The industry rumour mill has been grinding at turbospeed recently, having been kicked into gear by whispers that Apple may strike a deal with Sony whereby the computer company and the Japanese entertainment giant become Cell mates. This, of course, does not relate to any shady corporate deals the two may have been up to, but the possibility exists that Apple will be able to take advantage of the extremely powerful Cell processor that Sony and its other Cell mates, IBM and Toshiba, have jointly developed.
This is an exciting prospect for Apple if it becomes a reality and would very likely further boost Apple's standing with the financial analysts; a standing that is in fact already in very good shape.
So why would such a development help Apple grab a larger slice of the home-computing market pie?
Well, for those few of you not familiar with the Cell processor announcement, perhaps because you have spent the last couple of weeks living in a cave half way up the Pyrenees mountains without a mobile phone. This processor is set to challenge Intel's and AMD's chips in a very, very big way.
For future computing demands, the Cell device will provide 10 times the power of today's best chip options. It is neutral when it comes to its operating system, but it's only fair to point out here that it will not be compatible with older programs and hardware. It's small yet, because it is manufactured in 90nm SoI. It integrates more than 230million transistors, which is about twice the number found in a Pentium 4. It's also fast, very fast. Rambus designed the memory and its interface around its FlexIO bus and XDR memory. This is said to give the Cell chip clock rates from 3.2 to 8.0GHz, and a processor bandwidth that will top 100Gbytes/sec.
But putting Apple's aspirations to one side for just a moment, what do the existing Cell mates that created this innovation plan do with this processing power?
For a start, IBM will use it in a workstation that it is developing with SCEI, and Sony will surely want to exploit the Cell's attributes in its PlayStation 3 range. Toshiba is looking at integrating the Cell's power into its high-definition televisions that it plans to launch in 2006.
So what's in it for Apple? Well, over the past few years, the computer market had the wake-up call that Apple products provide the imagination and the innovation to become the big player in the home entertainment sector. For far too many years, all I heard about Apple was how it was failing to win substantial sales and contracts in the commercial market. Personally, as a committed Mac user, I never understood this. But now it looks very likely that Apple will do increasingly well in the entertainment market that is rapidly becoming an integral element of the digital home of the future—a fact that could make it a corporately cosy domicile for Mr. Jobs and his new Cell mate.