Report: iPad 3-powering A6 won’t be ready until next year

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Those hoping for iPad lightning to strike twice this year might be disappointed by a new report out Friday. Taiwan Economic News, citing sources within the chipmaking industry, says the A6 processor, successor to the A5 and cited as the central component for a new, more powerful iPad, won’t be ready for public consumption until the second quarter of next year at the earliest.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, Ltd. (TSMC)   is the company that will be supplying the A6 to Apple, according to the report. Reuters reported last month that the chipmaker was getting underway with trial production, but this latest report seems to suggest that trial production hadn’t yet begun in earnest until now.

The current A5 chip that powers the iPad 2, and is rumored to power the upcoming iPhone 5, is supplied by Samsung, but reports have long suggested that Apple was considering moving their chip production to TSMC, which is the world’s largest semiconductor foundry as measured by market share. Apple is also thought to be looking to move some of its business away from Samsung, since the two companies are involved in a complicated and volatile legal battle in various courts worldwide.

The A6, based on the ARM chip architecture, will use TSMC’s new 28-nanometer process, along with 3D stacking technologies. That will make for an extremely low-powered chip that’s also capable of blowing away the A4 and A5 in terms of processing ability, since those designs both use layered instead of 3D designs. The 3D stacking tech will allow layers to be integrated vertically and horizontally into one single circuit. Computerworld’s Jonny Evans suggested in July that such a design could make for a processor powerful enough, in theory, to replace Intel chips in future MacBook Airs, so they should extend the iPad’s capabilities considerably.

Taiwan Economic News says TSMC and Apple had discussed working together on past chips, but the chipmaker didn’t have the spare production capacity to take on the iPad maker as a customer. Owing to a downturn in the industry this year, the publication says TSMC now has room to fill Apple’s orders.

While it may be disappointing to some that it’s looking less likely we’ll see an iPad 3 this year, an iPad 2 and an iPad 3 released so close together isn’t a smart play for Apple anyway, as I noted earlier this year. The iPad continues to dominate the tablet space, and Apple is currently doing a good job of keeping its competition from even being able to sell their products. Even if we won’t get to see a new iPad product before 2012, the news that TSMC is getting underway with its chipmaking plans ahead of ramping up for full production in the first quarter of 2011 is still an exciting prospect for fans eager to see what’s coming next from Apple.

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