iPad's Identity Crisis and Apple's A4 CPU Showstopper - HotHardware

iPad's Identity Crisis and Apple's A4 CPU Showstopper

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As you've no doubt heard by now, Apple launched a new mobile computing device and it's within a product category that is all-new territory for the traditionally tight-lipped company. It's a bit of an odd choice for a company that revels in innovation, and after today's announcement, we're left with more questions than answers on whether or not it can truly deliver in the way that Apple CEO, Steve Jobs thinks it can. The iPad simply isn't as revolutionary as the iPhone and iPod, and that alone is at least initially limiting the general perception of the product. For better or worse, Apple has worked itself into a corner where people simply expect each and every new product release to change that product category for the better; to revolutionize things in a way that no other company has done so far.

On almost every front, the iPad doesn't do that. It doesn't revolutionize, and it doesn't change the way we personally feel about mobile computing. Apple's approach was to find a device that could be reasonably retrofitted into a lifestyle as a "third device" between the smartphone (preferably the iPhone, if you're Apple) and the notebook (preferably a MacBook or MacBook Pro, if you're Apple). There are a few problems with that approach. First, Jobs himself thinks that netbooks "aren't good at anything." He said as much in his January 27th keynote for the world to hear. Netbooks are arguably that "third device" between someone's phone and someone's main computer, and when you really look critically at the situation, netbooks are actually far more capable than the iPad in its existing form.


Left: NVIDIA Tegra 2-based tablet playing 1080p Video at CES - Right:  Asus Eee PC Netbook

And in this corner, the Netbook and Tablet World Challenger - The iPad:
Let's think about it. Netbooks can be had for as little as $200 if you play your cards right, with most priced at or around $299. Either way, that's $200 less than the base iPad, which only ships with 16GB of storage compared to the 160GB+ hard drives in netbooks. Netbooks can also play back Flash video content, while the iPad cannot. Like it or not, Flash is still a huge part of the web, and it plays a vital role in being able to enjoy the "whole" Internet. Apple's making a huge mistake by promising a "great browsing experience" while at the same time not letting users view Flash-based pages or Flash encoded video content. Furthermore, you can basically install any application your heart desires on a Windows 7-based netbook. Try installing anything on an iPad. You can't. If it's not in the App Store, you can't install it on the iPad, and as great as the App Store is for the iPhone and iPod touch, we can't say we enjoy being limited to these mini apps on what should be a full-blown tablet PC.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Users can't remove the battery of the iPad, so you're forced to recharge when it dies rather than swapping a new battery pack in. There's no physical keyboard and no proper file system, so actually handling e-mail in a "real world" working scenario is impossible. For instance, you can't easily create a PDF from a web page printout, save to your desktop, and send as an attachment to four people in your address book. To us, that is very basic, core functionality that has to be included if you're selling a device as a "computer." Maybe Apple is just selling the iPad as a toy, but if you watched Steve Jobs' keynote today, you'd know he was aiming far higher with this device.


It's a Jungle Out There for The iPad eReader -
Then there's the glossy display. While pretty, this panel is going to be much more limited outdoors. The reflections will be so significant that actually working/reading will be limited to shady areas. What makes the Kindle (and similar e-readers) great for reading is that they are viewable in any lighting conditions, even outdoors where many go to read. If Apple was hoping to make a device that was half e-reader, half computer, it has slipped up again by introducing a compromise that really hinders the iPad's ability to be used completely as a reader. What's interesting is that Apple clearly has the reading public in mind. It announced content deals with at least five publishing firms, and it even introduced an iBook store where users can go to buy books. But how can Apple reasonably expect people to enjoy these books everywhere if the sun will wash out the iPad's glossy panel?

Tell Me About Your Childhood -
The bottom line is this: the iPad has an identity crisis. It's not quite a serious e-reader, and it's not quite a serious tablet PC. It's probably great at handling multimedia, but it's not nearly portable enough to be considered a portable media player. It's great for tabletop use, but it can't multitask, so you're left with a machine that's seriously limited in what can do well. It's also inherently limited by whatever applications are delivered in the App Store; users can't just customize this to their liking by installing whatever software they want. For $499 (and up, if you want more than 16GB of storage and/or AT&T 3G capabilities), the iPad is tough to take seriously without a serious operating system built-in. This is merely an enlarged iPod touch at the end of the day, with the only gleam of hope coming from the CPU within. The 1GHz Apple A4 is technically a brand new introduction into the processor space, and it's one of the most overshadowed parts of today's introduction. We're highly interested in the A4 and what it can potentially do for Apple's mobile computing line-up in general, so stick with us for that analysis in the pages ahead...


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This was actually one of the brightest things for me in the intro. I was expecting it to be running snapdragon, Tegra2, atom pinetrail, or even a VIA SOC. When he said it was on an Apple A4 chip I was intrigued. This as pointed out in this article could be substantial for the company. Where with the iPad in general I was disappointed after inspection.

