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

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From a nuts and bolts perspective, the iPad isn't quite as amazing as Steve Jobs said it was during this week's presentation, though it is impressive on some levels. Hardware-wise, it's one of the more interesting devices we have seen in recent years. Apple has always proven their ability to innovate on the design front, so we're not at all surprised here. The iPad is far and away the most aesthetically stunning tablet/slate we have ever seen. Of course, most tablets and slates died out soon after the tech burst a few years ago, but still, it's one fine piece of machinery and there definitely has been a resurgence in this product category lately.

The overall form factor won't be foreign to anyone who has laid eyes on an iPod or iPhone. In fact, it actually looks like a blown-up iPod touch. There's just a single "Home" button at the bottom and a larger-than-expected bezel around the glossy display. Apple intentionally designed this product to be immediately familiar to anyone who has owned or even played with an iPhone or iPod touch. Apple has shown its love for simplicity, so the keyboard-less, single Home button approach is--again--not shocking.

Size Matters (yes, it had to be said) -
Let's break down the specifications. From the top, the entire device measures 0.5" thick and weighs 1.5lbs. To put this in perspective, the similarly sized Kindle DX weighs 1.2lbs., so it's not too much heavier than existing e-readers with larger displays. 1.5lbs. still isn't what we would consider "lightweight" for an e-reader though we suspect Apple wanted to make this device feel solid and hefty in the hand.  Frankly, a $499 product that felt like a cheap, plastic toy obviously wouldn't go over well. We also suspect the battery--which lasts for an amazing 10 hours even playing video--added to this. Personally, we like the design. It's simple, clean and looks like it fits in Apple's lineup. The only problem is that it's not truly portable--but let us qualify that statement. A MacBook Air weighs only 3lbs. and is only 0.76" thick at its thickest spot. Sure, it's much, much more expensive, but it's also a far more capable machine. In fact, the MacBook Air is a real computer with a real operating system, unlike the iPhone OS-equipped iPad. The biggest issue here is that the iPad is too large to fit in a cargo pocket (like a smartphone or portable media player), but it's not capable enough to warrant lugging around like a notebook. If we're going to carry around something that requires a separate bag, we want it to have a real desktop and real multitasking capabilities.

The Eyes Have It; iPad Made For The Shade -

The display is a 9.7" LED-backlit panel with Multi-Touch and an industry-standard 1024x768 resolution. There's nothing remarkably wrong with this setup, but a few points annoy us. We should start by saying that Apple's Multi-Touch implementation is nothing short of first-class. We have no doubts that breezing around the OS here with your fingers will be a delightful experience, much like it already is on the iPhone and iPod touch. That said, a 4:3 display in a widescreen aspect world doesn't make much sense. This device was clearly made for multimedia viewing, and as it stands, users will be dealing with huge black bars and tiny strips of movie footage when watching cinema-bound flicks. We understand that a 16:9 tablet wouldn't be exactly functional from a design standpoint, but selling a 4:3 screen on a multimedia device seems a bit counter-intuitive. The screen is also glossy, which certainly hurts its chances as a real Kindle competitor. And we aren't the only ones noticing. Amazon's stock closed up on the day after Apple's announcement, signaling that even Wall Street doesn't think that the iPad has a chance of knocking Amazon from their top spot in the e-book market. Glossy panels are generally quick to wash out in outdoor use, and the reflections can be extremely annoying when trying to focus on small lines of text. Glossy panels are pretty in the store, but in real-world outdoor use, they definitely aren't ideal.

Storage For The Masses? -
Onto capacity. Apple will sell three iPad models (each of which will have a 3G and non-3G flavor). You can get 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of flash storage, and that's it. No SD expansion slots, no internal hard drive slot for you to upgrade. Even the most basic netbooks on the market have 120GB hard drives, and while they don't usually have SSDs, we're guessing by the netbook sales figures that most users just don't care. They'll happily take more room over a boost in speed, and we can't say we blame them. Of course, 64GB is plenty of room when you don't have a full-scale operating system to play with. 64GB of apps and music will be fine for most, but if Apple ever decides to allow OS X on this thing, those capacity points will need simply need to increase.

