The Next iPhone

Historically the iPad has been the launch vehicle for Apple's next-generation iPhone SoC. It's safe to say that the 45nm A5X we've seen here today won't be finding its way into a smartphone. Instead what we're likely to see in the next iPhone this year is a 28/32nm shrink of the A5, coupled with Qualcomm's 28nm MDM9615 instead of the 45nm MDM9600 enabling LTE support.

It'll be next year before we see the introduction of the A6 in the fourth generation iPad, which will likely bring ARM's Cortex A15 to the table as well as Imagination Technologies' PowerVR Series 6 (codename Rogue) GPU. Apple isn't done driving GPU performance. There's still a chance we'd see the introduction of a Cortex A15 based SoC late this year for the new iPhone but I still believe the timing is too aggressive for that to happen.

Haswell

In working on this review, Vivek IMed me and told me the best part of using an iPad instead of a notebook is the battery life. When the battery indicator reads only 20% left, chances are you've still got a good couple of hours of battery life left on the new iPad. On a MacBook Pro? You're lucky if you get half of that.

The question is, must this gap always exist? The MacBook Pro has much more power hungry silicon, and it's running a much more power hungry OS and application set. I won't go too far into this but one of the promises Intel is making with Haswell, its 2013 microprocessor architecture, is for a > 20x decrease in connected standby power. Intel's goal is to be able to deliver an Ultrabook in 2013 that can remain in connected standby (still receiving emails, Twitter updates, push notfications, etc...) for up to 10 days on a single charge.

What about for a lighter, more tablet like usage model? Will Haswell be able to deliver more iPad-like battery life for most tasks, but offer the horsepower and flexibility to run a traditional OS? I'm hearing very exciting things about next year...

Windows 8

A while ago I made a list of the top 10 things I did with my computer. It looked something like this:

Web Browsing
IM
Photo/Video Editing
Excel
Editing Reviews (HTML)
Publishing Reviews (FTP, CMS access)
3D Gaming
Writing
Email
Twitter

Of that list of 10, most of them could be done on a tablet, but only a couple of them delivered a better experience on a tablet than on a desktop/notebook (web browsing and email). You could argue that interacting with Twitter is also better on a tablet as well. Regardless of where you draw the line however, the fact of the matter is that for a user like me I can't replace a notebook with a tablet or vice versa. I need both. I don't like the idea of needing both, I'd rather just have one that could always deliver the best experience possible.

It's this problem I believe Microsoft is trying to address with Windows 8. Put Windows 8 on a convertible or dockable tablet (ala ASUS' Transformer Prime), with x86 hardware, and you've got a very real solution to this problem. When you want a touchscreen tablet, you've got one. When you want a more traditional workhorse notebook, you've got one there as well. I make the x86 reference because that way you don't lose out on compatibility with all of your older desktop apps that you may rely on.

For years Microsoft has failed to deliver a consumer friendly tablet by forcing a desktop UI on it. Its experience with Media Center taught us all that vastly different usage models need different user interfaces. It took Microsoft a long time to realize this, but with Windows 8 I believe it has one solution to the tablet problem. It is ironic/funny/depressing that with Windows 8 Microsoft is simply making the same mistake it made for years with tablets, in reverse. This time around the desktop experience suffers (or at best, just isn't moved forward) in order to focus more on the tablet experience. Sigh, one of these days they'll figure it out.

The point of this sidebar on Windows 8 is to talk about the iOS equivalent. Apple advocated so strongly with the iPhone for the consolidation of devices, I can't help but assume that we'll see a similar move in the MacBook Air/iPad space. iOS is far more multitasking friendly today than it was a couple of years ago. The support for multitasking gestures alone on the iPad is huge. But there clearly has to be more. I don't even know if iOS 6 is really when we'll see this intersection between tablet and ultra portable happen. Like Haswell, this may also be a 2013 thing...

WiFi, GPS & AirPlay Vivek's Impressions
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  • Steelbom - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    I'm curious why we didn't see any graphics benchmarks from the UDK like with the iPhone 4S review? Reply
  • Craig234 - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    Wow, this is good to buy... 'if you are in desperate need for a tablet'?

