Yesterday, as anticipated, Apple released their tablet product, the Apple iPad, with much fanfare and criticism. Amidst the technologies in the iPad, with the old (lithium-polymer battery technology, multi-touch) and new (iPad OS) was an important one: the Apple A4 chip.

In March 2009, about a year ago, Apple acquired Power Architecture fabless semiconductor chip company P.A. Semi. P.A. Semi aimed to build low-power, efficient, and fairly powerful chips to use in various applications. Then-CEO Dan Dopperpuhl noted that P.A. Semi aimed to develop chips that consumed ten times less power than conventional chips.

Now with their own in-house team to develop chips for them, Apple released the A4 chip, an ARM-based system-on-a-chip based on ARM Cortex A9 with an ARM Mali 5-series GPU. Rivaling other ARM-based SOAC platforms, like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon or Nvidia Tegra 2, it focuses, quite clearly, on mobile performance with very low power usage. P.A. Semi’s last product was the PWRficient chip, which was a dual-core Power Architecture-based chip that ran at 2GHz and consumed 5 watts (25 watts at peak) of energy.

What does the presence of an Apple-designed chip forewarn about the future of Apple products? There are a number of considerations with Apple designing their own chips. Here are some of them.

Approaching compete control of the computing experience

John Gruber of Daring Fireball noted something that Apple COO Tim Cook said in June:

“We believe in the simple, not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.”
— TIM COOK

Indeed, through developing so much of their products in-house, like the battery, processor, and other key features, they’re finding ways to control the user experience of their products. And it’s working: their revolutionary lithium-polymer batteries coupled with the Apple A4 processor create not only a pretty dazzling graphics experience, but a long-lasting one. The ten-hour high load battery life and the one month standby (!) are indicative of Apple’s ability to take control of the experience—not to mention the presence of what could be an incredible amount of DRM and security built into the processor, moving from software security to hardware security.

Radical innovation has never been a trait that Apple has neglected to execute brilliantly on. But now, Apple is doing so by taking control of the entire computing experience, now even down to the silicon.

Radical differentiation from competition

Few technology companies try to specialize in the finer points in computing, namely the processor. Including Apple, until lately. The iPhone 3GS is powered by the ARM Cortex A8 ARM processor, with PowerVR SGX graphics. We haven’t really seen much that has been developed without ARM-manufactured chips, Intel, Qualcomm, or Nvidia.

Has the new chip scared the chip manufacturers? You bet, and it’s also had an effect on the top manufacturers. While Microsoft and Nintendo try to nonchalantly shrug off the iPad as ‘humorous’ and ‘unimpressive’, it is clear that Apple has something they don’t have: a few steps ahead in product technology. All of the mobile phone manufacturers are behind, and while they’re struggling to catch up in technology, Apple will be moving forward.

Limitless expansion of Apple products

With the Apple A4 processor, Apple set an example: with their in-house semiconductor team from P.A. Semi, they could not only design their own chip, but they could design a damn good one. This would allow for the limitless expansion of Apple products. While competitors are constrained by limitations like processor power and processor energy draw, Apple can get around these limitations. They’ve bought a company that allowed them to design an excellent, efficient processor. There are few things more difficult to design than the very processing center of a technology device.

Whenever the next iPhone comes out, we’ll see something like a 700MHz Apple-designed chip in it with a lithium-polymer battery, and when we find out how fast it is and the battery life, Apple competitors will be quite astounded. Repeat by applying knowledge gained from the A4 to a x86 architecture, with the MacBook, iMac, Xserve, and other future Apple products, and it’s clear that Apple could perhaps become the market leader in an incredibly large gamut of technology.

It’s more than a processor. It’s an indicator of how important Apple might be in the future to technology and to our lives.

Gist: Android 2.0 SDK released, Motorola Droid and HTC Droid Eris to launch on Verizon on Nov 6, as rumored by Boy Genius Report. Hardware has always been the bottleneck on Android, among other problems. The marketing by Verizon making Droid a serious mobile device for the alternative iPhone market as well as the excellent hardware on the Motorola Droid, and the polished Android 2.0 Eclair OS, will allow Android to become more mainstream.

