SAN JOSE, Calif. – Apple added LTE and upgraded the processor, display and camera in its latest iPad announced today. The new iPad uses a new Apple A5X applications processor, sporting two CPU and four graphics cores, the company said.
Overall, the message the new iPad could be sending to tablet makers is, "Step on the graphics."
Little is known about the A5X. However, the decision to boost graphics quality in the chip, along with an improved display, should provide noticeable improvements in games, graphics and pictures while keeping the power budget low, said one analyst.
“The new iPad sets the tone and direction for next generation tablets,” said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy (Austin). “If you are a 10-inch Android tablet maker and not clearly differentiated, you will have to rethink your strategy," said the former AMD exec turned analyst.
He speculated the A5X uses four Rogue graphics cores from Imagination Technologies. Changing to another graphics core provider would not be possible without disrupting Apple’s developer base, he said.
With the new processor Apple appears to be on par with Nvidia's Tegra 3, "but what matters is real game play and no one questions Nvidia's strength there," said Moorhead.
Nvidia's Tegra uses up to 12 graphics cores, and Huawei rolled out a mobile apps processor with 16 graphics cores at the Mobile World Congress last week. But it's hard to compare graphics cores directly because each vendor takes radically different approaches to them, said Kevin Krewell, principal analyst of The Linley Group and editor of The Microprocessor Report.
Krewell said the A5X almost certainly uses the Imagination PowerVR SGX 543MP4 core. The Rogue core is not due out until later this year, he noted.
The tablet will come in separate versions for AT&T and Verizon LTE networks. Apple is also working with at least two other carriers—Rodgers and Telus—for LTE support. The device will support LTE downloads at rates up to 73 MBits/s, Apple said.
"It looks like Qualcomm (with LTE) and Imagination (in graphics) are the big winners," said Sravan Kundojjala, a senior analyst with Strategy Analytics. "Qualcomm is the most likely LTE chip supplier to the new iPad considering its world-mode capabilities across network," he said.
"Overall, once again Apple set the bar high for apps processor and tablet competitors alike," he added.
In terms of media capabilities, the new iPad supports 1080-progressive video recording, a 2,048 x 1,536 pixel screen displaying 264 pixels per inch and a 5 MPixel camera. The devices weighs in at 1.4 pounds, measures 9.4mm thick and costs $499 and up for models starting at 16 Gbytes, available starting March 16.
Separately, Apple announced a new version of its AppleTV over-the-air video device. It still costs $99 but now supports 1080p video.
With the new iPad, Apple could increase its market share in tablets to 61 percent in 2012, up from 57 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011, according to IHS iSuppli. Long term Apple’s market share is expected to decline from 62 percent in 2011 to 52 percent in 2014, it said.
Android tablets gained share in the second half of last year. However the gains came at the cost of a 41 percent decline in the average street price for Android tablets amind price slashing after the debut of the Amazon Kindle Fire, IHS reported.
Overall tablet shipments are on track to reach 124 million units in 2012, up 90 percent from 65 million in 2011, HIS said. It projects steady growth to 311 million units in 2016.
Apple is projected to ship 69 percent more tablets and smartphones in 2012 over last year, according to IHS iSuppli. The consumer giant’s spending on displays for iPads and iPhones is projected to rise to $9.0 billion, up 91 percent from $4.7 billion in 2011, the market watcher added.
IHS said just prior to the new iPad’s debut it expected the device would a 9.7-inch a QXGA (2,048 by 1536) pixel display, higher resolution then the iPad and iPad 2, at 260 pixels per inch.
IHS said Apple is said to be examining a new LCD display technology from Sharp that uses indium, gallium, zinc and oxide thin-film transistors (IGZO TFT) to keep a lid on power consumption. Sharp now is working to ramp up the production of IGZO TFT panels at its Gen 8 fab in Kameyama, Japan, but the company is experiencing manufacturing problems that could affect both the availability of displays for a full rollout of the new iPad, as well as the cost of the iPad displays, IHS said.
In addition to Sharp, the panel suppliers for the iPad 3 are believed to be Samsung Display and LG Display.
“Apple is likely to incur a significant price premium for using the higher-resolution display in the new iPad,” said Vinita Jakhanwal, senior manager for small & medium displays at IHS. “However, manufacturers are expected to grant discounts, especially because Apple, in all likelihood, has made investments in display makers like LG, Sharp and Toshiba Mobile Display,” he said.