone without entering a passcode. Touch ID means that there's finally a secure and convenient way to open up mobile phones to e-commerce applications. We know that initially, you'll be able to make App Store purchases without entering your Apple ID password. But in the future, this could introduce the convenience of retail purchasing with your phone, something Japanese consumers have had for some time.

Photo courtesy of Apple