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Will iPad live up to its hype?

Posted: 01 Feb 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Apple iPad? netbook? processor? LCD?

The recently-launched Apple iPad could quickly become the most popular tablet computer on the planet. But that's not saying much.

The market for tablet PCs consists of less than two million systems a year and is even declining according to some market watchers. As an e-book or netbook!categories that represent still-rising markets!the iPad is subpar.

We found Cooper, an engineering student from Oregon Institute of Technology, sunning himself outside the Yerba Buena Center, where the iPad was launched. Even though he is a Mac user, he said a $500+ iPad would not be interesting compared to his $250 Acer netbook.

Indeed, the iPad is overpriced and underpowered compared to Cooper's netbook. It uses an Apple-designed gigahertz-class processor, runs a version of Apple's iPhone OS and costs about $700 with a dock and external keyboard. Netbooks run full desktop OS with processors edging toward 2GHz and cost as little as $250.

The iPad is not a good e-book, either. It uses an LCD from LG Display that provides a wide angle of view, but consumes lots of power and can be hard to read!especially in daylight!compared to the grayscale displays in the Amazon Kindle and other e-books.

Davis Lee, a marketing VP from LG Display, who attended the launch, defended the use of his company's displays. "Users don't want to go back to black and white," he said.

Clearly Apple is attacking Kindle and Nook devices with a color system better for watching movies or browsing the Web, but worse for reading e-books. Analysts expect Apple will upgrade the iPad to more crisp and power efficient color displays from E-Ink, Pixel Qi or Qualcomm in a next-generation product.

Even as a Web browser, the iPad is a compromised product. It is much better for viewing a whole Web page than the small-screen iTouch, but it still uses a smart phone OS that does not support Adobe Flash, central to many Web pages and services.

The so-called A4 processor powering the iPad is an Apple-designed ASIC. However, Apple is saying nothing about it beyond the fact it runs up to a GHz.

It's impossible to say how much of the intellectual property inside that chip is from Apple's PA Semi group acquired in April 2008 or from Samsung that fabricated the chip!or even what IP is in the chip. Given time-to-market pressures, the CPU is probably little more than a speed upgrade of the single-core 600MHz iPhone 3GS processor, perhaps with an additional or upgraded silicon block or two.

Veteran analyst Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies is more bullish on the iPad. The product can run the 100,000 iPhone apps out today and sports a better interface than any other tablet computer, he noted.

"Apple will sell a million of these just to the Apple faithful, doubling the tablet market," he said in a group interview after attending the launch.

"This is the first tablet that could have great consumer interest," he said. "But this is not for the mainstream consumer, it's for the upper end of the consumer market," he added.

Apple has created a nice looking user interface with its iBook software reader, but the last thing publishers want is yet another format they have to support. In the end they will support as few as possible to get as many eyeballs as they can.

So far, it's a standoff. Booksellers Amazon and Barnes and Noble!and Google!got a head start in this market and have ample libraries. Apple has its cool GUI.

The race is still on to convergence system that is a great color e-book, great Web browser and great portable media player. Apple's iPad is a runner in that race, but by no means a winner.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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