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Apple's iPad Air 2 chip paves the way for new devices

Agam Shah | Oct. 20, 2014
Apple's iPad Air 2 is faster than its predecessors thanks to the A8X chip, which could pave the way for the company to put its homegrown silicon in large-screen tablets, TVs, cars and even laptops.

There's nothing to stop Apple from taking the A8X chip, packing more graphics cores and cache around it, and using it in a desktop or laptop, said Dean McCarron [CQ], principal analyst at Mercury Research, though he added that the possibility is remote.

Apple has shown a willingness to switch architectures and has internal resources committed to ARM. In 2006, the company stopped using Motorola's PowerPC chips and transitioned to Intel chips in its Macs.

A transition to ARM in Macs, though, would require wholesale software changes since the architectures are different. Intel chips are still considered superior in handling applications such as Final Cut Pro X, which are critical to high-end users.

Tirias Research's McGregor said the A8X could lead the way for Apple to develop custom chips for in-car entertainment systems. Apple's CarPlay in-car entertainment software is already compatible with hardware from Pioneer Electronics. But if Apple gets deeper into this market, it most likely would want its software to be used with its chips. This could be a problem for car makers who might be wary about relying on Apple for software and hardware.

Meanwhile, Apple has the resources to develop custom chips for a variety of devices, but also wants to make sure the products sell in volume before committing, Kanter said.

An example is the wearable market. Apple will ship the Apple Watch early next year, but it's unclear whether it developed its own chip for the smartwatch. Industry experts said extremely low-power chips are difficult to make, and need to blend with sensors. Apple likely acquired the chip technology from an outside vendor.

Apple is still testing the market with the watch, and won't commit to making a chip until the device ships in the millions, Kanter said, adding that even some chip technology for the first-generation iPhone was borrowed from Samsung.

"That's a sensible approach to take when doing a device when the volume is not clear," Kanter said. "When I look at the Apple watch — the jury is still out on [wearables]."


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