    That's a pretty weak recommendation, I expected a much stronger endorsement based on the review.
    Reply
  • Chaki Shante - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Great, thorough review, thanks Anand et al.

    Given the sheer size of the SoC (like 4x larger then Tegra2 or OMAP4430, and 2x Tegra3), you'd bet Apple has the fastest current SoC, at least GPU-wise.

    This SoC is just huge and Apple's margin is certainly lowered. Is this sustainable on the long run ?

    I wonder if any other silicon manufacturer could make same size devices (not technologically but from a price perspective) and expect to sell them.
    Reply
  • dagamer34 - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    No one else needs to crank out so many chips that are the same. Also, other companies will be waiting long enough to use 28nm, so there's little chance they'll be hitting the same size as the A5X on 45nm. Reply
  • Aenean144 - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Since Apple is both the chip designer/licensee and hardware vendor, it saves them the cost of paying a middleman. Ie, Nvidia has to make a profit on a Tegra sale, Apple does not, and can afford a more expensive chip from the fab compared to the business component chain from Asus to Nvidia to GF/TSMC and other IP licensees.

    I bet there is at least 50% margin somewhere in the transaction chain from Asus to Nvidia to GF/TSMC. Apple may also have a sweetheart IP deal from both ARMH and IMGTEC that competitors may not have.
    Reply
  • shompa - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    @Aenean144

    Tegra2 cost 25 dollars for OEMs and 15 dollars to manufacture. A5 cost Apple 25 dollars to manufacture. By designing its own SoC Apple got 30% larger SoC at the same price as Android OEMs.

    Tegra3 is huge. That is a problem for Nvidia. It costs at least 50% more to manufacture. Nvidia is rumored to charge 50 dollar for the SoC.

    A5X is 50%+ larger then Tegra3. Depending of yields it cost Apple 35-50 dollar per SoC.

    The integrated model gives Apple cheaper SoCs, but also custom designed for their needs. Apple have a long history of Accelerating stuff in its OS. Back in 2002 it was AltiVec. Encoding a DVD on a 667mhz powerbook took 90 minutes. The fastest X86 AMD 1.5ghz it took 15 hours. (and it was almost impossible to have XP not bluescreen for 15 hours under full load). Since 2002 Apple accelerate OSX with Quarz Extreme. Both these techniques are now used in iOS with SIMD acceleration and GPU acceleration. Its much more elegant then the brute force X86 approach. Integrated makes it possible to use slower, cheaper and more efficient designs.
    Reply
  • shompa - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    The A5X SoC is a disaster. Its a desperation SoC that had to be implemented when TSMC 28nm process slipped almost 2 years. That is the reason why Apple did not tape out a 32nm A5X on Samsung. PA Semi had to crank out a new tapeout fast with existing assets. So they took the A5 and added 2 more graphics core.

    The real A6 SoC is probably ready since long back, but TSMC cant deliver enough wafers. The rumored tapeout for A6 was mid 2011. Apple got test wafers from TSMC in june and another batch of test wafers in october. Still at this point Apple believed they would use TSMC for Ipad3.

    ARM is about small, cheap and low power SoCs. That is the future of computing. The A5X is larger then many X86 chips. Technically Intel manufactures many of its CPUs cheaper then Apple manufactures the A5X SoC. That is insane.
    Reply
  • stimudent - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Products reviews are fun to look at, but where there's a bright side, there is always a dark side. Maybe product scoring should also reflect how a manufacturer treats its employees. Reply
  • name99 - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    You mean offers them a better wage than they could find in the rest of China, and living conditions substantially superior to anywhere else they could work?
    Yes, by all means let's use that scoring.

    Or perhaps you'd like to continue to live your Mike Daisey dystopia because god-forbid that the world doesn't conform to your expectations?
    Reply
  • Craig234 - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    I'm all for including 'how a company treats its employees' and other social issues; but I'd list them separately, not put them in a product rating. Reply

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