Apple, the “latest creation” and PA Semi

Well the invitations have been mailed, the bloggers have blogged and the number crunchers have crunched. We are a week away from Apple’s January 27th event and the tablet anticipation appears to coming to a head. In the end some of the more intriguing reading surrounds the invitation itself. Who can decode the spray paint inspired graphic and not so cryptic copy?

The graphic will of course have many meanings and inspirations.  The use of spray paint seems to take inspiration from urban culture, gaming, art and creativity to name but a few.  Of particular note are the bits that extend beyond the border.  Is Apple thinking outside the box?  Does this coincide with the rumours of resurrecting the Think Different slogan?

With regard to the copy Apple does not usually give this much away.  The term “latest creation” particularly suggests new hardware.  Of course Apple does not separate the hardware and software, so expect some neat software thrown in there.  But, does it also suggest a new semiconductor, namely the use of their own integrated circuit designed by the PA Semi team that was acquired in the spring of 2008.

A central aspect of Apple’s success has to be integration.  Their products have increasingly been about an integrated approach to hardware and software that makes the end result larger than the sum of the individual parts.  An iPod, for example, does not have a particularly unique parts list.  It is however brought to life through the understanding and design of an intuitive UI, an integrated approach to content delivery, and simply appealing design.

Is the tablet where Apple goes one step further? At the time of the PA Semi acquisition Apple indicated that it wanted to further differentiate itself from any and all competition through the design of its own semiconductors.  Off the shelf processors are in large designed and sold with a set of features, ports and performance that will appeal to a range of clients, including your competition.  So what happens if you could design your own processor with blocks tailored solely to your device and its application.  Remember, you control everything.

The tablet or any device between an iPhone and Macbook will need more processing power than the former and less than the latter, suggesting a general purpose microprocessor is too much and a single, smaller logic core is too little.  By the same token any tablet would not be used for general computing, but would be graphics intensive with gaming and video likely being target markets.  So what could you design? Since PA Semi has low power experience and you want a long battery life you would certainly have some novel power management functionality.  As you do not need a particularly high clock or large cores how about several smaller cores running at lower clocks.  For graphics why stop at a single or dual core, how about a parallel compute engine to crunch all those polygons?  There are lots of ideas and it is all just tantalizing speculation at this point.

Whether it happens with whatever is introduced next week or in later iterations it makes for some compelling speculation.  Whenever an Apple/ PA Semi chip does emerge it will certainly keep the reverse engineering houses busy as large semiconductor manufacturers and OEMs will want to decode the circuit blocks thereon.  Ah…integration.