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Business | September 26, 2011

New iPad pricier than predecessors?

Consumers waiting to buy the next generation iPad may need to prepare more money, because the price may be higher than that of iPad/iPad 2 (USD 499 and above).
According to the research conducted by SmartMobix, looking at the new iPad’s potential panel, backlight module and battery components, if mass production is unable to offset the cost increase resulted in by the performance enhancement, the retail price of new iPad is expected to rise by 10% compared to that of iPad/iPad 2.

In fact, the rumors about iPad3 started circulating rapidly shortly after iPad2 was launched. Industry analysts predicted that Apple will most likely make an exception and launch two new iPad models in 2011 to remain a step ahead of Android and dominate the tablet market. However, according to the Apple’s past product cycles and the information gathered from the component supply chains, the chance that Apple launches the next-generation iPad at the end of 2011 is remains slim.

According to the surveys conducted by TrendForce’s research divisions, the upstream component suppliers have been stocking up their materials, a sign the new iPad is on the horizon and will most likely be launched in 2012. Interestingly, considering the current state of component supply, the new iPad is not designed to replace iPad2 but to target at the consumers in the high-end market with specific needs.

Even though the new iPad’s resolution does not reach 300ppi, it still outperforms all the other tablets in terms of display quality.

In regards to the new iPad’s screen, it is almost certain that the resolution will be doubled to 2048x1536 while remaining compatible with its software. The pixels per inch (ppi) will be only 264 due to the screen size (9.7-inch) of the new iPad, falling short of Apple’s Retina Display standard of 300 ppi. However, since the viewing distance of iPad is further than iPhone, the user is unable to distinguish iPad’s individual pixels at a normal viewing distance.

In other words, 264 ppi is a reasonable resolution for the new iPad. With a resolution of 2048x1536, four pixels will be used to simulate one pixel of a lower resolution, which is the same method Apple employed when it upgraded iPhone 4’s resolution to Retina Display standard. TrendForce’s research indicates that iOS 5 is compatible with 2'048x1'536 resolution, which means that the app developers will have to write applications that support four different kinds of resolutions in the future.

Left: screen display in the original resolution; middle: screen display in a higher resolution (four pixels is used to simulate one pixel to avoid distortion); Right: screen display enhanced by software designed for high-resolution display to make the words and pictures sharp and crisp

The high-resolution IPS panel for the new iPad will be supplied by Japanese manufacturer Sharp and South Korea makers LG and Samsung; panel production becomes more difficult with enhanced resolution. Looking at the yield rate, at present, Apple only places a small amount of orders to package manufacturers; the speed of the new iPad’s mass production may depend on the panel supply.

As the resolution is enhanced, backlight brightness has to be raised as well in order to increase transparency. Consequently, Japanese makers including Toyoda Gosei will be supplying two LED lightbars instead of one, and 84 LEDs (0.8t) instead of 42 for this new product.

But the increased amount of LEDs results in higher electricity consumption: a lightbar plus 42 LEDs and a driver IC requires about 3 watts, which means that two lightbars require 5-6 watts. In addition, the resolution enhancement doubles the channels the driver IC controls.

Although the current technology can fulfill the needs with one instead of multiple driver ICs, the electricity consumption will inevitably increase. Therefore, the battery capacity for the new iPad will increase by 50% compared to iPad 2, and will continue to be supplied by Taiwanese battery makers Simplo and Dynapack.

iPad Battery Capacity List

It should be noted that the increased electricity consumption generated by the screen and backlight module enhancement does not require a 50% battery capacity increase. Hence, TrendForce predicts that the new iPad will adopt a A6 processor produced by TSMC.

So far, the specifications of the A6 processor have not been disclosed, but what is out in the open is that it will be quad-cored and manufactured by TSMC in its 28nm process, and its GPU performance is expected to be upgraded.

Deducing from the production schedule, A6 processor may not be launched in time for the new iPad's production. Hence, Apple may go with the A5 processor, which adopts ARM Cortex A9 core with the speed increased to 1.2-2 GHz, compared to 1 GHz of iPad 2 and 1.2 GHz of Samsung i9100.

By over-clocking and upgrading the memory from 512MB to 1GB, the new iPad can also achieve the same performance enhancement, but it will also inevitably require greater electricity consumption.

According to the supply chain information gathered by TrendForce, the speed of Nvidia Tegra 3’s Advanced RISC Machine (ARM) quad-core processor has reached 1.5 GHz, manufactured by TSMC in its 40nm process. Its video output can support a resolution as high as 2560x1600, which is considered a benchmark for the new iPad.

The speed of TI OMPA 4’s ARM dual-core processor, which is manufactured in 45nm process and set to be launched in 1Q12, hits 1.8 GHz; OMAPS, manufactured in 28nm process, will be launched in 3Q12. Consequently, TrendForce remains conservative about the possibilities of iPad3 adopting A6 processor.

Regardless of what Apple ends up adopting, be it A6 or enhanced A5 processor, the battery size will have to be 1.5 times bigger in order to maintain the same battery life (10 hours) of iPad 2. For this reason, the new iPad will not be as small and slim as iPad 2.

If the processor is not the reason for Apple to increase the battery size, then TrendForce predicts that Apple may plan to incorporate a new function in the new iPad. Since Apple has recently taken out a patent on a pico projector system, could it be the new function? Based on the information TrendForce has gathered, the chance the prediction seems unlikely to come true at this point.

Apple has already obtained a patent on the pico projector system.

According to the aforementioned analyses on specifications, size and weight, it seems implausible that the new iPad, which is larger and heavier than iPad2, is aiming to replace iPad2. Even with the cost reduction boosted by manufacturing technology advancement and mass purchasing, it will still be hard to cancel out the cost increase and set the price of new iPad at USD 499. In conclusion, it is quite possible that the new iPad is targeting at the high-end market and is expected to hit the market in 1Q12.
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Note: All images © TrendForce

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