Apple's iPhone could be next to get dual-core A5 chip

The faster chip would improve applications and graphics performance for the iPhone

After making its first appearance in the iPad 2, the next stop for Apple's A5 chip could be in the next version of the iPhone, where it would bring a significant boost in graphics and application performance without compromising battery life, analysts said.

The A5 microprocessor, announced by Apple at the iPad 2 launch on Wednesday, would provide the next iPhone with better-quality FaceTime videoconferencing, and gaming capabilities that could allow it to compete with handheld gaming consoles, those analysts said.

"What it would bring to smartphones is increased [processing power] for computationally intensive applications," such as photo and movie applications, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64. "Those do require more horsepower under the hood than you would get with a single-core processor."

The A5 chip, designed by Apple and based on an ARM design, has two cores running at 1GHz, versus a single 1Ghz core in the A4 processor, which was used in the first iPad and the current iPhone 4. The A5 provides twice the CPU performance and nine times the graphics power of its predecessor, according to Apple.

Apple hasn't announced the next version of the iPhone or disclosed its specifications, but the company has released new models in the middle of each year since the first iPhone came out in 2007.

The A5 adds "a lot more speed to things you do everyday, like surfing the Web, sending e-mail and multitasking," said Bob Mansfield, senior vice president of hardware at Apple, in a video on Apple's website.

More significant is the graphics boost, which falls in line with Apple's goal of improving the video capabilities on its devices, said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates. "If you're trying to do heavy media-intensive apps, it does matter," he said.

If it is introduced, an iPhone with the A5 chip won't be the first dual-core smartphone. Motorola's Atrix 4G, which has a talk time of up to nine hours, runs on a dual-core ARM processor. LG's Optimus 2X, which is available for pre-order and due later this month, also uses a dual-core ARM chip.

Brookwood said the A5 could be a step forward in Apple's efforts to bridge the gap between tablets and Macbooks. Like Motorola's Atrix smartphone, the next iPhone could be plugged into a dock with a screen and a keyboard to give it laptop-like functionality.

The A5 could ultimately make its way to Apple TV devices as well, analysts said. Apple doesn't have a big share of the TV market, but a chip like A5 could be a differentiator if it supports full high-definition video. The existing Apple TV device, which uses the A4 chip, plays video at only 720p resolution.

Apple shipped nearly 50 million products in 2010 based on its A4 processor, including the iPad, iPhone and Apple TV, according to research firm IHS iSuppli.

Analysts said the A5 chip may be based on ARM's Cortex-A9 design, which is used in Nvidia's Tegra 2 chip. The next logical step for Apple would be to make a quad-core version, which would deliver even more processing power.

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month, Nvidia announced a quad-core chip code-named Kal-El, which it claims is twice as fast for Web browsing as the dual-core Tegra 2, which is used in Motorola's Xoom tablet. Qualcomm also announced a quad-core Snapdragon chip for mobile devices at the show.

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Agam Shah

IDG News Service
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