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Summary:

In a week from now, Apple may announce a new kind of a tablet-styled computing device that has more names than Black Eyed Peas has hits. But the important question for me is what’s inside. Today we have some details on device’s innards.

A week from now, Apple is going to announce its latest creation. It’s not clear what it is, exactly, but the speculation is that it will be a new kind of tablet-styled computing device that has more names than the Black Eyed Peas has hit singles. The important question for me, however, is what’s inside this mythical device. Today we have some answers as to its semiconductor innards.

Earlier this morning, veteran computer industry analyst Ashok Kumar of Northeast Securities in a note to his clients outlined some details. Kumar said that Apple could “ship up to a 1 million units by March and plateau at 400,000-500,000 units per month thereafter.” Now those are some aggressive forecasts — not sure if I entirely buy into them — but if true they could have a material impact on both Apple and its component supplier partners.

And as you read further down Kumar’s list you will see the most glaring absence is none other than Intel, which has been trying to get its chips designed into future tablet devices.  (Related post: 10 Features That Would Make iPad a Hit.)

Kumar speculates that the device is going to cost between $600 and $800 and will come with a docking station that will allow the device to be used with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. The device is also going to come with wireless connectivity supplied by a carrier partner, most likely Verizon. But let’s focus on the semiconductor components for now. According to Kumar:

* The core of the application processor is said to be ARM Cortex (8), which Apple licensed from Samsung.
* Apple is enhancing the core processor with the help of design team from PA Semi, a company Apple bought for roughly $278 million in 2008. Apple has focused on enhancing video and graphic capabilities of the device with its internal semiconductor efforts.
* Samsung will be the foundry for the application processor and it will also be one of the suppliers of Flash memory to Apple.
* Qualcomm is said to be supplying the wireless wide area network (WWAN) chip for connectivity to the wireless networks.

Let me put Kumar’s comments in context.

For starters, before it was taken out by Apple, PA Semi had designed a very low-power, dual-core ARM chip running at 2 GHz and consuming 5-13 watts. That’s the kind of design expertise you need when building portable Internet devices such as this mythical tablet. And that is precisely the kind of expertise Apple needs, in-house, in order to muck around with ARM-based chips.

Kumar’s theory is also bolstered by the fact that about year and a half ago, a story in The New York Times pointed out that Apple’s Wei-han Lien, a senior manager with the chip team, was telling folks on LinkedIn that he was busy working on a new ARM processor for what was the next-generation iPhone.

If you take those two random bits of information, then Kumar’s speculation makes a lot of sense. In addition, an independent source of ours also tells us that Apple has indeed been working with Qualcomm and Verizon. It could very well be that Apple has developed a CDMA version of the iPhone for Verizon.

Stay tuned! I will be attending the media event, where I’m hoping to see if the mythical tablet does turn into a reality.

Related GigaOM Pro Content: Is The Age of the Web Tablet Finally Upon Us?

Photo courtesy of Gizmodo.

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  1. Dan Villiom Podlaski Christiansen Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    I believe the chip PA Semi sold was a PowerPC chip, and not an ARM. For what it’s worth, Wikipedia agrees with this ;-)

    1. They were selling a Power PC chip initially and had hoped to sell to Apple those chips but Apple went with Intel and that changed everything. They went ahead and did a whole lot of other designs for other markets and eventually ended up with that ARM chip, which never really made it to the market.

      1. I don’t think so. Let’s like at a time line:
        2003 PA Semi founded
        2005 PA Semi has discussions with Apple on PowerPC MPUs
        2007 PA Semi introduces dual core 2GHZ PowerPC, finds good acceptance from military, telecom, and networking markets.
        2008 Apple buys PA Semi, many PA Semi customers unhappy

        PA Semi didn’t have the time or money (designing a MPU costs in the tens of millions and takes years) to do an ARM chip.

        A story about DoD unhappiness with the buyout is here: http://www.eetimes.com/news/semi/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=207401605

      2. Even if we don’t have all the facts about PA Semi did exactly (being a private company), you’re just making this one up.

        First, isn’t it a little convenient that the power consumption of your mythical PA Semi ARM is exactly the same as the widely reported consumption of the actual PowerPC?

        (See, for instance, http://www.mc.com/mediacenter/pressrelease.aspx?id=11532)

        More glaringly, you seem to be ignorant of the gulf in power consumption between ARM and desktop-class processors. To describe a 5-13W ARM as “very low-power” is laughable when the vast majority of ARMs use <1W. Even the dual-core Cortex A9 is said to require only ~2W at ~2GHz.

        Isn’t the simpler explanation that you just forgot it was a PowerPC when writing your article, filled in the gap with ignorant wishful thinking, and are now backtracking to hide your lack of research? Maybe if you did a little fact-checking you would have uncovered articles such as this one:

        http://www.tgdaily.com/mobility-opinion/37092-apple-to-build-a-pa-semi-iphone-not-so-fast

        1. Erick

          Here is another report for you. http://bit.ly/14K5oL. This is ARM’s chip code-named Project Osprey aka A9, something you point out. http://bit.ly/5NAO4N

          I think there are two different and distinct efforts that the company made – one with Power PC and one with ARM.