Google (GOOG) has made official the new Android 2.0 SDK, which allows the new 2.0 “Eclair” APIs to be used in Android applications, including improved bluetooth, multitouch, sync, account management, and, of course, support for new Android 2.0 devices such as the Motorola Droid. The new SDK update is downloadable immediately. Android 2.0 official video is at the bottom of this article.

Leading mobile industry news and insider source Boy Genius Report reports that the Motorola Droid (MOT) and HTC Droid Eris (2498.TW), two new Android 2.0 Eclair devices, will hit the stores on November 6 on the Verizon Wireless (VZ) network.

The Droid devices, highly hyped by Verizon as the iPhone killer, has been the subject of quite a bit viral marketing and noise in the mobile industry. Earlier this month, Verizon launched a mysterious marketing page for the Motorola Droid at DroidDoes.com, a direct attack against the Apple (AAPL) iPhone device’s shortcomings.

I’ve recently moved from bearish to bullish on the Android platform. The first T-Mobile Android G1 device wasn’t polished and didn’t at the time seem like a viable competitor to the iPhone.

However, the Motorola Droid could be a huge development in the Android environment. Droid represents a serious advance in promoting Android as a serious device, built and supported by two serious mobile companies. The specs of the device (the same processor as the iPhone 3GS and the Palm Pre, large screen, full of memory, ready for backgrounding applications, and more delicious specs) will hold its claim to fame as the premier Android hardware.

The bottleneck to the proliferation of Android has partly been the hardware that it runs on. The G1’s hardware didn’t cut it, especially since Android and all Android applications operate on Java, which is a notoriously slow platform. (EDIT: No, it isn’t, I’m wrong; I had neglected to mention that the Android platform has a custom build of Java called Dalvik.) The other bottleneck is the App Store, which, although it will improve over time, the derivative of available applications needs to start getting better. And with the new SDK and excellent new Android 2.0 Eclair, we may be seeing real changes soon.

Very recently, Amazon (AMZN) subsidiary Amazon Web Services released the Relational Database Service (RDS), serving MySQL databases through their cloud system.

This is AWS’s second database service, the first being the schema-less SimpleDB service, a key-value data storage system. This new service mimics MySQL-like characteristics, and acts just like MySQL, allowing applications to move seamlessly between their current MySQL system to Amazon RDS. The valueadd of the service includes rock-solid reliability (as AWS is known for), high scalability to allow for extremely large datasets, patching of database software to keep up to date, and database backup.

Amazon RDS lists five instance classes available at this time, reproduced below:

  • Small DB Instance: 1.7 GB memory, 1 ECU (1 virtual core with 1 ECU), 64-bit platform.
  • Large DB Instance: 7.5 GB memory, 4 ECUs (2 virtual cores with 2 ECUs each), 64-bit platform
  • Extra Large DB Instance: 15 GB of memory, 8 ECUs (4 virtual cores with 2 ECUs each), 64-bit platform
  • Double Extra Large DB Instance: 34 GB of memory, 13 ECUs (4 virtual cores with 3,25 ECUs each), 64-bit platform
  • Quadruple Extra Large DB Instance: 68 GB of memory, 26 ECUs (8 virtual cores with 3.25 ECUs each), 64-bit platform

Like most Amazon Web Services offerings, it is on a pay-by-usage model, the lowest being $0.11 per hour of compute instances, plus $0.10/GB/mo of storage and $0.10/million I/O transfer requests.

Amazon Web Services’ current cloud service offerings include Simple Storage System (S3), a scalable cloud file storage system; Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), scalable computational resources, among other services.

On the AWS RDS marketing page, there is a guide to convert from using one’s own hosted MySQL instance to using an RDS instance. The valueadd of AWS RDS over SimpleDB is clearly defined structured data (versus a schema-less key-value store), and with that comes RDBMS features such as JOIN. However, the rigid schema with RDBMS and RDS makes it less flexible to change.

