It's been a fun week in Silicon Valley, especially because of all the wailing and the gnashing of teeth in the Apple Fanboy community, as it gradually dawned on them how much they hate the iPad.
The Fanboys finally woke up and smelled the coffee and realized that Steve Jobs is mortal.
The Apple iPad was an EPIC Fail, they said. It lacked Flash, HDMI, and a bazillion alphabetic permutations of technologies -- all missing in action. There's not even a camera.
The Fanboys' vitriol took on a distinct misogynist flavor: iPad is a stupid name, they said, it reminded them of women's' hygiene products, the MaxiPad iPad. They loved that joke. They Tweeted that joke for days. I found it in my mailbox, on Facebook, and all over the place.
What interested me about the iPad wasn't its allegorical absorbent qualities, but the A4 processor at the heart of the device.
This is an Apple chip designed by its 150 plus strong engineering team that it acquired nearly two years ago when it bought PA Semi for $278 million.
That was a very astute buy for Apple because it snared some of the top microprocessor chip designers in Silicon Valley. These engineers have stellar pedigrees:
"While at Digital Equipment Corp., [CEO Dan] Dobberpuhl oversaw the development of the Alpha chip for servers and the StrongARM processor for handhelds... Jim Keller, PA Semi's vice president of engineering, and Pete Bannon, vice president of architecture, worked on the Alpha as well. Keller then went to AMD and helped define the architecture for what became the Opteron..."
EE Times says that Dobberpuhl also led MIPS teams.
"When Apple acquired PA Semi, it had multi-core POWER architecture chips. POWER is what Apple used before jumping to Intel. (And PA Semi had lots of customers in the US Defense industry.)"
Clearly, with such an experienced engineering team Apple could focus on any architecture and it chose ARM.
There's not much known about the A4 except that it runs at 1GHz, and is optimised to decode high definition video, while using very little power. It's interesting that Apple snubbed Intel's Atom family for the iPad. Clearly, there's more to the eye with the A4 than it seems.
I would bet that there's some heavy duty DRM within the chip. And that it is essentially an embedded security dongle with its own processing power and graphics co-processor.
Content publishers love DRM and Apple can show them it has the toughest DRM on the planet thanks to the A4.
But with a 150 top salaried engineers Apple will need to keep them busy. What else is next? A multicore A44? An iPhone A1? Most probably. But I can't see an A4 in Mac desktops or laptops.
What this also means is that Apple is saying that the A4 is something that gives it a competitive advantage, that this is something that couldn't be done by anything out there on the market. And it's invested what probably amounts to almost half-a-billion dollars to backup that position. That's a serious amount of money.
What happens now? Will Microsoft start looking at buying a chip design house? What about Google? Oracle has SPARC. IBM has POWER. Apple has A4. The world is becoming fragmented again. It's deja vu all over again.
[Tom Foremski's web site is Silicon Valley Watcher]