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 Amazon.com'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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