iPad 2: has Apple taken its foot off the innovation accelerator?

3 Mar 2011

Nope. Not by any stretch of the imagination. The real technological breakthrough with the iPad 2 is not so much its design and accessories but the inclusion of the A5 processor that doubles the performance of the A4 processor.

Last night, the world watched as Apple CEO Steve Jobs took the wraps off the iPad 2 and marvelled at the fact it is 33pc lighter than the iPad, comes in black and white, comes with two cameras and is optimised for FaceTime and PhotoBooth. The company also unveiled a new cover for the iPad, one that is magnetic and that activates the screen when you peel back the cover.

The device will be available in the US from 11 March and internationally from 25 March.

But is there compelling enough reasons to upgrade if you’ve invested in an iPad in the past year? I’m not so sure, unless of course you take into account the A5 dual-core processor that will make the iPad stand up against competition from Android Honeycomb devices that will also sport dual-core processors.

The fact Apple hasn’t altered the pricing of the iPad 2 away from the original iPad and the fact the original iPad family will come down in price have merit. But what do the analysts think?

Analyst responses to iPad 2

Although iPad 2 is “lighter, thinner, faster” than the original, with some improvements at the processor level, Informa Telecoms & Media believes Apple has lost an opportunity to further advance its lead in the tablet market.

“In a market where Apple’s Android-based competitors have had to wait for a tablet-optimised version of Android (Honeycomb), it seems that Apple has taken its foot off the innovation accelerator,” opined Gavin Byrne, senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

“Without the pressure of strong competition in the tablet market, are they getting complacent in Cupertino? Indeed, it seems that the iPad 2 is more of an iPad 1.5, with the real innovations still to come in future iterations.

“Nevertheless, helped by more than 65,000 iPad applications and some colourful accessories, Informa Telecoms & Media still believes that iPad sales will more than double this year to over 30m.”

Silicon Valley analyst firm IHS iSuppli also believes the new tablet computer will boost Apple’s sales.

Apple has much to thank the original A4 processor for, it believes. Driven by the soaring sales of products, including the iPad and the iPhone 4, Apple Inc’s shipments of products based on its A4 microprocessor reached nearly 50m units in 2010 from virtually zero sales in 2009.

In an indication of how successful the microprocessor has been, Apple in 2010 shipped nearly four times as many units of A4-based products as did of X86-based PCs.

The low-cost, highly-integrated A4 and A5 designs represent an important element in Apple’s philosophy of offering products that are focused on delivering a compelling user interface (UI) and a highly optimised computing platform for Apple’s iOS operating system.

“In the new design paradigm of smartphones and tablets, computing efficiency trumps raw computing power,” said Wayne Lam, senior analyst, competitive analysis, at IHS.

”Designs like the iPad demand highly integrated microprocessors that emphasise graphics performance, lower power consumption and small space usage.”

Apple so far has introduced five products based on the A4: the first-generation iPad, the AT&T version of the iPhone 4, the Apple TV, the iPod touch and the CDMA iPhone 4 carried by Verizon Wireless.

The A4 combines an A4 microprocessor core and a graphics processing unit (GPU). The device was custom designed by P.A. Semi—a company acquired by Apple in 2008—and is manufactured by Samsung.

A4 influence

Partly because of the popularity of Apple’s iPad, companies around the world are developing media tablets and other products that feature small and innovative form factors, noted Matthew Wilkins, principal analyst, compute platforms, for iSuppli. These products require highly integrated semiconductor solutions that consume less power and space, similar to the A4 microprocessor.

In the PC market, this trend is driving rising sales of notebook microprocessors that integrate graphics processing capabilities, eliminating the need for separate GPUs.

In tablets and smartphones, companies are offering alternatives to the A4 that offer similar levels of integration. For instance, Intel Corp and Nvidia Corp have announced plans for tablet-oriented microprocessors with similar characteristics to the A4.

In the case of Nvidia, the company is offering the Tegra 2 solution used in Motorola Inc’s XOOM tablet, which upped the ante on the A4 with the inclusion of two microprocessor cores. Now with the A5, however, Apple has matched the dual-core capability of the Tegra 2.