Imagining iPad 5 and iPad mini 2: Touch ID, Apple A7, and M7

Analyzing rumors and speculation surrounding Apple's 5th generation iPad and 2nd generation iPad mini chipset and potential fingerprint identity sensor

While a lighter design for the iPad 5 and Retina for the iPad mini 2 are dominating conversation, there are some other new features that could make an appearance in Apple's next-generation tablets, including Touch ID, the fingerprint identify sensor. Of course, Touch ID requires the new Apple A7 chipset and its secure enclave to work, but that's a likely addition anyway, at least to the full-sized iPad. And with the A7 also comes the possibility of the Apple M7 motion-coprocessor. Would that make sense for a tablet? Would any of it? Let's take a look!

Apple A7 and generation jumps

Apple A7 chipset brings 64-bit, twice the speed, OpenGL ES 3.0 gaming

The iPad 4 currently uses the Apple A6X, a quad graphics core version of the iPhone 5's A6. That makes the A7 the logical successor for the iPad 4. The Apple A7 system-on-a-chip (SoC) debuted with the iPhone 5s. Apple says the A7 is twice as fast at both general purpose and graphics processing as its predecessor, the A6, and is 64-bit with support for OpenGL ES 3.0. Codenamed Cyclone, it appears to be 28nm, still dual-core and 1.3GHz, but based on the new 64-bit ARMv8 ISA and paired with a PowerVR Series 6 (Rogue) graphics processor, potentially the G6430, and 1GB of DDR 3 RAM. The only consideration here is whether the GPU is powerful enough to handle Retina on its own, or if we'll see a quad-core A7X to make it even more powerful? Apple favors performance over power, so if they can get what they need out of A7 alone, that's what we'll see.

The iPad mini 2 isn't as clear. The current iPad mini uses the Apple A5 from 2011. That reflects its lower price point and secondary position in the iPad product line. The next logical step up from that is the Apple A6. Using that, however, would rule out Touch ID and likely the Apple M7 as well. How well it would perform with a 2048x1536 Retina display is also a question. The A6X could handle it, since it already handles the iPad 4, but then the question shifts to how well that bigger chipset fits the iPad mini's constraints. Going to the Apple A7 would jump two processor generations, and again shifts the question, this time to costs and production capacity on what's a brand new chipset. We'll talk about iPad mini 2 pricing in a future post, but this is certainly one of the most interesting elements of the iPad mini evolution to watch.

Just like Apple ran the board on Lightning last year, running it on 64-bit A7 this year would make a lot of sense.

Touch ID for tablets

Touch ID currently lets you unlock your iPhone 5s and make iTunes account purchases very literally with a finger. It works so well, people who try it very quickly want it everywhere, including on the new iPads. If Apple does indeed want to grow the footprint of Touch ID, and they have the capacity to produce the sensors in high enough volumes, the iPad 5 certainly seems like the next candidate in line. If it gets an Apple A7 or Apple A7X processor, it should get the secure enclave that comes with it. That means, at least on a technological level, Touch ID would be a possibility.

The iPad mini, again, is a little tougher to figure out. Whether or not Apple brings Retina to the next iPad mini, if they do it with Apple A6 then Touch ID won't be in the cards. If they go with an Apple A7, then Touch ID is in play. The former would keep costs down and keep differentiation up - the big iPad would remain the top-of-the-line iPad - special features and all. If the latter, then, like the iPad 5, Touch ID would certainly be a possibility and low end vs. high end positioning would remain the only consideration.

Personally, I want Touch ID on everything.

Apple M7

Apple M7 motion coprocessor

The Apple M7 motion coprocessor is a sensor fusion hub. It takes in all the information from the accelerometer, magnometer, and gyroscope, and keeps it ready for when the iPhone 5s "wakes up" and an app needs it. Because it's only doing that one job, it requires far less power than the Apple A7 chipset, and so lets the A7 sleep, conserve power, and not have to worry about losing motion data while it does so. Since the M7 keeps a weeks worth of movement, it also means any new apps don't have to start from scratch each time you install them.

But does a chip designed to keep track of moving things make sense on the iPad mini, much less the iPad 5? Sure. Most obviously, for stillness. When the M7 chip detects its not moving, it can power down or slow down other systems to save even more power. For example, it can reduce the frequency of network connections to keep the radios off for longer intervals. It also means apps written to take advantage of the M7 on the iPhone 5s can do the same thing on the iPad 5 or iPad mini 2. Hey, backpackers might want to know their steps as much as runners!

Not surprisingly, just like Touch ID, M7 might be tied to A7. Meaning, if the iPad 5 gets an Apple A7, it could be a candidate for the M7 as well. Likewise the iPad mini. If, however, the mini goes to A6, it seems less likely the M7 will follow.

If it looks like there's a lot of dependencies affecting a lot of product decisions there, imagine how Apple must feel! Again, I'd like M7 to run the line.

