• 03Feb

    Apple's Little Chip

    SAN FRANCISCO — Sure, the screen is nice. But the iPad’s most important component, at least for Apple’s future, may be the A4, the fingernail-size chip at the tablet’s heart.

    With the A4, Apple has taken another step toward challenging the norms of the mobile device industry. Device makers typically buy their primary chips from specialized microprocessor companies. But for the iPad, Apple chose to design its own — creating unique bonds between the chip and Apple’s software.

    The do-it-yourself approach gives Apple the chance to build faster, more battery-friendly products than rivals and helps the company to keep product development secret.

    But designing its own processors burdens Apple with additional engineering costs and potential product delays. It also forces the company to hire — and retain — experienced chip designers. Several who joined the company in 2008 after an acquisition have already left for a secretive start-up.

    Though chip industry experts have yet to put the iPad through their customary rigorous tests, Apple’s demonstrations left them underwhelmed.

    “I don’t see anything that looks that compelling,” said Linley Gwennap, a chip analyst at the Linley Group. “It doesn’t seem like something all that new, and, if it is, they are not getting far with it.”

    As he unveiled the iPad last week, Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, discussed the A4 with his customary hyperbolic flair. He heralded it as “the most advanced chip” Apple had ever used and said it was crucial to the iPad’s speed, reliability and 10-hour battery life.

    “We have an incredible group that does custom silicon at Apple,” Mr. Jobs said, adding that the A4 has “everything in this one chip, and it screams.” Apple declined to discuss details of the chip beyond what it had said publicly.

    From NYT

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