Sunday, December 9, 2012

Welcome to the Races iPad 2

The iPad 2, introduced by Steve Jobs on March 3, joins a growing body of dual-core tablets in what the Apple chief executive hails as the post-PC era. Although Apple lacks a jump on competitors in the current round of tablets, expect Apple will do well with the iPad 2 and new A5 system-on-a-chip.

Apple held a commanding 84.7 percent share of the 17-million strong tablet market in 2010 as it shipped the iPad months earlier than its nearest competitor, the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Fueled by the addition of many new vendors, expect the tablet market to grow to 44 million units this year and more than 70 million in 2012. (International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates.)

Just as hot-rodders will wax poetic about different "mills" under the hood, engineers like to talk about what's under the hood of the various electronic toys on the market. So, hang on as I describe the supercharged V-8's that are burning rubber this year.

Last year, Apple sold nearly 50 million total systems with its single-core A4 processor, nearly four times as many units as the company's X86-based PC's. (IDC estimates) Apple currently offers five products based on the A4: the first-generation iPad, both GSM (AT&T) and CDMA (Verizon Wireless) versions of the iPhone 4, the iPod Touch, and Apple TV. The iPad 2 is Apple's first product to use the new, dual-core A5 CPU.  This year, however, Apple faces a host of top tier competitors, all with gigahertz-class chips ready for the quarter-mile run.

I mentioned in another note that Hewlett-Packard has announced a webOS tablet based on a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, while LG, Motorola Mobility, and Samsung have all introduced Android tablets based on Nvidia's Tegra 2 chip. Research in Motion, producer of the Blackberry, meanwhile, is ramping up a beta program for its PlayBook tablet using a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 OMAP 4430 processor.

This is the year for dual-cores. Just as a V-8 always (well almost always) beats a four-cylinder, so multi-core processors leave their single core brethren in the dust.

The extra horsepower is helping shift tablets from content consumption to content creation systems. Apple assists with their new Garage Band and iMovie apps for the iPad. One would wish, however, that the new iPad had upped the display resolution too, although including the HDMI port for connecting to large screen TVs is a very promising event.

Apple CEO Jobs, who returned from medical leave to launch the iPad 2 in San Francisco, said at the event, "These are post PC devices that need to be easier and more intuitive than a PC; and the software, hardware, and applications need to intertwine in an even more seamless way than on a PC."

In the new design paradigm of smartphones and tablets, computing efficiency trumps raw computing power. Designs like the iPad demand highly integrated microprocessor that emphasize graphics performance, lower power consumption, and small space requirements.

Details about the Apple A5 chip and other iPad 2 electronics will have to wait until systems become available for tear-down by experts. We do know that the Apple A5 runs at the same clock frequency as the A4. Adding a second core alone would not provide the doubling of performance or nine-fold increase in graphics speed that Apple claims. So expect to see an upgraded graphics chip and a few other tricks when the hood is first lifted, and the iPad 2 is opened up for the hot rodders to see.

Zoom, zoom indeed.

Originally written on March 7, 2011.

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