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Yea, the iPad is rather underwhelming. That new chip sounds impressive tho!

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@rapid The A4 chip definitely looks to be one of the bright spots of this device. I would love to see some performance benchmarks on it, and matched up against some of the other chips you mentioned. As it is now, I'm very impressed with how energy efficient it is, without sacrificing performance. Looks like a possibility for the 4th generation iPhone.

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Yea gibbersome that's what I was getting to. For it to be that low energy, but still fluid in seen operation while transmitting to a large screen as well.

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rapid1:

Yea gibbersome that's what I was getting to. For it to be that low energy, but still fluid in seen operation while transmitting to a large screen as well.

 

I've also been thinking about what Apple decided to sacrifice for the battery life. And I think I understand why Apple decided to not support Flash, a known CPU-hogger. Multi-tasking was also perhaps excluded with the battery efficiency in mind. What Apple has done is create a very minimalist user interface. For those looking for a netbook replacement, they will be disappointed. It is (as many have stated) a giant Ipod Touch.

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There's a total problem with what you're saying, and its a shame you can't see it.  When the iPod and iPhone came out, they were "underwhelming" too.  People immediately claimed that Apple has screwed up, and that other products were better, faster, cooler.  Whether it was an HTC product or the LG Prada or the Helio Ocean, people thought the iPhone was overhyped and lackluster.  Same with the iPod if you remember that far back.  Here with the iPad, its a bit worse, because without looking closely, most uninformed observers want to point out that its an oversized iPod.  The truth however, is that the product was delayed specifically because of all the changes that were being mad to the underlying OS.  Moreover, updates to the iPhone were delayed do to cross-over with the code from this project that they did not want to leak.  Now, all can be revealed, and Apple can retain its development lead on all its competitors.  Don't listen to Steve Jobs comments on netbooks or the Kindle.  If you notice, he specifically said that netbooks FAIL at what they're trying to do (most people think of them as mini laptops).  Also, Jobs noted long ago that he thought the eReader class wasn't mainstream enough, because "People don't read books anymore".  His view was that it had to do MORE than an eReader... and yet retain the same simplicity. 

 

Would people pay MORE for a Kindle that did more (yet had a lower battery life)?  Good question.  That's the gamble.  That's why this is DIFFERENT, and that's why its either a complete failure, or the start of a revolution.  According to Steve Ballmer at CES this year, this year is the start of an emerging category... the Slate PC.  He described it exactly in the terms Jobs used.  He showed unannounced, unspeced models coming "soon" by HP, Pegatron, and Archos... in precisely the same form factor as Apple... but the problem is, these were NOT "revolutionary".  They were simply netbooks with touchscreens and no keyboards running Windows 7.  None of them were architected for touchscreen other than to be capable of doing it.  There were no "splitscreen" or "pop-over" systems, they did not have a library of touchscreen ONLY apps like the iPhone does.  They were netbooks without keyboards.  --And therein lies a tragic problem that even outstrips questions about battery life, cost, and other issues.

As Jobs said, and most people that used it, and appreciated what they were seeing have said... we (the rest of us) probably won't "get it" until we're holding one in our hands.  Until we truly feel how fast it is, and really see how it can affect our lives.  Like the iPhone, people will keep saying they want multitasking (and Jobs will translate that as "they want to do X task while doing Y task", without opening the entire device up), they'll say they want a camera (which may easily happen), and they'll say they thought it would run full MacOS software... at which point, it will be clear they don't get it.  The ModBook has been with us for a while.  Not many people want it... even for cheap.  People want a new consumer level appliance that's no where NEAR as complicated as a desktop OS.

This is what Apple has delivered, and yes... people like yourself will go on missing the point, while people like myself, John Gruber, Stephen Fry, and Michael Pusateri will insist that we're looking at an amazing 3rd repeat of history in terms of tech buzz.  When the revolutionary comes along, there is the urge not to notice it... even if people announce it boldly, and insist that you will soon understand what they already know.  That's just the nature of things.  Rarely do you get the perfect storm of a NEW product that changes everything... but came out of no where... and no one else is even in the same class.  Apple is now set to have done this many, many times (not without its G4 cubes, Newtons, and iPod HiFis though).  No one is perfect, but they really outdid themselves here.

Time will tell.

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"Time Will Tell"

Yes, it will, but with everyone else getting ready to announce their iteration of the Tablet, I for one will not bite the Apple in such a rush. The fact that it's a "minimalist" device could work either way for them and other manufacturers may produce a Tablet that is more fully featured and still has battery life that is acceptable.

Apple's allure is dependent on their support structure and development of 'Apps' for their devices. They give 'good commercial' too. They filled a marketing void when it was needed and were targeted towards younger people who were just coming into their financial well being.

The devices are only just so,so.

Oh,...and Yeah,....I just Don't 'Get It' either because I'm not clever.

