The general consensus in the market today is that Apple's upcoming A6 quad core processor is to bring more performance to the 2012 iPad and iPhone. It's said that it will also preserve battery life due to a shift from a 40-nanometer to a 28-nanometer process. Joel Hruska, writing for Extreme Tech, goes one step further with his belief that Apple's upcoming A6 processor could in fact introduce 3D transistors. Yet the one twist that no one even considered as a remote possibility was whether or not Apple's secretive Macroscalar Processor Architecture would be finally come to market. In a surprising and uncharacteristic move by Apple this past week, they may have shown their hand. Our report explains why. Update February 25, 2012 - Update 2, March 17, 2012
Early last week the US Patent & Trademark Office published a surprising trademark application from Apple for the word "Macroscalar." A second trademark filing for this also showed up in Hong Kong's IP Office's database over the weekend. Apple filed the application under a single International Class pertaining to microprocessors for computers. The most interesting product possibility listed in this filing relates to voice recognition software and applications that is likely related to Siri. Though, as you'll see, the list of possibilities that Apple lays out in their application is simply mind boggling.
Recent history has shown that new terminology supporting a new product and/or service presented at an Apple event was later supported by a series of trademark filings in the US and abroad. That's what makes the timing of this revelation so uncharacteristic for Apple. Does Apple's CEO Tim Cook want to use public trademark filings as a means of hyping an upcoming product going forward?
Of course a trademark filing by itself means absolutely nothing. But that's not the case here. Apple's "Macroscalar" isn't just a new marketing line; it's a processor architecture that's been in the works at Apple since 2004. In fact, Apple owns at least four granted patents on the technology that has yet to come to light. We first covered it in 2009 and briefly twice last year. When we posted a link to this architecture again in July 2011, ZDNet's Robin Harris picked up on it and his report titled "Apple's macroscalar architecture: what it is & what it means," concluded by this statement: "Is it a breakthrough? It could be if the efficiencies it promises can be realized in practice. We'll have to see just how good Apple's compiler engineers are."
Yes, Ron, how true – and it may be sooner than any of us would have anticipated. Why has Apple chosen to file for a trademark for this now? Is it because they're ready to take this to market? The answer to that question can't be definitively answered at this point in time, but Apple is definitely trying to get a message out. Not only did they get the ball rolling on their Macroscalar trademark filing last week, they also provided an analyst with unconfirmed winks and nudges that left him with a very odd impression of what Apple was hinting of delivering this year. The cryptic impression that the analyst walked away with, actually supports one of Apple's past patents. First we'll take a look at the facts and then we'll amplify that analyst's impression and see if the pieces of a new puzzle are coming together.
Apple's Trademark Applications In-Part
Apple filed for the trademark "Macroscalar" early last week in the US and in Hong Kong China over the weekend. Below are views of the applications In-Part. Update February 25, 2012: Apple filed for Macroscalar in Europe under application 010606812.
International Class Details for "Macroscalar"
Although we know for a fact that Macroscalar is related to Apple's Macroscalar Processor Architecture, which is borne out in the International Class below under "microprocessors, it's still interesting to see what Apple believes this processor may power over time.
International Class 009: Computers, computer peripheral devices, computer terminals; computer hardware; computer gaming machines, microprocessors, memory boards, monitors, displays, keyboards, cables, modems, printers, disk drives, adapters, adapter cards, connectors and drivers; apparatus for data storage; hard drives; miniature hard disk drive storage units; audio video discs, CD-ROMs, and digital versatile discs; blank computer storage media; magnetic data carriers; chips, discs and tapes bearing or for recording computer programs and software; random access memory, read only memory; solid state memory apparatus; mouse pads; telephones; facsimile machines, answering machines; cameras, video cameras; batteries; rechargeable batteries; chargers; chargers for electric batteries; MP3 and other digital format audio players; hand held computers, tablet computers, personal digital assistants, electronic organizers, electronic notepads; handheld electronic game units adapted for use with an external display screen or monitor; handheld digital electronic devices and software related thereto; handheld and mobile digital electronic devices for the sending and receiving of telephone calls, faxes, electronic mail, and other digital data; handheld digital electronic devices and software related thereto; electronic handheld units for the wireless receipt, storage and/or transmission of data and messages, and electronic devices that enable the user to keep track of or manage personal information; electronic communication equipment and instruments; telecommunications apparatus and instruments; telephone-based information retrieval software and hardware; mobile digital electronic devices, global positioning system (GPS) devices; telephones, mobile telephones, video phones; parts and accessories for mobile telephones; voice recognition apparatus; digital voice recorders; wireless communication devices for voice, data or image transmission; earphones, headphones; audio speakers; sound recording and reproducing apparatus, amplifiers, electric phonographs, record players, high fidelity stereo apparatus, tape