iPad Air 2 features that are coming your way

iPad Air 2 features that are coming your way

Summary: When is the updated, 6th-generation version of Apple's flagship tablet coming? All signs point to October or November of 2014. But the real question is not when the product is going to be released, it's what's going to be in it.

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TOPICS: Tablets, Apple, iPad
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  • System on a Chip: A8

    The A7's 64-bit architecture as introduced with the iPhone 5s and the iPad Air was a real shocker, and it leads us to beleive that Apple is heading down a path of platform convergence with their computing products.

    However, with Apple facing a lot of competition now from Samsung's home-grown high-performance Exynos 5 processor used in the Nexus 10 and the Galaxy S 4 smartphone, we're likely to even more disruptive improvements in Apple's own silicon with the introduction of the A8.

    While the use of a Quad-core SoC design in the iPad Air 2 is likely, we may very well see the A8 conceived as a "hybridized" chip using custom silicon, which might utilize a combination of two  higher-clocked 64-bit cores and two or more smaller, lower-power and slower 64-bit cores, so that applications will run on a "cluster" of cores best suited to their workload, thus making the SoC more energy-efficient.

    samsung-eyxnos-5-octa-620x346

    This hybrid core technology, known as big.LITTLE and licensed by ARM Holdings, could very well make it's way into the A8 in the iPad Air 2 and iPhone 6. Samsung has already announced its own big.LITTLE chip in the form of the Exynos Octa which is used in some international carrier (GSM) versions of the Galaxy S 4.

    It also goes without saying that we are also likely to see a 2x or more boost in GPU processor power over the A7, increasingly moving the needle closer to the capabilities of their PC and console counterparts and enabling the most demanding games on tablet hardware. An 8-core GPU design using PowerVR Series 6 technology is not out of the question. 

  • Networking: Dual-band 5Ghz 802.11ac / Low-power World Band LTE and Bluetooth 4

    The iPad Air saw an improvement over the built-in wireless networking capabilities of the New iPad, the iPad 3 and iPad 2 with a dual spatial stream, dual antenna 802.11a/b/g/n transceiver. This effectively doubles the previous generation's wireless networking speeds from 65Mbps up to 150Mbps, provided the Wi-Fi infrastructure and broadband connection supports it.

    We expect that Apple will eventually move to Qualcomm's latest WCN3680 Atheros 80211ac-compatible chipset which will allow the iPad and presumably the next version of the iPhone and Apple TV to communicate using anywhere between two and four spatial streams, enabling the device to transmit and receive data up to 300Mbps to 450Mbps, and with longer range and less power consumption than its predecessors.

    802.11ac capability would of course require upgrading to an 802.11ac-compatible wireless router as well as updated Airplay-compatible devices in order to fully take advantage of the new chipset, so presumably a new 4th-generation Apple TV and a new version of the Airport Extreme is also in the offing.

    The upside of this increased speed will be much smoother playback of 720p and 1080p streamed Airplay content from the device as well as more responsive, higher-fidelity screen mirroring.

    An updated Qualcomm Atheros chipset in the iPad Air 2/iPad mini with Retina Display 2 and iPhone 6 would also mean updated, more power-efficient world phone + multicarrier LTE capability as well as an updated, more power-efficient Bluetooth 4.0 implementation as well.

  • Power: Lightning and Magnetic Induction

    With the introduction of the iPhone 5, iPad 4 and iPad mini, Apple moved to the new "Lightning" connector and phased out the old 30-pin dock connector, much to the chagrin of many folks with older-style accessories.

    But the new Lightning connector has many advantages, such as the ability to charge at higher than 10 Watts, as well as electronic inversion for goof-free insertion. 

    Apple introduced a 12-Watt charger with the iPad 4 for faster charging. The iPad Air includes the same charger. It's possible we may see even a higher wattage charger with the iPad Air 2, such as 15 watts, if Apple has made refinements to the technology.

    Additionally, it is possible that we may finally see the introduction of Apple's own proprietary magnetic induction charging, incorporated in the form of an updated smart cover accessory, based on recent USPTO patent publication of filings from September 2011, shown in the illustration above.