          And in terms of a tablet/PC, 5-13 Watts does qualify as low power. That is pretty much in the range of what new Intel Atom chips are likely to consume. On Project Osprey, the lower power consumption spec is of 2Watts, so from that perspective you are right.

          1. Om,

            Those articles are about a new Cortex A9 hard core from ARM and have nothing to do with PA Semi. It’s very likely the former PA Semi employees now working for Apple are using or developing an ARM core now (or designing their own; IIRC Apple has a ARM architectural license).

            But there’s no evidence PA Semi was working on an ARM core before Apple bought them. And there is good evidence that they were making decent headway selling their chips (although maybe not in large enough volumes to make their investors happy) — there are a lot of markets besides PCs. Both MIPS and PowerPC are still very popular in certain markets like telecom and networking.

          2. Om,

            Let’s imagine that PA actually was working on an ARM project, despite your inability to locate any evidence thereof. Now let’s assume, for the sake of contradiction, that your description of the project is accurate.

            It is documented fact that PA Semi had a working PowerPC dual-core with 5-13W typical consumption running at 2GHz. Now consider that ARM customers are used to measuring power consumption in milliwatts: ARM’s raison d’etre is that its architecture is an order of magnitude more power-efficient (at the cost of some performance).

            Why would PA Semi, with their expertise in low-power design, NOT be able to go lower than the 5-13W of the PPC chip then? Just correct the one instance of “ARM” to “PowerPC” in your article and the entire paragraph still reads just as well. You really don’t need to fight this point (with no evidence) to make the same case.

  2. “speculation” and “aggressive forecasts” are the key words here.

    Why can’t everyone simply wait until it is released to comment on the features of this ‘Pad’ – or whatever it may eventually be called.

    Can you interpret “For starters, before it was taking out by PA Semi had designed a very low power dual core “?

  3. So a US only launch ? “A carrier partner”, “Verizon”.

    Apple did that with the original iPhone too, but launched the 3G simultaneously in US and EU, didn´t they ? And this time around they already have lines open with carriers everywhere.

  4. So a US only launch ? “A carrier partner”, “Verizon”.

    Apple did that with the original iPhone too, but launched the 3G simultaneously in US and EU, didn´t they ? And this time around they already have lines open with carriers everywhere.

    PS! Which photo is courtesy of Gizmodo ?

  5. What photo is courtesy of Gizmodo?

    1. Apple …give us break from over priced crap ….other ARM tablets tablets cost like 200 $ …..this (600 to 800 $) is ridiculous….. best of luck apple fanboys

  6. So, this is going to be only available from Verizon? If I have to buy it like a phone, forget it! I don’t want to be tied to any phone company for wireless connectivity.

    1. Maybe it will be like Amazon’s Kindle with built-in wireless included for no additional charge. One can hope.

      1. yes, of course it will have wifi… all macs, ipod touches and iphones have built in wifi…

    2. @Mary,

      Verizon and AT&T are already offering monthly, weekly, and daily prepaid passes for wireless data access. Hence, if you buy the tablet without a subsidy, you should be able to access the macro cellular network without a contract. Additionally, i’m sure the tablet will support wifi.

      My $.02,

      Best.

      1. yes… I have a Mifi 2200 from VZW and use it when I can’t get online any other way… (though VZW’s claim of 3g everywhere is pretty bogus). I’ll gladly pay full price for an Apple tablet w/bluetooth for a keyboard, and so on. Thanks for the reply(s).

  7. A real key is whether it will have a camera that can do video for videoconferencing.

    For those complaining about price, it will probably be subsidized by a carrier with a new agreement.

    I’d pay $800 for a portable video-conferencing slate that can hold all of my books and data when I’m traveling and at conferences, especially when it’s tied with the SquareUp or something similar. I talked a bit about it here: http://bit.ly/5QTOVO

  8. If they go with Verizon, I think they will lose a lot of people who currently own an iPhone. You would have to have two cellular plans, one from VZ and your current AT&T plan.

    So while they might offer VZ, its unlikely to be exclusive in my opinion. But if they do offer VZ it could be a hint of things to come for the iPhone.

    1. Replying to myself, if VZ offers a rebate or whatever you call it for a monthly data plan without needing a voice plan and does not restrict VOIP calls, then perhaps there might be some merit.

      But how would additional devices in the family be handled?

  9. Qualcomm makes a WWAN chipset, the Gobi, that can speak EV-DO and HSPA. These radios are available on HP, Dell and Thinkpad laptops.

    I believe that the user selects a firmware package to load onto the radio. So don’t expect rapid roaming between multiple carriers.

    http://www.gobianywhere.com/
    http://www.qctconnect.com/products/gobi.html

  10. PA Semi was not working on an ARM chip.

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