The iScreen: The Next Generation in Apple home entertainment

The iScreen: The Next Generation in Apple home entertainment

Summary: Early images in the iOS 5 developer framework are pointing towards a "Retinized" iPad 3. But what if it's something else entirely?

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Early images in the iOS 5 developer framework are pointing towards a "Retinized" iPad 3. But what if it's something else entirely?

Ahhhh. I love the smell of armchair tablet quarterbacking in the morning. It smells like... the lawn fertilizer that my landscaper is stinking up my neighborhood with.

Now, don't get me wrong. I like to speculate on what's going to be in the next iPad as much as the next guy. In fact I'm probably the leading speculator on ZDNet when it comes to prognosticating on technologies Apple may or may not integrate into future products.

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But sometimes you need to re-examine the quarterbacking and think about whether or not it actually makes any sense, even though compelling evidence would seem to indicate a perfectly good reason for validating it.

Case in point, this entire question of whether or not the next iPad is going to be "Retinized", based on evidence in an iOS 5 developer framework containing double-resolution images designed for a QXGA 2048x1536 display.

Now, while this would seem to indicate that Apple is staying with a golden ratio of 4:3, I'm not sure this is the smoking gun that the next iPad is going to have a resolution this impressive.

For starters, I think that any 10.1" display with that level of resolution is going to be extremely expensive to make. Unless Apple's IPS LCD supplier, LG Display or another partner has come up with some ground-breaking way to make smaller screens super high-res at a very cheap price, there's no way Apple could continue to offer its current iPad line at a $500.00 entry price point using a high-resolution display component utilizing current production methods.

I think that the iPad 3 may very well have an enhanced resolution, possibly UXGA (1600x1200) but I believe at least for several years, until this type of high-density small display technology is heavily commoditized and manufacturing economies of scale are achieved, we're not likely to see any kind of $500 tablet with the kind of pixel density that is currently being alluded to.

Additionally, to drive a QXGA display, you're going to need a considerable amount of GPU horsepower compared to what is shipping in the current A5, particularly if you start pushing extremely detailed 3D alpha blended graphics using the next generation of gaming technology.

nVidia has demonstrated 12-core GPUs in it's "Kal-El" tablet platform, but we don't know how hot that chip gets or how much of a power consumption compromise that relates to in the real world. One would assume Apple would need similar horsepower if not more than what the "Kal-El" can achieve to drive 3D games on a QXGA display.

That could be very impractical to do on a tablet and would sacrifice a great deal of battery life, something Apple would never want.

So what do these developer framework images really point to?

Well, I think it's a new animal entirely. Or a new species of iOS device.

For the last few years, I've been talking about a theoretical device called "The Screen". This would essentially be a Cloud-enabled smart terminal that would replace most traditional desktop computers in both the enterprise and also in the consumer space.

Originally, I thought this device could be Linux-based. Certainly, there's no reason to think that Google or someone else, even Microsoft might not build such a theoretical device running on their respective platforms. I said as much in the original piece.

But now that I've had some time to think about it, and given recent developments with iOS in the past year, I believe Apple will be the first to come to market with one of these products, just as they pioneered with the iPad.

Enter the iScreen -- a High-Definition monitor, with a 4:3 ratio running on iOS, on some future variant of the iPad/Apple TV hardware reference platform.

The actual configuration of this device could come in a variety of form factors. Initially, this "iScreen" could just simply be the next Apple TV -- a small box that connects to any HD monitor of your choice, perhaps even include a Thunderbolt port to hook up to a QXGA display (a new, larger-format Cinema, perhaps?) that Apple might sell optionally.

QXGA is even higher-res than 1080p, or the native resolution of Blu-Ray on your living room's HDTV set. So it's perfectly suited to playing all types of multimedia content. And it also makes sense to manufacture displays in excess of 30" with this resolution rather than on a 10.1" tablet, because the price of home theatre LCD displays has dropped considerably.

So it wouldn't surprise me to see an actual Apple-branded television in the $1500 price range, with all of this integrated iOS stuff built-in.

If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. First, it allows Apple to have a transitional product in play that bridges the gap between current generation Macs running on OS X Lion on Intel x86 to some future unified Mac OS/iOS platform that runs on multi-core ARM.

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Second, it also will allow them to better leverage the App Store and iCloud ecosystem in the living room, and to provide a viable alternative to existing pay-per month subscriber services such as Cable TV, FiOS or DBS-based satellite television services such as DirecTV or Dish Network.

They are already doing this with Apple TV to some extent, but this would also whack other players in the entertainment space such as SONY, Microsoft and Nintendo with their respective PlayStation, XBOX and Wii platforms.