Topics: Tablets, Apple, iPad

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.

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119 comments
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  • Apple's improvement mantra - Lighter, Thinner and more Powerful; same cost.

    I can't argue with your crystal ball gazing but, IMO, it is a VERY safe prediction. Let's try to stretch your imagination just a tad.

    For the longest time, you have projected an OS X/iOS software and hardware merger based upon the ARM architecture.

    How's 2014, or 12 months from now, looking for the first 64 bit ARM SoC based MacBook Air with IGZO, Liquid Metal and improved battery and electronic's synergy resulting in a laptop design that is just a smidgeon thicker than the current iPad 4 and having a 12 hour battery life between charges sound?

    Or, do you want to play it safe and project this possibility becoming reality in 2015?

    Just curious.
    kenosha77a
    • Some might argue that Apple failed to follow this mantra w/the iPad 3 or 4

      I said it was a mantra, not a hard and fast observation. However, few can argue that during the past 12 years, Apple has tried to apply these design goals to their next generation products.
      kenosha77a
      • Nothing better than a Apple product

        Bar none.

        My Opinion
        Over and Out
    • Lighter, thinner, CPU that's more powerful = lower battery life

      People love these things, whose CPUs couldn't outmatch a desktop made 15 years ago, because of portability.
      HypnoToad72
      • Fifteen years ago would make it about 1998. Memory lane time

        You should get a big kick out of this. I found this web site containing some interesting factoids.

        http://www.computerhope.com/history/1998.htm

        For example. Did you recall that in 1998:

        Intel released the Celeron processor and eMachines was founded. Sorry, but I wouldn't trade my iPad 3 with it's software for any 1998 eMachine Celeron based desktop with it's software.

        Apple releases iMac and Bill Gates is hit in the face with a cream pie. I doubt the two 1998 events were related. Grin.

        Sun releases JavaStation and Windows 98 is released by Microsoft. Actually, I used both software efforts but I really enjoyed my Amiga systems during 1998. IMO, AmigaDOS incorporating a version of IBM's script language REXX called ARexx was way more advanced than those other two software systems. But I'm partial and I'm biased in my objectivity regarding this issue.

        And, not last and not least of the 1998 hit parade, Valve Half-Life is released as a FPS game. That last one was for my old online friend, NonZealot. I hope he's doing well.
        kenosha77a
        • Mac.Netbook

          The ARM architecture has no performance/power efficient over the 5 year old ATOM architecture. If Apple really want to convert their Macbook line to Mac.Netbook line, ATOM is really a better choice than ARM. At least they don't to rewrite all the software, or do the binary translation which will add a another level of hiccup on the weak ARM platform.
          wsw1982
          • Re: The ARM architecture has no performance/power efficient over the 5 year

            It most certainly IS more power-efficient. That's why Calxeda can build a business offering ARM server clusters: the biggest expense in running a data centre has become the electricity bill.
            ldo17
          • It is?

            I'm pretty sure our biggest bill is the Hardware and administrators we pay to manage it. Energy savings are nice but it's only a small piece of the pie.
            Rob.sharp
          • Apple and Convergence

            Convergence devices is the last thing on Apple's agenda.
            They won't even let you make phone calls or run passbook on an ipad.
            You can be pretty certain Apple won't make an OSX tablet/touchscreen Mac.
            They aim to have every Apple user buy the iphone/ipad/macbook trio which is why they have the triple setup in Apple stores.
            Mac sales have dropped 25%. It is becoming less relevant for Apple just like Mac Pros. It is not a growth area for Apple, and facing insurmountable hurdles to make an OSX tablet or an ARM Mac line is expending a lot of resources and expense for no potential benefit to the bottom line.
            Apple is all about the bottom line at user's expense, never the other way round.
            warboat
          • Grow up

            @warboat

            Apple already made an OSX tablet. They gave it a touch interface and gave the touch interfaced OSX the name iOS. They called the tablet iPad.

