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Apple's Next Big Thing Will Lack Power

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VentureBeat reports that Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) long-rumored iTablet will be blessed with high-function, low-power processors based on designs from P.A. Semi, the chip creator Apple acquired last April. Color me unsurprised.

Efficiency is key in mobile device design -- no one wants a highly capable device that dies after an hour of use. Look at the industry's history of best-sellers. Palm's (Nasdaq: PALM  ) original PalmPilot was a hit because it could function for weeks on standard alkaline batteries. Users love the functional effectiveness of's (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) Kindle. Who cares if the screen is gray? Economy sells.

The trick is to make economically attractive, high-performance devices. Mobile phone makers such as Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) and Apple have been working the equation for years, but they've been known to err on the side of economy. High-function chips from Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) and others have yet to displace ARM Holdings' (Nasdaq: ARMH  ) low-power designs. The iPhone uses an ARM processor, for example.

But now, Apple seems to think it can do better. Why shouldn't it? P.A. Semi has won acclaim from industry peers and the Defense Department as the chipmaking equivalent of the daring test pilots of the '50s -- a rebellious team pushing the envelope. They still are -- and now they have an equally adept leader. Mark Papermaster was once a top designer of chips based on IBM's (NYSE: IBM  ) Power Architecture, the same technology upon which P.A. Semi builds its chip designs.

The pressure's on at Apple; the iTablet can't be just a plain, ordinary Tablet PC 2.0. This one has to be a paradigm-buster, a device with a multitouch color screen, lots of advanced software, and extra-long battery life.

In other words, Papermaster and his team have to channel their inner Chuck Yeager and break the power barrier. Anything less would be a failure.

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  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2009, at 2:31 PM, SPQRusa wrote:

    Apple will not use a custom processor for its netbook. It will likely use an Intel part. It doesn't make sense for Apple to go into the "processor" business. The whole history with PowerPC should have proved that to everyone watching Apple for the last decade.

    If Apple is acquiring Semi-Co talent, it is because the level of integration needed to get this stuff working well requires strong systems knowledge. The Semis are the best repository for that talent.

    Apple already makes glue or SMC chips but the level of integration is relatively small compared to the big custom ASICs from Intel, Nvidia, AMD, etc...

  • Report this Comment On July 16, 2009, at 12:08 AM, none0such wrote:

    SPQRusa is right - why does Apple need to innovate anything when they have a proven historical track record of recognizing and adopting/ acquiring new technologies developed by other people.

  • Report this Comment On February 12, 2010, at 3:23 AM, SPQRusa wrote:

    If I had done my research on P.A. Semi, I would have guessed an ARM processor for the iPad. Either way, the A4 is a custom SOC from Samsung for Apple. It also seems the abandoned IMGTEC GPU for the ARM Mali GPU (

    If Mali supports OpenCL, iPad will be an interesting device.

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