recorders and reproducing apparatus, microphones; digital audio and video recorders and players; audio cassette recorders and players, video cassette recorders and players, compact disc recorders and players, digital versatile disc recorders and players, digital audio tape recorders and players; radios; radio transmitters and receivers; audio, video, and digital mixers; car audio apparatus; computer software; computer and electronic games; computer software for creating, authoring, distributing, downloading, transmitting, receiving, playing, editing, extracting, encoding, decoding, displaying, storing and organizing text, graphics, images, audio, video, and multimedia content, and electronic publications; operating system software, data synchronization software, application development software; computer software for personal information management; database management software; database synchronization software; character recognition software; voice recognition software; speech to text conversion software; voice-enabled software applications; telephony management software; electronic mail and messaging software; mobile telephone software; computer software for accessing, browsing and searching online databases; computer software for the redirection of messages, Internet e-mail, and/or other data to one or more electronic handheld devices from a data store on or associated with a personal computer or a server; computer software for the synchronization of data between a remote station or device and a fixed or remote station or device; downloadable electronic publications; fonts, typefaces, type designs and symbols in the form of recorded data; user manuals in electronically readable, machine readable or computer readable form for use with, and sold as a unit with, all the aforementioned goods; computer equipment for use with all of the aforesaid goods; electronic apparatus with multimedia functions for use with all of the aforesaid goods; electronic apparatus with interactive functions for use with all of the aforesaid goods; accessories, parts, fittings, and testing apparatus for all of the aforesaid goods; covers, bags and cases adapted or shaped to contain all of the aforesaid goods.
Apple asserts a claim of priority based on Trinidad and Tobago application number 44141, filed 08/02/2011.
Apple's Macroscalar Processor Architecture Patents
Apple's four granted patents on the Macroscalar processor architecture provide the same basic overview of their invention as follows:
Patent Background: As clock frequencies continue to rise in response to increased demands for performance, power has also increased, while deeper pipelines have exhibited a diminishing effect on the number of instructions per cycle (IPC) achieved in real-world situations, which further contributes to the power dissipation problem through inefficiency. A variety of mechanisms have emerged over the years that attempt to salvage instruction-level parallelism (ILP), such as SMT (simultaneous multi-threading) and VLIW (very long instruction word) and out-of-order execution, some with more success than others.
The classic compile-time optimization that permits more effective utilization of longer pipelines is loop unrolling. Unfortunately, most processors lack the requisite number of program registers to permit enough unrolling to fully saturate deeper pipelines. Increasing the number of registers without compromising software compatibility is problematic as well. Furthermore, many types of loops simply cannot be unrolled, such as those that implement data-dependent control-flow, which is the same class of loop hit hardest by deeper pipelines.
Autovectorization is another compiler optimization that is beginning to break into the mainstream. For loops that can be autovectorized, the promise of performance is even greater than for loop unrolling. However, loops that can be autovectorized are only a small subset of loops that can be unrolled, which is a small subset of all loops in general. While regularly structured numerical algorithms sometimes may benefit from auto-vectorization, none of this really helps data-driven algorithms.
While consumers purchase newer and faster processors with deeper pipelines, the vast majority of software available is still targeted for processors with shorter pipelines. As a result, of this, the consumer may not realize the full processing potential of a new processor for one to two years after its release, and only after making additional investments to obtain updated software. Since the limited number of program registers restricts loop unrolling, it is questionable how efficiently deeper pipelines will actually be utilized.
Apple's Summary: Apple's invention is about a macroscalar processor architecture. In one embodiment, a processor receives instructions of a program loop having a vector block and a sequence block intended to be executed after the vector block, where the processor includes multiple slices and each of the slices is capable of executing an instruction of an iteration of the program loop substantially in parallel. For each iteration of the program loop, the processor executes an instruction of the sequence block using one of the slices while executing instructions of the vector block using a remainder of the slices substantially in parallel. Other features of the present invention will be apparent from the accompanying drawings and from the detailed description that follows.
For the legal professionals amongst us, let it be said that Apple's original granted patent 7,395,419 for the Macroscalar Processor Architecture carries a whopping 101 patent claims. Update March 17, 2012: Two new patents came to light this week via the engineer/inventor's name Jeff Gonion who works at Apple as Platform Architect. The patents applications are numbered 20120066472 (with 42 claims) and 20120066482 (with 8 claims). Both are titled "Macroscalar Processor Architecture." The continuation patents were filed in November 2011 and Published on March 15, 2012.