More to come

iMore will be providing complete coverage of Apple's October 22 iPad and Mac event, including and especially the iPad 5 and iPad mini 5.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • The A7's 64-bit wide memory interface is enough for me to presume that the iPad 5 will ship with an A7X.
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  • Look who's running the Tweetbot and Fantastical betas on their iPhone :)
  • TEASE! :p
  • I think Apple has to bring Retina to the iPad mini. Although I have no issues with iOS 7 on my iPhone, it's absolutely dreadful on my iPad mini. The fonts look terrible to me and are hard to read. I'll not be buying another iPad mini without Retina and I'm totally over 'full-size' iPads.
  • Definitely a good point and a valid reason on why Apple would quickly phase-in retina displays on all iPads.
  • Do you like iPods
  • I'm just wondering if Apple will update the iPod Touch with an A6 anytime soon (and continue updating it annually), of if they're hastening it's death due to decreasing sales (mainly due to the very profitable iPhone). In 2011, Phil Schiller noted that the iPod Touch was the '#1 Portable Game Player', but (currently) with every biennial upgrade the iPod Touch gets further and further away from last year's twice-as-powerful SoC (much less this year's even-more-powerful SoC). At the current pace, the iPod Touch will get the A7 in 2016. Admittedly, other products (including the Mac Pro) haven't seen upgrades on a regular basis either, but given the relatively small price difference between SoCs (and significant performance improvements), why can't Apple annually upgrade for the iPod Touch (for those who can't justify an iPhone cellular contract, and still want a portable media device)?
  • I think things worked out as they have because in 2010, the 4th generation touch NEEDED the A4 to use the retina display and Apple was keen on bringing parity for the sake of their app developers. In 2012, they needed to stretch the screen to continue that parity, but new processors weren't required, so the 4S one was used to have great margins. In 2014, it wouldn't be crazy to expect another aspect ratio or design change that Apple will want to bring to both the iPod and iPhone. In addition, the M7 and TouchID will be a year old and not reserved only for the premium options (iPad/iPhone). To satisfy much of this, the iPod touch would need to leap past the A6 and go for the A7, which will be the previous years processor, just as the A5 was last year. Don't feel distraught... I mean you're still getting a pretty decent device for the price when you consider the same size iPhone 5S costs $450 more. Even the 8GB 4S costs $150 more and lacks the improved screen.
  • Agreed. This year is like the year when the only change was "white". Apple can keep iPod touch on the market for 2 year stretches due to the way it was positioned. We got "space gray" this year, and that was the update.
  • Well, at least in 2011, Phil Schiller had the courtesy to sidestep any hardware upgrades for the iPod Touch 4G (under the guise of the inclusion of iOS 5, a lower price point and faint '#1 Portable Game Player' praise). This year, the only 'upgrade' (which didn't even merit an onstage announcement) is the new color option and the Keynote/Pages/Numbers/iPhoto/iMovie software package for the same price. Perhaps one is getting more for their money, though I'd rather have an additional year with last year's top SoC (for today's and tommorow's software) instead of a two-year old model. Guess you have to buy into the iPhone club to get that.
  • Though, if Apple can annually upgrade the SoC (and other hardware) for the iPhone and iPad (and still keep the same price points), why can't they do the same for the iPod Touch?
  • At the very least with the current iPod Touch 5G and iPad mini, you can play all three Infinity Blade, Real Racing 3, Soul Calibur and other console quality games from the App Store. In hindsight, I'm amazed that the A5 can handle those games, even if they might not have all graphic effects. I was a little harsh (and didn't realize the full capabilities of the A5), though I'd still like an explanation why the iPod Touch doesn't get a yearly SoC upgrade. I just wonder at what the iPod Touch won't be able to even utilize some iOS functions due to being years behind in SoC performance.
  • I can't imagine that Apple would put an A7 in the iPod Touch anytime soon. The M7 will undoubtedly come to some new Apple product in the near future, maybe even the iPod nano. At best, I begrudgingly think Apple would upgrade the iPod Touch to an A6 next fall and continue doing so annually, so they'll always have three SoCs (with increasing profitability) in production. Nothing better, due to decreasing iPod Touch sales, it would make the iPod Touch be perceived as an 'equal' to any second tier iPhone for a much lower price and (what appears to be) planned obsolescence (due to using two-year old SoC's for today's software). Though, who knows how much of a bearing 64-bit software will have on all of this. That is, unless Apple saves costs elsewhere by dumping the current Keynote/Pages/Numbers/iPhoto/iMovie software package and adding an iPhone 5c-like plastic case (which I'm all for). Yet, despite a marginal price difference between the A5,A6 and A7 SoCs, the iPod Touch doesn't merit the 'perceived value' (and iPhone profitability) an A7 brings (even though it once shared the A4 SoC with the iPhone 4 in 2010). I'll be amazed if the iPad mini gets an A7 variant, since the A5X (with a PowerVR SGX543MP4 GPU) was used for the Retina display on the iPad 3. If the iPad mini does get an A7 and a Retina display for $329, you can be sure that it'll sell like hotcakes. I'd wager an A6X (with a PowerVR SGX554MP4 GPU), though the A6 (with a PowerVR SGX543MP3 GPU) would appear to be sufficient. And who knows if an IGZO or OLED display (with their power saving and image benefits) will be introduced with this year's iPad or if they're still too expensive and/or still have yield
    issues. We'll see what happens on Tuesday.
  • What happen
  • Hi I'm new