Why the new iPads are delayed

After Apple's rather surprising admission of fault yesterday about not updating the Mac Pro, I would like to address another area where the company happens to be blame-free. By now I have read every possible conspiracy theory under the sun about why Apple hasn't shipped [insert_your_desired_device_here]. Some of the most recent speculation is that Apple didn't announce new high-end iPads because some upcoming iPad-specific software is not ready yet. This is probably nonsense.

Anyone who follows mobile silicon knows how simple the current situation is in all likelihood: the iPads are delayed because Apple can't ship the A11X (Fusion) in sufficient volumes yet to its desired quality metrics (final clockspeeds, et al.). More succintly, Apple has not yet introduced an A11X iPad because 10nm is a bit of a disaster. And despite what you may read, a 10nm tablet SoC would be an A11X, not an A10X.

Everything I have heard points to both Samsung Foundry and TSMC suffering very poor yields currently, in the realm of 30-40%. 10nm is just a shrink node, but it turns out that shrinking transistors is excruciatingly challenging these days because of pesky physics. And if 10nm ends up being an outright bad node, we've seen this leaky transistor nightmare before.

If you're not familiar, 10nm from Samsung Foundry and TSMC is not at all the same as Intel's 10nm. Their 10nm is actually very comparable to Intel's 14nm, with nearly equivalent density. All node names are marketing nonsense these days anyway. 14nm was particularly egregious given the reuse of 20nm's BEOL, and TSMC didn't even call it 14nm simply because "four" sounds like "death" in Mandarin; "16nm" doesn't really exist.

Internal delays are still real delays. With yesterday as an extreme exception, Apple doesn't like to talk about products until just before they're ready to ship. When it does talk in advance, even off-the-record, things can go wrong, and forward-looking statements can go unfulfilled. It doesn't suffer a negative marketing impact by keeping internal delays internal, but much more importantly it also doesn't realize the greater profits it would have if it had been able to ship on time. The A11X delay hurts its bottom line.

The situation really is probably that simple. It's not that Apple suddenly feels like it can and should wait longer between iPad refreshes (19 months now for the 12.9" iPad Pro). And despite Intel's newly constant delays, it is often not actually to blame for Your Theoretical New Mac of Choice not being released. This is a broader topic I may address another time.