Getting Serious

The iPad is certainly the talk of the town these days. Most of the focus has been on it running a flavor of the iPhone OS, it “just” being a giant iPod touch, the exclusion of a webcam, or a myriad of other surface details. By far, though, I have been chiefly interested by the things Apple told us are inside the iPad.

Back at the iPhone unveiling in January 2007, Steve Jobs quoted Alan Kay, the so-called father of object-oriented programming, which Apple uses in Mac OS X and the iPhone OS. The quote Jobs used was, 

“People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.”

Over the past three years, Apple has really taken that philosophy to heart. Just over a year ago, Apple introduced the 17-inch aluminum unibody MacBook Pro to round out the unibody line of Mac portables. The key difference of the 17-inch from the 13- and 15-inch varieties was more than just a larger screen. The battery was no longer removable by the user. Apple revealed they had been designing their own batteries (versus buying the cells from a third party), and by removing the hardware necessary to allow the user the change the battery out themselves, they were able to expand the size of the battery and the overall capacity. They began to make the battery cells in house, taking on a new form factor and the ability to last up to 7 hours on a single charge. Also, normally a computer battery can handle around 300 charge cycles before needing replacement. Apple was able to increase that to around 1,000 cycles.

The following June, the 13- and 15-inch aluminum unibody portables received the same battery treatment.

And now, fast-forward to January 2010, and the iPad uses a custom processor, made in-house by Apple. It’s called the A4. Details are scarce, as the iPad hasn’t yet been released to the public. But what we do know is that it is a mobile processor than runs at 1GHz (the iPhone 3GS runs an ARM Cortex A8 at 600 MHz). Other than that, all we have to go on are educated guesses, and some statements than Steve Jobs apparently told Walt Mossberg of the The Wall Street Journal last week after the event. AppleInsider has the scoop on that conversation:

Like the iPad, people familiar with the matter claim the fourth-generation iPhone will run a version of Apple’s homebred silicon, which melds ARM’s latest multi-core Cortex reference designs with Imagination’s upcoming GPU components into a fine-tuned, customized SoC (system-on-a-chip) package.

These enhancements, along with improvements to the iPhone software, are expected to translate into quantifiable improvements in battery life and the overall speed of the iPhone interface and the software that runs on top of it.

Last week, in a conversation with Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal, Jobs spoke of the battery-sipping custom chips Apple has built with the acquisition of P.A. Semi. He noted that the newly announced iPad will offer “140-something hours,” or nearly six days, of continuous music playback with the screen off.

“It’s all about the display,” Jobs said of battery life. “Our chips don’t use hardly any power.”

With Apple making its own chips, batteries, and software, it is obvious that they are able to manage the power consumption to an almost ridiculous level. This is merely the beginning. These technologies will continue to get faster, more efficient, and generally better.

Apple is getting serious with it’s products. I would be shocked if Apple didn’t use a custom processor in the next iPhone model. I can’t even begin to imagine what a screamer the next iPhone will be if it has something similar to the A4, if not the A4 itself. 

And it just so happens that I’ll be eligible for a new iPhone this summer.