Thursday, January 03, 2008

Will Apple rescue Intel?

Sources familiar with Apple's plans for 2008 report that the company is eyeing a new mobile processor from Intel code-named Silverthorne for use in a new generation of handheld devices. That has broad implications for Apple's expanding role in consumer electronics, and holds out the prospect for the company to play the savior for a chip originally designed to power the second-generation of Microsoft's beleaguered UMPCs.

The market for tablet sized computing devices has repeatedly disappointed in the past. Enthusiasm for "pen computing" erupted in the early 90s led by Go's PenPoint OS (below, running on the short lived, early 90s AT&T EO) and followed by Microsoft's Windows for Pen, but the market didn't respond appreciatively to products as delivered. Handheld processors of the day were often designed for more conventional laptops and couldn't really support the performance required for tablet features and the power efficiency demanded by more compact devices with smaller batteries.

in 1993, Apple released the Newton MessagePad using a new processor architecture the company designed in collaboration with Acorn Computer, called ARM. While the Newton had the computing power and efficiency to handle advanced features such as handwritten recognition, it also had other problems, as described in Newton Lessons for Apple's New Platform. Among the most significant was that by the mid 90s, Apple itself was in serious trouble. In 1998, Steve Jobs canceled the Newton as part of efforts to get the company back on track.

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