This iOS-based screen, which would most likely use something like the Magic Trackpad or an iPad or iPhone with AirPlay as input devices, would be the home entertainment nexus of the future.

For some people, depending on the size of the monitor this platform is connected to, it might actually replace a Mac or a PC entirely, especially if they are content consumers rather than creators. In the same sense that an iPad is a "Big iPhone", well, this would just be a "Big iPad".

Just wirelessly connect Magic Trackpad and Bluetooth keyboard, and you're all set to go.

Let's face it, in Steve Jobs' "Post-PC" world, not everyone needs a Mac or a PC. Maybe they can get along fine with an iPad, and/or something like this.

Is the "iScreen" coming to a desktop or your living room in 2012? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Mobile OS, Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Operating Systems, Tablets

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

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35 comments
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  • The device doesn't matter and most are useless.

    I keep seeing company after company come out with "TV devices" and not one of them work as well as my TV does all by itself.

    When will everyone figure out it's CONTENT that matters and as long as these devices do nothing more than pretend to be a remote control what's the use? The remote works just fine for me. In fact ti works better than any "device" I've see and is MUCH simpler to use.
    NoAxToGrind
    • RE: The iScreen: The Next Generation in Apple home entertainment

      @NoAxToGrind It's either content, or the ability to interact with that content. iPods, when launched, were really no different to "other" MP3 players. In fact, they were expensive. But then iTunes came along, and suddenly the interaction with content was there. We had all been ripping CDs to that point, and had been thinking it was great. It was probably 5 years later that people (other than early adopters) started to see the value in this interaction.
      Perhaps we're not all as visionary for the "Apple-ised" TV as Apple are -- just like we were happy with the MP3 players at the time.
      mattmuir
      • RE: The iScreen: The Next Generation in Apple home entertainment

        @mattmuir

        Why would I want to inteact with a movie or TV show? Maybe (very rarely is it worth it) I might record something to the DVR (with the existing remote). I still see no use for an expensive "device" to run my TV.

        Oh but you can watch YouTube. Really? People spend hours a day watching YouTube in their living room? Pfffttt...
        NoAxToGrind
    • RE: The iScreen: The Next Generation in Apple home entertainment

      @NoAxToGrind
      It matters. In fact, I almost never anymore open my tv set. Facing the tv screen I'm a passive spectator, consuming what the broadcasters happens to air at that particular time. In my computer I watch what I want to watch. Big difference. And yes youtube is amazing; you can watch/listen to stuff that matter to you but the media companies never, never will broadcast because there is no money to be made, they care only about the gaga du jour and so on.
      theo_durcan
  • RE: The iScreen: The Next Generation in Apple home entertainment

    This makes sense and fits the Apple vision for the future. I think you are dead on target. The only question is when...
    thorntondw
  • RE: The iScreen: The Next Generation in Apple home entertainment

    The PowerVR SGX543MP2 is already as powerful or more powerful than the GPU in the Nvidia Ka El SoC. <br><br>Driving a 2048x1536 screen won't be a problem. It'll take a hit if 3D games are designed for that resolution, but I think they should stick to 1024x768 for 3D games even on 2048x1536 screens. <br><br>It'll be a great option as it'll improve typography on ostensibly a web browsing and email device. A reading device. <br><br>The only thing holding Apple back would be cost of the panels, production capacity (which relates to their cost) and RAM. Apple obviously would put in the necessary RAM to support apps that take advantage of the res.
    THA1210
    • RE: The iScreen: The Next Generation in Apple home entertainment

      @THA1210 You'd need an awful lot more than the 512MB RAM on the iPad 2, probably 2GB just for apps and dedicated VRAM.
      jperlow
      • RE: The iScreen: The Next Generation in Apple home entertainment

        @jperlow 1 GB RAM is fine. For graphics memory, 64 MB is fine. It's not that hard for GPUs to drive high res displays these days. You're thinking this is a huge technical hurdle. It's not.

        There are other more pressing hurdles such as the economics of manufacturing millions of those panels per month. But that's just money, and Apple has lots of that.

        Another is product timing. Apple is big on timing their product features the way they see fit.
        THA1210
      • 256 MB iPad 1 uses 64 MB for videobuffer, so having 1 GB memory on iPad 2

        @THA1210: ... and, hence, 256 MB videobuffer will do the magic.<br><br>For now some problem is that A5 is still produced on last year's production norms -- 45nm, so with addition of another 512 MB power consumption is going to be too much. A5 is huge chip; this SoC needs to be manufactured at 32 nm or even 28 nm (I mean main PU; memory is manufactured independently and just layered on the SoC). But, by the end of this year -- or by next march (whenever iPad 3 can be released) -- everything should be fine on this front.<br><br>As to gaming: since Real Racing 2 HD runs smoothly on 1920x1080 via HDMI TV out, some less complicated 3D games can be run on thirty percentages bigger resolution, 2048x1536, fine. But yes, in some cases 1024x768 is better way until A6 arrives.
        DDERSSS
      • RE: The iScreen: The Next Generation in Apple home entertainment