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"Getting it" doesn't have to sound like a slight.  I personally think this is a tricky issue.  Maybe I'm the one not "getting" it.

Like I mentioned with the other form factor entrants coming in, "time will tell"... but that's most relevant, because NO ONE else has released specs or even a time to ship yet... so, they're hypothetical ideas right now that we "think" sound right.  So, everytime I hear someone say, "well, I'll just get one of these others" it seems odd to me. More like it should be a "boy, I wish someone would..." than anything else. 

It's not clear to me how "natural" Windows 7 would seem in an all-touch environment.  Look at the spreadsheet demo Apple gave.  Imagine doing that with Excel on Windows today. No dice. iPad is coming into the market in a class by itself chiefly because of the work on the OS (and how it handles touch).  Recently ASUS/Taiwanese manufacterer was reported as "scrambling" because of Apple's super-low entry point ($499).  They were thinking Apple would come in at $999, and had planned to undercut Apple by 20%-30%.  Now, there's no margin for that tactic.  Apple has aimed themselves at a different type of computing experience... not simply a repackaging of a desktop OS.  The question is... will it catch on, considering Apple has been "training" its customer base for this next step.

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No clever I actually agree with much that you say. One thing I don't think you see is the delay thing had nothing to do with anything except the A4 chip that this item runs on. Other than that it is an adaptation of the current platform in a larger and more inclusive model. Yes it is a over sized iPhone however there is absolutely nothing wrong with that from both a marketing view or stand point and a business one. So it basically rides that popularity adds to it and helps it grow even more.

One of my issues between the Steve Jobs Bill gates thing is the business model is very different on one point. Steve Jobs is very involved in the hardware end of everything for Apple. He is also a VERY smart man. Bill Gates on the other hand is an idea man on the software side of things as well as marketing and aim for a product he is a genius. The problem for Microsoft here is there Genius retired and is a philanthropist where Steve Jobs came back and is active rather than a commentator.

As for this  device and many of your arguments I understand them directly. As I said well before this item was ever seen even if I don't want one, mainly because I am a hardware nut is because I also cannot manipulate or suit this device directly to all my needs. However; as I stated this device is a very good thing, and I believe a market changer in a large way.

Much like the original iPhone the next version will have considerably expanded functionality. The big thing about this from a business stand point is the Apple app market that already exists. No one else has this or even anywhere close to it. This market also in many ways is open source at the bottom. You grab the Dk develop your app throw it to Apple they approve it or not. But the start point is open source basically. Much like Firefox you have thousand working and developing apps and plug ins for you for nothing. They only get something if the app is useful and in many ways just like Linux this changes the market I think in a very good way.

As I mentioned before I said well before this was introduced it is a market changer. Yes this type of device has been in and out of the market for years. However; I believe it was never take seriously or developed cohesively as a singular device type and market. The netbook gets party of it the UL notebooks do to with added functionality, the apple device in the end combines all available. It is a netbook, and er-eader, a UL notebook a cell phone or direct communications device and in a slate package which I thinks is considerably more useful.

This I think is done right because a slate device with totally new inclusiveness such as this has to be released. That is so we see how the market responds and what the market wants added to it. R&D in any case takes an aim even if it's imaginary. The other thing I think this will do is fastly gain a device type following which will extend cohesively across the market. I remember a year and a half b4 the iPhone existed I told a co-worker that b4 very long we would have a PC the size of you Cell phone. Then 1.5 to two tears after that first the i-phone and then the netbook hit the market. I have also said and even tried to patent an all inclusive device that incorporated and e-reader a cell phone with 3 or 4g connectivity and a netbook/UL in one package. However I was 1 month and 2 weeks late on it, and 3 patents were in b4 mine.

I basically dropped it there because I saw no point the parties that had it were I believe though do not know directly were Apple, MSI, and IBM/Lenovo and maybe Asus to. These companies have way  more resources than I could ever hope to have so it is pointless for me. I also think Nokia is developing something along these lines in a smaller package.

In the end this builds on the iPhone market which for a single specialized device is huge and insurmountable in my eyes. I actually question whether Apple rather than M$ will be in the same place in a few years because of there adoption of this expanded mobile market segment. I think in many ways they will be even because in the end for the general consumer there devices may be somewhat less all functional like the PC, but they are easier to use completely mobile, and stable. plus Apple is now developing both the hardware and software sides of there market as well which in a business sense gives them far more control.

Of course this is all basically a debate anyway we will see where it all goes!

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You said: "Getting it" doesn't have to sound like a slight".

But you made it sound like one with comments such as: "its a shame you can't see it" and "people like yourself will go on missing the point."

We're mostly saying that we'll wait to see what DOES come from other sources BEFORE we spend our money and that's just reality biting allot of people in the wallet considering the state of the economy and how it's affecting too many of us. Is it OK if we take a little time to choose?

Your: "Apple's super-low entry point ($499)" speaks volumes all by itself.

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