What would be inside an Apple tablet

It's, at the very least, an interesting exercise to speculate on what would be inside an Apple tablet.

Speculation about a rumored Apple tablet may be an exercise in futility, but it is an interesting exercise nonetheless. In this case, my speculation will extend to what may be inside an Apple tablet.

Will the design philosophy spring from the notion of an upsized iPhone or a downsized MacBook? I believe it will be the former since this is a more natural evolution of the hardware and software. But I will entertain both options.

Because this tablet is rumored to appear in 2010, the Intel silicon possibility--however remote--is, I believe, as follows.

First scenario: Intel's next-generation "Pine Trail" Atom processor in a tablet with laptop lineage. This will offer higher performance and better power savings than the current Atom processor--which is Intel's most power-stingy chip technology. Pine Trail integrates a graphics processor onto the same piece of silicon as the main processor--a first for Intel. (Intel's future "Arrandale" Core i series mobile processor, in contrast, will put the main processor and graphics into the same chip package, not onto the same chip.)

Intel's next-generation integrated graphics silicon technology is largely unknown. But tablets should deliver graphics performance that doesn't disappoint, as this is a shortcoming often brought up by critics of Netbooks.

A real tablet based on a 600MHz ARM processor: the Archos 7
A real tablet based on a 600MHz ARM processor: the Archos 7 Archos

The more likely non-Intel tablet.

Second scenario: Apple's ARM silicon in an upsized iPod/iPhone. This seems a much more likely scenario than Intel silicon. The iPhone 3GS currently uses a Samsung ARM processor that, according to reports, runs at 600MHz. How Apple would tweak this design for a tablet is so highly speculative that I will not hazard much of a guess.

Suffice to say, inside of Apple there is more intellectual capital invested in ARM-based designs than Intel-based ones because of the acquisition of chip designer P.A. Semi and the success of the iPhone. And the fact that the iPhone's ARM processor has "Apple" stamped on it should not be overlooked.

Here's the guess that I will hazard: a faster processor analogous to Qualcomm's ARM-based 1GHz Snapdragon processor. Samsung and Austin, Texas-based Intrinsity announced recently that they had co-developed a 1GHz chip similar to the processor that currently powers the iPhone 3GS. And this is the same kind of processor that Qualcomm is targeting for "smartbooks", which could be either a Netbook or tablet.

Freescale's concept smartbook tablet
Freescale's concept "smartbook" tablet Freescale

Graphics is less clear but U.K.-based Imagination Technologies provides the PowerVR graphics core inside the iPhone's ARM silicon. And Apple has expressed a keen interest in Imagination by raising its financial stake in the chip design firm to 9.5 percent.

And as a final thought, it is interesting to note that speculation about an Apple "iPad" has gone beyond mere individuals to corporate entities such as Borders. Do they know something that we don't?

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