Sunday, October 9, 2011

A5 Leads Phone Performance

According to Anandtech, the A5 chip in the iPad2 – and now the iPhone 4S – performs significantly better than (like, 2x) the best of the recently-launched competitors' devices' CPUs. (*cough*Samsung Galaxy S2*cough*) Leading handset performance is certainly an Apple objective: iPad apps will run better on iPhones, and games will work better, and the services Apple wants to supply users while they're doing everything else they do with Apple's products will be easier with more computing power in each device.

Yet, Apple isn't sitting still.

With Apple's A6 apparently set to launch next year as a quad-core part built on a 28nm process (compared to the 40nm process on offer at NVidia's fabs), it's clear that Apple intends maintaining advantages in hardware even as it differentiates it phones with software. The hardware advantage isn't something Apple is taking lightly: it's got a thousand FTEs building the brains in Apple's next mobile devices. (And AppleTVs, and maybe its next MacBooks; who knows where this could go. Based on Apple's control of its developer tool chain and capacity to support compilation of multiple-architecture binaries, Apple can potentially do things others have no chance to duplicate.)

Outperforming NVidia chips in graphics, Apple's chips seem set to dominate mobile gaming and potentially replace games-specialist competitors. Unlike the XBox, which spent years losing money before it went into positive cash flow, Apple's iOS devices have consistently made money while building the platform from which to attack available markets. Where Apple will push the iOS platform is definitely a point of personal curiosity.

The more power I see in Apple's devices, the more I marvel at how auto manufacturers can keep shipping such crummy mapping tools, with kludgy interfaces and quickly-outdated databases of destinations. Surely the opportunity isn't lost on the manufacturers. Apple's devices can replace the stereo head unit, the GPS, the map, the address database, the climate controls, the bluetooth controller ... everything other than, you know, the car. The improvement in usability – especially for borrowed cars, rentals, and other situations in which users won't have unlimited time to become familiar with some screwball new way to identify a destination to a mapping program – is a huge plus for customers. Heck, with cloud music, car renters could log into the i-device in the dash and pull down the music they love rather than fighting local radio for something worth hearing. While using a map app that updates continuously from sources in Apple's cloud.

Apple's departure from the rack server space may certainly be a function of low sales volumes, but as Apple's tools improve for enterprise uses, the demand for something that will free users from high-overhead competitive server software will create an opportunity for Apple to sell low-power server hardware based on homegrown CPUs: cool-running, cheap to operate, and supporting ARM's hardware-supported security tools, Apple's non-x86 servers might be truly attractive for enterprises.

Did someone say Research in Motion was selling for less than Apple's cash on hand, and was becoming more affordable as its unit share teetered? Especially in the post-Jobs era, taking a serious look at the enterprise space might not be that hard to imagine a few years down the road.

Speaking of the post-Jobs era: there's been a lot written about him and what he did for tech. Much of it is really worth reading. I was at an airport when I heard, and as I looked around I saw white earbuds, iPhones, iPads, and other evidence of his passage all over the place. It was moving: he'd changed the world. We can argue how much, perhaps, but the evidence he was here is everywhere. It should be clear from the posts here in what regard his accomplishments are held here at JadedConsumer, but I don't think I have anything especially brilliant to say on the matter. I think much of what he contributed is a result of his expressed view that you only get one shot at life, so it stands to reason you should not waste your time on things that aren't excellent. We've benefited from his pursuit of excellence, and can hope that his successors really share the same value of quality.

Apple has a quality lead and a solid footing for retaining it. Sales seem strong at Apple's store and at AT&T's; nobody else is talking. Sprint's demand for the phone suggests Apple is something of a carrier kingmaker: Sprint's leading cause of customer loss before the iPhone 4S launch was the carrier's lack of an iPhone. (Now, carriers are competing for iPhone customers.) With China a relatively untapped market and smartphones still a minority of worldwide handsets, the long term trajectory of Apple is toward sales volumes increases in the handset market. Notice Apple doesn't drop its old models, just moves them down the performance ladder for customers unwilling to pay more? Apple is moving toward capacity to do with phones what it's done with music players, and overtake most of the business that's worth taking.

And, you know what? Apple is selling more computers, as well!

It's a good time to be Apple.

Thanks, Steve.

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