CxO Report

Viewpoint

Data at The Edge

With more and more critical data residing at the edge of the enterprise in remote or branch offices (ROBOs) and on client systems, the ability to reliably protect and quickly recover this data has become more critical to business continuity and end-user productivity.

Read more ...

Vendor Highlight

Mobile Broadband Boost

As the demand for a smooth and seamless integration of Wi-Fi access becomes increasingly important part for the mobile broadband service, Ericsson has announced its 3GPP compliant Wi-Fi network access, control and management solutions.

Read more ...

If you have looked around your local electronics retailer lately, you could be forgiven for thinking you had arrived on a set for Star Trek. Futuristic looking tablets occupying every free space. The era of the tablet PC is upon us. Let’s face it, the tablet as we know it today, belongs to Apple. Every other product, whether it is Windows, Android, Playbook or Kindle, uses the iPad as their reference.


By 2017, tablet PC shipments are projected to reach 383.3 million units, driven by more mature operating systems (OS), a wider range of applications and increasingly powerful multi-core processors with higher resolution displays. So, the question is why the sudden influx now? By looking at things, it seems like a one huge experiment by every tablet vendor to capture a market audience currently held by the iPad.

 

And, all the competing vendors capitalising on their strength to take some share of the market dominance. I like this game. Industry talk is that Google plans to introduce a budget US$199 tablet co-branded with Taiwan's Asustek Computer positioned to compete with Apple’s iPad. Research firm Gartner says the search engine conglomerate is scouting out new ways to boost sales of tablets, a market that may almost double this year to 118.9 million units.

Although Android has grabbed more than half of the smartphone market, tablets installed with the software have won less than half of Apple's iPad's share. Furthermore, it will face pressure from software giant Microsoft, which has just launched its Surface tablet. No one can accuse Microsoft of manufacturing a me-too product, as it has been received well in the marketplace so far.

The tablet market is a major challenge for Google. However, Android tablets are available from companies such as Samsung Electronics, HTC and Motorola Mobility Holdings, which  Google recently acquired. For Google, it is about capitalising on the Android brand. It is still unclear what the ultimate destination of mobile tablets will be.

 

However, what we do see is a hardware feature for future road map, which is quickly replicated across all tablet products. These features are also being pushed at an increasingly rapid rate into the budget tablet arena, where usability is the main focus. The Google Android OS has caused an upset at the high- end of the tablet spectrum and enabled vendors such as Samsung, Acer, Asus, Motorola and others to take Apple dominance in the tablet market head on.

 

However, at the other end of the market spectrum, a battle is underway between the underdogs of the tablet industry, all trying to compete for the grand title of best budget tablet.

budget tablet1

Touting brand names such as Ubislate and Aakash among others, have even a greater challenge than the established brand names, since not only do they have to produce a competitive product feature wise, the tablet itself must also be reliable and most important of all, price competitive.

 

The winners of the budget brands must do all these things, and do it well, in order to lead in the budget brand space. Let us face it, as far as features are concerned, there isn't much to differentiate one Android tablet against another, at least functionality wise. Sure, newer tablets will run the optimised operating system Ice Cream Sandwich, or tout better screens and faster processors, but at the budget end of the spectrum these things aren’t so important.

What is important though, is the ability to provide a functional web browser, perhaps Skype and e-mail to keep in touch. Low end tablets are perfect for people who either don’t have the space, reliable power source or permanent data connections, but who need to keep in touch and connected to the outside world.

So what are the enablers which has allowed these newcomers to produce tablet PCs for such a low cost.

1. Operating System

The Android OS system is based on a special fork of the Linux kernel, nearly all of the operating system components are open source including the Java like API, which operates in a mobile optimized virtual machine call Dalvik. The browser is based on WebKit, the open source browser library. This not only eliminates the overhead cost of licensing the operating system, the hardware developer doesn't have the headache of OS bug fixes, updates and security fixes.

2. CPU Architecture

All these newcomers to the budget arena will use ARM based CPU and GPU components for their tablet devices. Unlike AMD or Intel who manufacture CPU devices, ARM Processors are either produced by third party manufacturers such as Qualcomm, Cirrus Logic, Sharp and Samsung or alternatively ARM may also issue a fabrication licence to manufacture the ARM CPU GPU combination into the vendor's own chip design. The cost of this is established by the perceived value of the end product.

For example, the licence cost for integrating an ARM Cortex A8 processor into a refrigerator will be significantly less than integrating the same CPU into a smartphone or tablet. What this means is that the players in the budget market are going to utilise older generation ARM chips into their products to keep cost down. To the consumer, this means they typically won’t be able to support the latest OS updates, but at this end of the market, this is not the most important aspect of the tablet.

3. Display and Memory Technology

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you would have noticed that virtually everything these days is fitted with a full color flat screen. From televisions to printers, smartphones to wristwatches. And, the cost of back lit LCD and AmoLED screen technology has plummeted.
This is all thanks to groundbreaking technological achievements in chemical vapour deposition techniques.

 

This has improved the reliability, cost of both memory and display technology by packing thousands of tiny field effect transistors into a small space without overheating, a problem that plagued earlier laptop designs of the 1990’s. This efficiency in both screen and memory technology coupled with the lower power required of the CPU and graphics processor, has enabled tablets to run for longer and on less power.

 

The unit reliability of the manufacturing process itself has driven the cost down; hence a number of display manufacturers are hoping to cash in on the tidal wave of demand. These three enablers have allowed the newcomers to produce fully functional tablet products for very low prices.

 

These products may not be the thinnest or the latest technology and ultimately, only time will tell how many of these start ups survive, but one thing is certain, the winner in the budget battle will be the consumer. The price war in the budget end of the market has caused ripple in the high-end market. The iPad2 has been discounted in some markets, and already, the iPad3 on some Wi-Fi only models, has seen as at least two significant price cuts.   

Amazon, which entered into the market in 4Q11 with the Kindle Fire, saw its share drop from 16.8% to just over 4%, according to market analyst IDC. This allowed Samsung to take advantage of Amazon's weakness to regain the number two position while Lenovo vaulted into the number four spot, followed by Barnes & Noble at number five, according to IDC.

The analyst firm expects a new, larger-screened device from Amazon at a typically aggressive price point. It expects search giant Google to enter the market with an inexpensive, co-branded ASUS tablet designed to compete directly on price with Amazon's Kindle Fire.

The total worldwide media tablet shipments for the quarter reached 17.4 million units in 1Q12, according to IDC. Apple shipped 11.8 million iPads during the quarter, down from 15.4 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011, growing its worldwide share from 54.7% in 4Q11 to 68% in 1Q12.

 

You have no rights to post comments