In late 2015, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) introduced its very first very large screen tablet -- the iPad Pro. Although it's not clear yet how this product is doing in the marketplace (some people love it, others returned theirs), one thing that I think many will agree upon is that it represents the state of the art in terms of tablet technology.
However, today's technological marvels are tomorrow's landfill material as technology progresses on. In this article, I'd like to offer up three predictions for Apple's next-generation iPad Pro, which will likely be dubbed the iPad Pro 2.
A 10-nanometer A10X Processor
Although it is widely believed that the upcoming A10 processor that will power Apple's iPhone 7/7 Plus will be built on Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing's (NYSE: TSM) 16-nanometer FinFET Plus manufacturing process, I believe that there is a reasonable chance that the A10X will be built on a next generation 10-nanometer process.
Indeed, Taiwan Semi has said that it will begin high volume production of 10-nanometer at the end of 2016 and should recognize revenue sometime in the first quarter of 2017.
If Apple waits to launch a refreshed iPad Pro until the spring of 2017, I believe that the company should be able to equip the tablet with a 10-nanometer A10X processor. The move to the new manufacturing technology should allow Apple to ultimately deliver better performance and lower power consumption.
Same display, but potential inclusion of 3D Touch
The 2015 iPad Pro did not include the same 3D Touch technology that the company introduced with the iPhone 6s/6s Plus, much to the disappointment of many.
That being said, a report recently surfaced claiming that Apple is working on building a "scalable" version of its 3D Touch technology that could be applied to both small display and large display devices alike. The report claims that this technology will debut in the iPhone following iPhone 7, but I wouldn't be surprised if it made its first appearance in the iPad Pro 2/iPad Air 4.
As far as the actual display goes, Apple has historically recycled the same panels in iPad models for several generations before transitioning to new ones. I expect Apple to go with the same playbook with the iPad Pro.
Much more memory bandwidth to feed the A10X beast
In order to feed the beast that is the Apple A9X processor, Apple had to utilize a very wide quad-channel LPDDR4 memory architecture, enabling bandwidth of around 51.2 GB/second. To deliver a significant boost in memory bandwidth in the A10X over the A9X, Apple has a couple of options.
First, it could move to higher-speed LPDDR4 memory. A move from LPDDR4-3200 to, say, LPDDR4-4266 would drive memory bandwidth up to around 68 GB/sec, which should be more than enough to feed a much more powerful A10X chip.
Another option, one that other chip companies have been working on for their high-end mobile applications processors, is a type of 3D stacked DRAM known as Wide I/O 2. The memory bandwidth numbers for the current iteration of Wide I/O 2 also come in at 68 GB/second, similar to what Apple would be able to get from moving to higher-clocked LPDDR4.
That said, according to a presentation from memory standards body JEDEC, Wide I/O 2 offers a number of pretty significant advantages over LPDDR4, including:
- Better performance/power than any LPDDRx (where x ranges from 1-4) flavor,
- Smaller form factor than LPDDRx, and
- "Excellent thermal performance if appropriate system heat spreader applied."
Wide I/O 2 might be an excellent choice for the iPad Pro 2, particularly if Apple aims to make the device thinner and lighter than the current iteration, as a result of these technology advantages.