28. January 2010

What’s in the iPad?

Many words have been written on the Apples new iPad, but still there seem to be a few stones yet waiting to be turned. You can find a lot of disappointed voices already, but to be honest, there is possibly no way to satisfy anyone with this level of expectations. And while some might have a point, they still miss the bigger picture. I will reserve my verdict until I hold one in my hands, as this will change a LOT. Political things aside (Why, Apple, do you have to lock it down again?) I think what we have seen in hard and software rocks. But still, I have a suspicion, that whe have only been shown the very tip of a much deeper iceberg, both in software and, surprisingly, in hardware. But let me explain what I mean:

The Software – A Beta that isn’t

The iPhone OS in the iPad SDK is Version 3.2. It’s iPad only, the iPhone/iPod Version will come later. It is very weird that there is not a device version of it for the iPhone, so I think it is just a preliminary version that won’t be released. What will be released is Version 4.0.

The version that has been released, is more like an iPhone-to-iPad transition kit than anything else. It seems to work quite nicely for that and introduces a lot of new toys for developers to play with – but hardly does more than the bare minimum to provide the tools to create decent large-screen-multitouch UIs. Without being able to go into details here (NDA!), some key elements of the SDK, such as a decent alternative to tables (A Grid! A Grid!) are still nowhere to be found (and yet used a lot by Apple’s apps).

There are two reasons to hold back Version 4.0: One is that it is probably not yet ready. Apple accomplishes amazing things while holding secrecy, but a project like this can scale up far better, when the cat is out of the bag. But releasing 4.0 without having shown the next iPhone which will run it, too, will spoil their much-beloved game, so they create an in-between version for aspiring iPad developers to get their feets wet, until the rest is ready and all devices it runs on have been shown to the public.

The other reason is a financial one: Apple was not handing out free updates for the iPod touch, but for iPhone and AppleTV, since they do the accounting for the latter devices on a subscription based model. You can’t add features with a free upgrade otherwise, if I understood things correctly. This is also why the upgrade to 802.11n networking cost $2 for the first MacBooks. Now they changed their accounting standards. If I’m correct the distinction between the two ways to account for a device sale is gone, and they retroactively accounted $25 for an iPhone update and $10 for an AppleTV. In the future (and please correct me if I’m wrong here, I don’t speak accounting…) they have a unified upgrade strategy with either no carge for upgrades for all devices or charging for all devices. So – and here is finally my second point – if they charge for the update, they won’t release 3.2 and then after a very short time let their customers pay for 4.0. They will release it with 4.0.

Hiding Three Cores

Ever wondered why Apple calls their chip A4? Well, A is for Apple, and 4 is for the four cores this thing has. Wikipedia says the chip is based on the ARM Cortex-A9 Multicore Design which is capable of having 4 cores, and with Apples naming, and PA Semi (The company that has been bought by Apple for the chip design) being famous for their multicore-chips, it is highly unlikely that there is anything else than 4 cores inside. So, why do they hide the other three cores? That’s an interesting question, and I think the answer might also be that the software is not yet ready. Or they will overwhelm the public with a second moment of surprise, when they reveal Apps that actually use the available power. Underpromise and overdeliver is something that works brilliantly with the press, and also the stock market.

That brings us to another interesting question: Where is Grand Central Dispatch in the iPhone OS? This technology, together with Blocks give developers an easy way to actually parallelize their programs, so that the power of multiple cores can actually be leveraged. If the A4 is actually what I suspect, I would be surprised if this technology wouldn’t make its way onto the iPad very soon.

As is OpenCL, the General-Purpose computing framework that runs on the graphics card. Yeah, the A4 also seems capable of supporting this, since the “graphics card” is part of the chip and seems to be the PowerVR VXD from Imagination Technologies. By the way, it can do OpenGL 3.2, too. Yeah, the real OpenGL, without the “ES”. That opens a LOT of doors to game developers, if this is true. It’s going to be very interesting to see developers unleash all this hardware potential, once Apple provides some means of using it in an upcoming version of the SDK.

Whoever complains about the device now (and for non-political reasons), is probably way too early. I can’t wait to touch it for myself, and to see what new and unexpected uses developers create with the current version of the SDK. But still Apple hasn’t played all their cards yet – the big tablet revelation is far from over.

17. August 2010 16:13 | Alter Bekannter

Das Englisch ist ja so schlecht wie eine automatische Übersetzung um 1990 herum. Seit wann steht denn yet in der Mitte des Satzes? Schreib lieber deutsch, das ist glaubhafter.

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