            Microsoft wasted years trying to pretend that you could just stuff WindosXP/VISTA/7 on a tablet and have a worthwhile device.

            Apple is not facing insurmountable hurdles to do the same, because it knows that it's a stupid thing to even try.

            Apple is all about giving the best possible user experience, because if you give the customers something that delights them, the bottom line will look after itself.

            Shame Microsoft never thought of that.
            Henry 3 Dogg
          • @ Henry 3 Dogg

            You forgot about Windows CE . . . and we all know how badly that went on tablets and everything else.

            MS had almost a decade headstart on Apple for tablets and smartphones and Ms completely blew-it with poor quality OSes.
            1,2,3
          • Exactly.

            Microsoft had a decade head start. If they had taken tablet and smartphone development more seriously, we all might be using Windows tablets/phones now rather than iOS and Android. They severely blew it. They figured their lack of success was due to lack of demand. They were wrong. It turns out everyone wanted tablets and smartphones. They just didn't want the poorly-designed, fat, sluggish bricks that Microsoft was pushing out. Major fail there.
            BillDem
          • I think the problem with MS tablets was tech

            At the time, it was too difficult to get the power you needed in a tablet format.
            larsonjs
          • It was/is more of

            Microsoft's misguided notion, the "One size fit's all." Apple was/is successful, because they recognized different UIs for different usage scenarios. Seriously, a mouse pointer on a phone screen? Not they want to have people "touching" every display?, or replacing a laptop, with a touchscreen Netbook. Seriously?
            I hate trolls also
          • I do use windows phones / tablets...

            And I'm sick and tired of helping people figure out how to do things on their iPads that they already know how to do on a windows tablet. It's pretty silly.
            mrefuman
          • Windows CE

            My robotic vacuum cleaner from Samsung runs on Windows CE 5.0. It definitely does not have touch interface!

            The thing is also notoriously unreliable, especially it's battery charging software (perhaps just based on Windows's "power management").

            Microsoft never understood what "OS" and "API" means...
            danbi
          • err, mac sales dropping

            Poor stat, and a blatantly false conclusion.

            Last quarters Mac sales got hammered by introducing new models with nothing in the pipeline. It wasnt until end of January/beginning of February that they have been fulfilling orders at a reasonable rate. Also add in EU silliness about the MacPro case design that mandated no more EU sales of MacPros (until a new version is released).
            Non-Euclidean
          • You may be on to something.

            I would be all for this, especially if it was in the sub-$500 range. Also it is definitely possible because I've seen at least one person on the internet put OS X on a MSi Wind netbook. Does the Air use a SSD? Because that would probably reduce its overall cost, as well.
            Richard Estes
          • WRONG: "ARM has [no efficiency benefit] over the 5 year old ATOM"

            Are you sure about that? Because the (current) Bay Trail Atom SoC (system-on-a-chip) is slower than Apple’s A7 Soc – the 64-bit one used on the iPhone 5S and the iPad Air. See, for example, the benchmarks at http://bit.ly/1dnfqEa

            If you’re talking about a five year old Atom CPU, I can guarantee that the OP or FLOPs per watt is much worse tan the current Bay Trail systems and hence much worse than an iPhone 5S

            To quote that article: "Bay Trail's performance crown lasted all of a week, and even less than that if you count when we actually ran this benchmark.”

            Interestingly, many articles have noted that the A7’s two processor cores is the ‘sweet’ number, and that four or more cores actually degrade performance per watt. See: http://bit.ly/1aJimKv and http://bit.ly/18GFMli
            StandardPerson
        • 1998 and iPad 5

          @kenosha77a
          good comments .. tempus does fugit. For those of us who bought the first "little Mac" in March 1984 (over $2,000) and then IBM 20286 in August (almost $3,000) it has been an exciting ride.

          Interesting to read and hear the complaints about HIGH prices for this terrific gear. 2012 over twice 1984 :-0

          As for non-zealot, missing him is like missing a bad tooth. Hopefully he is sucking his thumb somewhere >> else.
          n781lc