The Penny Drops – iPhone on ARM

When I heard that the iPhone would be running OSX, I was sceptical for a couple of reasons:

  • How could they run OSX on such cut-down hardware (we’re currently guessing at an ARM based chip)?
  • If they modified the underlying BSD kernel then surely they’d have to make the changes public because it’s open source?

However Stu has pointed out that the FreeBSD license is considerably more open than the GPL, giving the users the choice of integrating their changes back into the codebase or keeping them proprietary.

On top of this, there is a live project (and probably in fact several forks) for porting FreeBSD to ARM platforms. It would be a no-brainer for Apple to have picked up one of these forks and get a cut-down version of Aqua running on top of it.

It makes the original move to a Unix/BSD OS all the more brilliant. Now if they could get over their proprietary hardware trip, the could probably blow Access’ ALP out of the water in short order.

Update: Ever-timely Slashdot has an article about common BSD licensing misconceptions, including the possibility that modifications to BSD-licensed code may themselves have to be BSD licensed. This would put the BSD license in the same bucket as the GPL license and cause interesting issues for Apple if it is true.

Update 2: A new article (via Gizmodo) clarifies the ARM-based iPhone, with not one, but three ARM-based cores in the phone:


Warren East, president and chief executive officer of ARM Holdings plc, has confirmed that “at least three” processor cores developed at his company are present within the iPhone from Apple Inc.




  1. The iPod is also driven by an ARM processor of course. So there’s a good chance Apple have simply leveraged whatever OS runs the iPod onto the iPhone.

  2. Well, there is NetBSD which is already ported to ARM and it runs ok. So really Apple can just rip NetBSD kernel and other required software, recompile the rest of the stuff so it would work with netbsd and thats it. It wont be Mac OS X per se, but it would be something very similar.

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