        @THA1210

        "For graphics memory, 64 MB is fine"

        And where did you get your facts from? 64MB is fine if you're only doing video. Gaming is a different ball game. Example the 2 HD gaming consoles (Xbox 360 & PS3) has a lot more video memory than 64MB. Bare minimum is the PS3 chiming in at 256MB. If apple want's their iDevices to do everything, then they will have to step up the HW specs to mach.
        mgaul
      • With 1 GB of total memory, having 256 MB videobuffer will be easy, and it

        @mgaul: ... matches PS3 specifications on that front.
        DDERSSS
      • RE: The iScreen: The Next Generation in Apple home entertainment

        @DeRSSS The A5 is a multichip package. The DRAM is stacked on top of the CPU/GPU chip. If they go up to 1 GB RAM, they can get lower voltage RAM chips through binning on the same process or buy chips at the next node or half node.

        The CPU/GPU in the A5 is indeed huge. It has 2 SGX543 GPU cores, with one SGX543 core being as powerful or more powerful than the Tegra2 GPU. And the A9 cores implement Neon SIMD units, which make those cores bigger than the Tegra 2 A9 cores. Even so, it's still bigger than what we think it should be. Apple has done some weird floor planning or gas some extra stuff in there. In the end it doesn't matter too much, they got the power consumption they wanted and ended up better in battery performance than any Tegra 2 device. The Apple A5 SoC is fine. For cellphone size devices, they may have go to a smaller MCM package, but they are fine with the current part.

        It's not to say that moving to a 32nm process wouldn't be a great idea. It would be a fabulous idea. However, I'd add more stuff like Cortex-A15 cores and next gen PowerVR cores. I don't think Apple is desperate for a smaller CPU/GPU chip.
        THA1210
      • RE: The iScreen: The Next Generation in Apple home entertainment

        @mgaul 64 MB memory for the GPU isn't a fact. It's an opinion. Like I stated, I think 3D games should stay at 1024x768 in a 10" 2048x1536 screen.

        The extra res doesn't really help 3D games as much as it would help with apps where reading is the dominant interaction. Reading is in fact the dominant interaction with the iPad: web browsing, email, books, various apps as such.

        So 64 MB is more than enough for 2D applications. 3D stuff, well, obviously not at 2048x1536. For 1024x768, it'll be adequate.

        Same kind of thing with 1080p. It's just not worth the cost in memory, storage, bandwidth right now. Maybe next year when 128 GB SD sized Flash packages become cheaper.

        I wouldn't mind if Apple did put in 256 MB, but I don't think the timing is right nor really the need for it yet. Maybe 128 MB in the iPad 3 would be a comfortable trade.

        And not say that Apple could do some dynamic GPU memory allocation tricks to make my thoughts moot as well.
        THA1210
  • RE: The iScreen: The Next Generation in Apple home entertainment

    It's so funny reading speculation about Apple written by people who have little experience with Apple! How this gets funded, I'll never know, but if I was into conspiracy theories, ZDnet would look like a paid-by-Microsoft endeavor.
    dogbreath1
    • I have viewed it the opposite

      @dogbreath1

      In which Microsoft articles are written by people who have little experience with Microsoft products.

      I have wondered at times if ZDnet is a paid-by-Apple endeavor

      :|
      Tim Cook
      • RE: The iScreen: The Next Generation in Apple home entertainment

        @Mister Spock

        Oh god, please STFU.
        DeusXMachina
      • &quot;Oh God*, please STFU&quot;...

        @DeusX

        Right... because the only people who should be able to express their opinions are idiot Apple fanbois?
        SonofaSailor
      • RE: The iScreen: The Next Generation in Apple home entertainment

        @SonofaSailor
        He did not express an opinion, he presented something as fact, in an attempt at mocking the original post, under the pseudonym of a fictitious character whose persona he often employs.
        You were saying?
        DeusXMachina
    • RE: The iScreen: The Next Generation in Apple home entertainment

      @dogbreath1, define "little experience with Apple"...

      As in, working at Apple? Developing software for Apple platforms? Using Apple products?

      I think its a good article and probably correct IMHO.
      vaporland
  • RE: The iScreen: The Next Generation in Apple home entertainment

    Interesting idea, so obvious I'd almost be surprised to not see it happen, eventually. Short term though I'd bet on this being the next Apple TV.

    As far as the Apple TV goes I think they'd have the perfect devise if they throw in a DVR and make it come in under $400.
    Jarhead5811