What's Inside Apple's Tablet?

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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