The Exemplary Processor
One of the key aspects to note about this architecture is presented in Apple's granted patent as follows: "Furthermore, the exemplary processor may be used as other processors, such as an embedded microprocessor or a digital signal processor (DSP). While the new Macroscalar Processor Architecture could apply to an Intel based CPU, according to Apple's patent, the fact remains that the exemplary architecture is being aimed at "other processors" including the embedded market. So in context, this is applicable to a future iteration of the A-Series processors powering iOS devices.
Is There a Possible Wild Card iPad Design in the Wind?
Late last week AppleInsider reported that Citi analyst Richard Gardner cited Cook as alluding to "rapid innovation on the iOS platform" that will "significantly broaden the use case for tablets," and stated he "walked away from this meeting with the impression that Apple feels iPad satisfies—or will soon satisfy—the needs of those who might have been interested in such a product" as an ARM-based MacBook Air.
AppleInsider added that "while Apple could deliver ARM based Macs, it appears the company is more focused on increasing the desirability of its existing iPad and leaving Macs as a higher end alternative rather than bringing them into directly overlapping use scenarios."
Is there a possible Wild Card iPad Design in the Wind? Yes, I believe there could be, and here's why.
Apple's Interesting Hybrid Tablet-Laptop Controlled by a Tablet API
For years I've been pounding the table for a MacBook-Tablet due to a series of patent figures that I first stumbled upon in an Apple patent in 2008. That same patent was later granted to Apple in November 2010. In 2011, Intel put the big push on the coming Ultrabook that was clearly aimed at Apple's MacBook Air. In 2013, Intel's Haswell will push a new hybrid notebook-tablet device that is to attack Apple's MacBook Air and iPad.
So when the revelations were made by the Citi analyst last week, it instantly reminded me of Apple's notebook-tablet hybrid patent. In fact, I went back to study that original patent and realized that my first take on this patent contained a single key error. The error was that I presented the notebook-tablet-like device as stemming from OS X. Looking back, I could now see that the patent was actually focused on the design stemming from iOS API's. Meaning, the design of a notebook-tablet as noted in the patent figures noted above, were always in context with a future offshoot device for iOS rather than OS X. All of the other devices shown in the patent figure above are iOS centric devices. That's a huge shift in perception and one that may shed light on Tim Cook's comments that were interpreted by the Citi analyst last week.
2012 Could be an Explosive Year for Apple
When you match up what the Citi analyst stated last week with Apple's latest trademark filing for "Macroscalar" that's directly tied to four granted patents for a new processor architecture, that's powerful. When you further add in an Apple patent describing a tablet-notebook-styled product that matches up with what Tim Cook alluded to in respect to satisfying the needs of those who might have been interested in an ARM-based MacBook Air – you have the makings for a technological equivalent of a positive "perfect storm."
In the view of Citi analyst Richard Gardner, Apple's Tim Cook alluding to "rapid innovation on the iOS platform" that will "significantly broaden the use case for tablets." Could this rapid innovation coming to the iOS platform be due to Apple's Macroscalar Processor Architecture? Could this new architecture take iOS to the next level to power more apps for the enterprise? Could it power Apple TV to the next level? Could it deliver true photorealistic visuals that could integrate augmented reality?
Although we may only know the answers to these questions over time, the clues that have surfaced over the last week certainly point to the possibility of some very dramatic shifts coming in 2012. In my view, the only way to satisfy those wanting an ARM based MacBook Air, is to give them an ARM based iPad-notebook-like device as Apple's patent once presented. Of course the design will be as slick as an iPad is today with an attached MacBook Air-Like keyboard bottom shell. And with Apple's genius with magnets these days, the design could favor a pull out tablet or a twistable tablet design to match any Ultrabook design in the making.
If you think about it for just a moment, it's definitely a twist that Apple's competition didn't see coming and one that I think could rock the market. It's a form factor that current day iOS fans would likely prefer over an Ultrabook from Windows anyways. It's a design that plays into Apple's strengths against an Ultrabook. It's a way to accelerate iPad sales into the stratosphere. You know, I think that Wintel may have thought that they had finally trapped Apple with their coming Ultrabook, when in fact it's Apple turning the table on them – again. Now isn't that the Apple we know?
Notice: Patently Apple presents a basic summary of new trademark filings with their associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each such trademark is revealed by the U.S. and/or other foreign Patent & Trademark Offices. This category covers a few Industrial Design reports each year while others could be found in our granted patent archives. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any trademark application should be read in its entirety for further details. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.
Here are a Few Great Sites covering our Original Report
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