This could be very disruptive. Hosting databases in the cloud wasn’t an extremely simple thing to do earlier, as the main players in moving a database in the cloud essentially was SimpleDB. Converting an application from using a relational store to using a schema-less system like SimpleDB isn’t a trivial task, especially when JOINs are associated.

Now, however, MySQL databases can now be stored reliably in the cloud, and they scale up in both compute power, storage size, and transfer volume. The bottlenecks surrounding scaling a database to be larger or to crunch more data, fenced in by pre-defined CPU, RAM, or disk limits, is now gone. (Though, of course, you’ll have to upgrade instance classes if you hit that limit.)

The market is very big for such a service: MySQL (now owned by Sun Microsystems, JAVA) powers industry-leading sites such as Google, Nokia, YouTube, Zappos, Yahoo!, among others, and is the database portion of the popular open-source web stack LAMP. It is the most popular open-source database, and holds a market share of 49% in database environments (source: Gartner, Enterprise Databases in an Open Source World). Amazon Web Services could repeat their disruption of files to the cloud with S3, or computing power in the cloud with EC2, again by taking databases into the cloud.

However, RDS opens an important question while on the topic of database speed optimization: it scales up well, great: but how is the performance between webservers and the new RDS storage location? In many cases, webservers access the database on a local or nearby network, which improves performance; however, where is RDS located? Is it mirrored in multiple areas? It’ll work great for EC2, but who knows how well it’ll be for migrating MySQL users.

It’s an open question and we’ll see how it plays out when people mess around with it.

google_appsGist: Google gives campuses free, branded, ad-free usage of Google Apps, their cloud offering, familiarizing the students with the product, which will result in workplace purchases (which do generate revenue for Google.) They hold almost a 60% market share in campuses that recently migrated to cloud email and services options. Google’s smart in targeting campuses: they are also the perfect adoption point for Google Chrome OS.

Advertising Age recently profiled Google’s brilliant Cloud conversion plan targeting college campuses. It’s a fantastic article documenting how Google is going for wide adoption of their OS.

For more than two years, Google has approached colleges and universities with a near-unbeatable offer: provide unlimited hosted e-mail and other applications, all branded by the institution and delivered free of charge.

The colleges take the hook of using Google (GOOG) for replacing their IT infrastructure, and it gives an immense cost-benefit. AdAge says that Google signs up 70 to 75 campuses per quarter (!), an astounding rate, given how large of a market they have. With a total United States number of two-year and four-year colleges of approximately 4,000, Google’s cloud offering is gaining 2% market share each quarter (not to mention word-of-mouth marketing for a perhaps increasing derivative of market share gain.)

Indeed, Google already holds incredible market share in the campus cloud market, as the article quotes: “On campus, Google is making inroads. In its annual study of the role of technology on campus, the Campus Computing Project found that two-fifths of participating campuses had either migrated to outsourced e-mail and services or planned to. Of those, 56.5% opted for Google, 38.4% for Microsoft (MSFT) and 4.8% for Zimbra, an open-source software maker owned by Yahoo (YHOO).”

Not only does the campus receive free, branded, and ad-free email, calendar, and various other services from Google through the cloud, Google also gains three things. One, familiarity of students to the service. Two, and connected to one, future use of the Google cloud offerings on their own after college. Three, knowledge of this cloud service, and with a positive experience, this may transfer into the workplace which will allow Google to convert more business (profit-making) customers for their Google Apps cloud offering. (Interestingly, this is similar to why the piracy of Photoshop is beneficial for the application: users of Photoshop make their workplace aware of the positives of the software package, and the workplace purchase the application, generating revenue for Adobe (ADBE).)

Furthermore, these campuses are the perfect place to target for the adoption of Google Chrome OS. The cloud-only, thin-client offering (discussed here in Google Chrome OS: Google’s Master Plan) to run on netbooks is a perfect offering for college students running on the cheap: cheap netbooks, open-source software, Google Apps cloud including Google Docs, Google Calendar, Gmail, and all other university-branded solutions that are already available to them, and Amazon one-click delivery of ramen. Google is undoubtedly aware of campuses as the perfect adopter of Google Chrome OS, and they’re smart to target the campus at first for a can’t-say-no adoption offer for Google Apps.

