PORTLAND, Ore. – The iPad 2 joins a growing chorus of dual-core tablets in what Apple chief executive hailed as the post-PC era. Although Apple lacks a jump on competitors in the current round, observers expect it will do well with its latest system and its new A5 system-on-chip.
Apple held a commanding 84.7 percent of the 17 million unit tablet market in 2010, according to International Data Corp., shipping months before its nearest competitor the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Fueled by many new vendors, IDC expects the market to grow to 44 million units this year and more than 70 million in 2012.
Last year, Apple has sold nearly 50 million systems using its single-core A4 processor, nearly four times as many units as Apple's x86-based PCs, according to estimates from market watcher IHS iSuppli.
Apple sells five products based on its single-core 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 iPad 2 is Apple's first product to use its new dual-core A5. In 2011, Apple faces a host of top tier competitors all with GHz-class chips.
Hewlett-Packard has announced a WebOS tablet based on a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. LG, Motorola and Samsung have announced Android tablets based on Nvidia's Tegra 2. And Research in Motion is ramping up a beta program for its Playbook tablet using a dual-core ARM Cortex A9 Omap 4430 processor from Texas Instruments.
"This is the year for dual-core tablets, there's no doubt about that," said Nathan Brookwood, principal of market watcher Insight64 (Saratoga, Calif.) who attended the original iPad launch last year.
The extra horsepower is helping shift tablets from content consumption to content creation systems, Brookwood said, noting Apple's new Garage Band and iMovie apps for the iPad. "That’s where the extra core will come in handy," he said.
"I was a little disappointed they are sticking with the same resolution [as the original iPad], however they do have an HDMI port on the iPad 2 to hook up to large screen TVs," he added.
"These are post-PC devices that need to be easier and more intuitive than a PC, and the software, hardware and applications need to intertwine in an even more seamless way than on a PC," said Jobs, returning from medical leave to launch the iPad 2 in San Francisco.
“In the new design paradigm of smart phones and tablets, computing efficiency trumps raw computing power,” agreed Wayne Lam, senior analyst, competitive analysis, at IHS. ”Designs like the iPad demand highly integrated microprocessors that emphasize graphics performance, lower power consumption and small space usage.”
Details about the Apple A5 chip and other iPad 2 electronics will have to wait until systems become available for teardown experts.
The A5 runs at the same GHz frequency as the A4. Adding a second core alone would not provide the doubling of performance a nine-fold increase in graphics Apple claims.
Brookwood suggested Apple may have shifted from the ARM Cortex A8 core in its A4 chip to a Cortex A9, upgraded a separate graphics core and thrown in a few other tricks as well.