A new report from Mac Fan (via MacRumors) states that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is planning to launch a 12.2-inch iPad which will either be called the "iPad Pro" or the "iPad Air Plus." The magazine makes a number of claims, including some potential dimensions and features; but the claim that stands out is that this reported iPad Pro/iPad Air Plus will feature a brand new system-on-chip called, unsurprisingly, the A9.
Now, it would certainly make sense that a larger, more expensive tablet intended for more "professional" workloads would feature a newer processor. However, given everything that has been rumored about the A9 thus far, the launch time frame may not be realistic -- or the A9 may not be what many expect it to be.
The A9 is expected to be built on a 14/16-nanometer FinFET process
It is widely expected that, for its next generation mobile system on chip, Apple will be moving to a FinFET manufacturing process from either Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) or Taiwan Semiconductor (NYSE:TSM). Given that Samsung has signaled that it wouldn't be ramping its 14nm FinFET process for foundry customers until the second half of 2015, and given that Taiwan Semiconductor has indicated that it won't begin mass production on its 16nm FinFET+ process until July 2015, there are a couple of possibilities to consider:
- Apple's A9 will actually be built on a 20-nanometer process, contrary to reports.
- This report is wrong.
While both possibilities seem plausible, I'm inclined to believe the second of the two possibilities.
Apple can't afford another year at 20-nanometers
During a recent investor presentation, Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) noted that it had begun mass production of a 14-nanometer Exynos applications processor. This implies that at least some of Samsung's flagship tablets and/or phones will utilize processors built on Samsung's 14-nanometer manufacturing technology. This means significant performance and power benefits relative to the 20-nanometer competition.
Yes, it could be argued that performance and chip power consumption isn't necessarily what sells iPhones. However, given how keen Apple seems to be to talk about the performance and battery life of its devices, it seems unlikely that it would hold off on moving to a 14/16-nanometer technology for its next generation processor if its largest and most lethal competitor doesn't.
But what about a special 20-nanometer chip for the iPad Pro?
Another potential possibility is that Apple could design a special, even-better-than-A8X 20-nanometer chip for the upcoming iPad Pro. The problem with this is that, if Apple were to deploy a 20-nanometer part inside of an iPad Pro that will supposedly launch in the April-June time frame, only to update its iPhone and iPad Air to more efficient 14/16-nanometer chips in the October time frame, this would be slightly problematic.
The iPad Pro needs to be, by far, the most powerful device from a compute/graphics standpoint during its lifetime. If Apple is transitioning its iPhone/iPad Air to 14/16-nanometer chips in late 2015, then there's very little chance that Apple could achieve that with a 20-nanometer chip inside of the rumored iPad Pro.
In short, I wouldn't put too much faith in this particular rumor.
Ashraf Eassa has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.