Startup Takeaway: Although Google presents itself as an immovable market leader (and offering these services for free, even), take away the power of other methods of marketing. Google’s marketing play here is brilliant: target users from the ground up, by offering an exceptional service for a price that can’t be argued against (free). Find other sources of marketing that can be used to bring, primarily, awareness, and let the product follow through for a positive experience.

google_chrome_logoGist: Google is creating a thin client with their new netbook operating system Google Chrome OS, which will allow simple components to access Google’s services as applications. Google Chrome, as the base, is an already-advanced browser and web renderer. Google’s initiative may mean war with Microsoft: Google Chrome OS, developed enough, and with enough power to replace desktop applications, may replace the need for an OS as the powerhouse and instead put it in the cloud with Google services and clients being thin clients. Google may expand this to their Android handset system and then to many other interfaces.

Google Inc. (GOOG) announced their new initiative today, the Google Chrome OS. Based on the Google Chrome browser software, it is a light, mobile operating system for netbooks, due to be open-sourced Q4 2009, but due to release Q3-Q4 2010.

Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. Because we’re already talking to partners about the project, and we’ll soon be working with the open source community, we wanted to share our vision now so everyone understands what we are trying to achieve.

Yeah. We know exactly what Google wants to achieve: the thin client. A thin client provides a view and an input, and general processing and memory; however, the data storage, crunching, and application serving is done from a third party source, accessible through the internet. Netbooks represented a large surge in the thin client idea, building primarily upon inexpensive Intel (INTC) Atom processors, cheap memory, portability, and in some cases open-source Linux distributions such as Ubuntu.

However, Google Chrome OS may not just be “just another Linux distro” to power notebooks: its very premise makes it be based on the idea of a thin client, completely. GCOS, built upon the (relatively) advanced Google Chrome browser, powered by Webkit, offers many advanced application-like parallels. Not only does it allow for the use of the Canvas HTML element for advanced drawing capabilities inside the browser, but local data storage and more.

We’ve already seen web technologies as an OS in action. We’ve seen them starting with Google using XMLHttpRequest in Suggest and Maps, with Adaptive Path’s Jesse James Garrett’s coining of Ajax, then the replacement of desktop apps with web-based ones with Meebo and Google Docs, and recently with the release of Palm Inc.’s (PALM) Palm Pre device, based on WebOS.

There’s actually some interesting foreshadowing in Jesse James Garrett’s early speculations into the power of Ajax:

The same simplicity that enabled the Web’s rapid proliferation also creates a gap between the experiences we can provide and the experiences users can get from a desktop application. … That gap is closing. Take a look at Google Suggest… Now look at Google Maps. Google Suggest and Google Maps are two examples of a new approach to web applications that we at Adaptive Path have been calling Ajax.

Google will nearly eliminate the OS itself. Most of what people want in an OS can happen in a browser. Google has documents and collaboration down with Google Docs. Search down with Google itself, and Google Desktop for local search. Email and chat through Gmail. In the future, organization communications through Google Wave. Calendar and tasks through Google Calendar. Google has created the ultimate thin client system that allows for the browser to take over the OS.

Google’s master plan extends into the integration of the browser into the OS. Google might wage a war of the OS: not with Windows vs. Linux, but Windows vs. the Web OS. Google notes that current “operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web.” Apparently—the current operating systems aren’t enough for the future. Supplementation of the web with the OS is not enough. The OS must be immersed with the web.

And Google wishes to spearhead that immersion. That immersion will primarily be in the form of a thin client, with everything handled on the cloud, the client acting as solely a view of information and an input point. Through this, Google can essentially build this thin client interface into multiple points in reality, not the least being their mobile operating system Android.

Google is going down to the hardware and integrating the user’s own system with Google. And in the future, their mobile phones, and soon, perhaps a huge portion of their technological experience.

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Disclosure: Mark Bao is the CEO of Avecora, an early-stage communications integration and consumer electronics firm.