Make sure to come back to Fool.com this Wednesday, as Fool analysts will be hosting a live chat on Apple's unveiling of the next iPad. You'll not only get our perspective on what it means for Apple as an investment, but you can also ask questions about how the tablet affects its suppliers and Apple competitors. So make sure to check back at fool.com at 1 p.m. ET / 10 a.m. PT to get a chance not only to read about the newest iPad and what it means, but also to chat with our analysts about its impact.
On Wednesday, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) will take the wraps off the iPad 3. As soon as the device is released sometime later in the month, a host of companies will begin tearing down the device looking for clues to what components made the cut. Those teardowns will be a huge test for a host of chip companies like OmniVision (Nasdaq: OVTI ) , which lost business in the last iPhone and whose upbeat guidance has led investors to believe it might have regained its image-sensor spot in the upcoming iPad. The day the iPad is gutted, you can be assured of a pretty sizeable move in OmniVision's share price.
However, there's a wrinkle for the company I'm going to highlight as a huge beneficiary or loser of the iPad: I can 100% guarantee you its parts won't make the iPad. It won't see a huge pop or crash the day the iPad is torn apart because it won't be inside. That company is NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA ) .
Seriously, NVIDIA? Lay off the hooch, Eric!
If you're a longtime tech observer, you'll know that NVIDIA and the iPad aren't directly related. While NVIDIA makes mobile processors, they're targeted at phones running Google's Android operating system. Apple designs its own processors for use in the iPad and iPhone. While NVIDIA has a varying history of supplying graphics cards to Apple's Mac computers, that's where their relationship ends.
On the surface, the iPad's only connection to NVIDIA is dominating the tablet market and ensuring the Android tablets NVIDIA is in don't move off store shelves. However, a deeper look at how Apple is reshaping the technology industry shows that Apple could do NVIDIA a huge favor this Wednesday.
First, a little side story
Marketing has always played a key part in the sales of processors to consumers. Odds are that the only commercial you've seen recently for a big semiconductor company are from Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) . The company has always excelled at marketing, with its most prominent victory over the past two decades being the Pentium brand. While semiconductor products normally don't have much in the way of brand cachet, Intel has made its Pentium processor a household name. Not surprisingly, along with that strong name recognition has come nearly two straight decades of Pentium processor dominance in consumer sales.
However, while we might get nostalgic for the days when a quick glance at a processor name and clock speed -- e.g., a 300 MHz Pentium II processor -- could give us a rough proxy for the capability of a processor, advancements like processors with multiple cores added a layer of complexity for consumers trying to analyze how powerful a processor is. Quite frankly, aside for grasping for names like a "Pentium processor," it's very difficult for your average consumer to know how advanced a processor is.
And now, back to Apple and NVIDIA
It's under this dynamic of bewildered consumers that I believe Apple could really help out -- or hurt -- NVIDIA this week. NVIDIA recently released its Tegra 3 processor and was initially extremely optimistic, projecting up to $1 billion in Tegra sales this year. However, the company has had to roll back expectations and is now forecasting Tegra sales as low as $550 million this year. Any way you slice it, that's a troubling turn of events for NVIDIA shareholders.
One of the major selling points for Tegra is that it has four different processing cores. That is, it's a "quad-core" processor. Rivals like Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM ) and Texas Instruments quickly caught up to NVIDIA during the previous generation by quickly matching the company's dual-core Tegra 2. However, this year they're both content to sit back and keep offering up processors with only two processor cores while NVIDA jumps ahead to four.
From a technical standpoint, they could be right that more processor cores aren't always better. Qualcomm has shown that its dual-core processor can go toe-to-toe with NVIDIA's Tegra 3 that has double the number of processing cores. Throw in the fact that most applications aren't programmed to properly use all the cores on a mobile device, and NVIDIA's Tegra 3 isn't necessarily the performance king of the smartphone world.
However, while geeks across the Internet debate the merits of two versus four cores, their debate is pointless to your average smartphone buyer. Instead, Apple will shape the view on whether two versus four processor cores matters on Wednesday.
Meet Apple, the tech influencer
When Apple unveils its newest iPad on Wednesday, one of the key questions is whether the tablet will have two or four processors. Early leaks from the supply chain from such reputable sources as Bloomberg indicated that Apple will release a quad-core processor like NVIDIA's Tegra 3. However, reports of late seem to suggest that Apple will release an "A-5X" processor that would be dual-core.
While seemingly trivial, this is a very important point for a simple reason: If Apple does, in fact, produce a quad-core processor in the iPad 3, it'll rain superlatives all over how the quad-core processor makes the iPad 3 "the fastest tablet in the world" and generally heap praise upon the idea of four processor cores. The perception Apple will create for the general public is that quad-core processors are freaking speed demons, and rival Android smartphones and tablets will feel the need to go with NVIDIA's Tegra 3 because of the marketing implications of including a quad-core processor. This is the "Keeping up with the Joneses" scenario, and it's very good for NVIDIA.
If Apple goes with an older "A-5X" processor with two cores, it'll instead praise dual-cores as sufficient to meet any mobile computing needs and explain why two cores was the superior decision. Simply put, Apple will heap loads of praise on whatever processor it ends up using. However, if Apple chooses a dual-core processor, it'll lend credence to Qualcomm's and Texas Instruments' assertion that dual-core processors are sufficient for the mobile computing needs of today.
NVIDIA, Apple's quad-core cheerleader
So there you have it. For simple marketing reasons, NVIDIA could have more at stake this Wednesday than just about any other chip company. A quad-core processor from Apple could mean a series of added design wins for Tegra 3 that would push it back closer to its billion-dollar goal this year, and a dual-core design would play into Qualcomm's and Texas Instruments' hands. If you're an NVIDIA investor, you'd be unwise to take lightly Apple's decision on what kind of processor to use. Invest accordingly.
Find more plays inside the iPad
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