Driven by the soaring sales of products including the iPad and the iPhone 4, Apple’s shipments of products based on its A4 microprocessor reached nearly 50 million units in 2010 from virtually zero sales in 2009, IHS iSuppli research indicates.
In an indication of how successful the microprocessor has been, Apple in 2010 shipped nearly four times as many units of A4-based products as did of X86-based PCs.
The low-cost, highly-integrated A4 and A5 designs represent an important element in Apple’s philosophy of offering products that are focused on delivering a compelling user interface (UI) and a highly optimized computing platform for Apple’s iOS operating system.
“In the new design paradigm of smart phones and tablets, computing efficiency trumps raw computing power,” said 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.”
Apple so far has introduced five products based on the 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 A4 combines an A4 microprocessor core and a Graphics Processing Unit (GPU). The device was custom designed by P.A. Semi—a company acquired by Apple in 2008—and is manufactured by Samsung.
Partly because of the popularity of Apple’s iPad, companies around the world are developing media tablets and other products that feature small and innovative form factors, noted Matthew Wilkins, principal analyst, compute platforms, for iSuppli. These products require highly integrated semiconductor solutions that consume less power and space, similar to the A4 microprocessor.
In the PC market, this trend is driving rising sales of notebook microprocessors that integrate graphics processing capabilities, eliminating the need for separate GPUs. In tablets and smart phones, companies are offering alternatives to the A4 that offer similar levels of integration. For instance, Intel and Nvidia have announced plans for tablet-oriented microprocessors with similar characteristics to the A4.
In the case of Nvidia, the company is offering the Tegra 2 solution used in Motorola’s XOOM tablet, which upped the ante on the A4 with the inclusion of two microprocessor cores. Now with the A5, however, Apple has matched the dual-core capability of the Tegra 2.
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