Highly Connected, Capable, AT&T Limited  -
Wireless connectivity? Check. Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi are included on all models, so you'll be able to use your Bluetooth keyboard as well as your home router to get this device working overtime. Unfortunately, Apple didn't include Intel's new WiDi technology, which is something that would've definitely pushed it over the edge in terms of innovation. The iPad would serve a much greater purpose with a suitable video-output solution. There's a VGA dongle you can buy separately, but that's too cumbersome to deal with in many situations. If this could automatically beam images to one's display without wires, we could actually see using this as a living room iTunes/movie player. Consider it an opportunity missed.

For around $129 more, Apple will allow you to buy any of the three iPad models with AT&T 3G wireless. The good news is that none of them are tied to a contract; you can buy data on a monthly, as-needed basis. The bad news is that data pricing is steep, and it's is inexplicably still tied to AT&T. Users can get 250MB per month for $14.99 (rather high!), while "unlimited" (which likely means 5GB) will cost $29.99 per month. If the iPad had a full operating system, the $29.99 plan wouldn't sound bad; as it stands, you won't be able to take full advantage given the limits of iPhone OS. Also, AT&T has proven to be a bad partner for Apple. Despite both companies claiming that "most users" are happy with the iPhone/AT&T deal, there are a small but vocal minority that are turning the masses off of AT&T. True or not, AT&T is taking a lot of heat for iPhone failures in large cities.  How does Apple expect AT&T to handle the iPad 3G load when it can't even handle the iPhone load in major cities like New York and San Francisco?

Accesorize It, But The Apple Way Of Course...and Bring Your Checkbook -
Other, less featured but key components include an accelerometer, digital compass and Assisted GPS (aGPS), with the latter only available on the 3G/Wi-Fi models. The accelerometer enables the device to be used in any direction, and early reports suggest that the "flipping" from one orientation to another is extremely swift and clean. This also allows the device to be tilted for gameplay usage. The compass is similar to the one in the iPhone 3GS; while cute, not too many people are going to bust out their iPad to use a compass. That's what Google Maps are for. Speaking of, the Assisted GPS option is great to have, but again, how practical is this? Are people really doing to whip out a nearly-10" device while walking down the street in an attempt to locate a nearby shop? Why not just use the mapping software on your existing smartphone, or better still, a portable GPS unit that's probably already stuck to your car's windsheild? The iPad just feels entirely too big to be used as a mapping device, particularly on crowded sidewalks in major cities.  That said, in the coffee shop or restaurant, if you have it in your bag and your bag is with you, it's perhaps a much larger, easier to read view of the area perhaps.

The 1024 x 768 resolution display supports video output via a Dock Connector to VGA Adapter, as well as 576p/480p with the Apple Component A/V Cable and 576i/480i with the Apple Composite Cable. It will play back H.264 video at up to 720p (30fps), and it supports AAC, Protected AAC, MP3, Audible, Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV audio files. Thankfully, it can view Office documents that are e-mailed in, and a 3.5mm headphone jack is provided for audio output. There are built-in speakers for times when headphones aren't an option, and there's a Dock Connector for syncing with existing accessories, your PC and a few new accessories. Finally, there's a Microphone (though voice calling over cellular networks and video chatting aren't supported), and the only other external hardware switches include On/Off, Mute and Volume Up/Down.

The Dock Connector also leads to a few other things here. The iPad Keyboard Dock is definitely the highlighted accessory of the week, as it provides a docking solution and an iPad-centric keyboard to those who wish to use this like a laptop at home. Unfortunately, it has little purpose in the real world. For starters, you can already connect your existing Bluetooth keyboard to this. Second, it's $69 for a keyboard that's designed to work with iPhone OS. You can only do so much with a keyboard in iPhone OS, you know. Then there's the Apple iPad Case, a $39 cover that is extremely spartan, though it does double as an iPad kickstand. We have to imagine that far superior third-party cases will be out soon. One of the more baffling choices here is the lack of a real USB connector. Not even a miniUSB connector is included on the device itself; instead, you're forced to order a $29 Camera Connection Kit which includes two dongles that plug into the Dock Connector; one for USB and one for SD cards. A multimedia device that doesn't natively have a USB or SD port? Forgive us for stating the obvious, but only Apple could get away with this.

The only remaining specification? The 1GHz Apple A4 processor, which we'll highlight on its own in the final page.

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rapid1 4 years ago

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.

acarzt 4 years ago

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

gibbersome 4 years ago

@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.

rapid1 4 years ago

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.

gibbersome 4 years ago

[quote user="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.

Cleverboy 4 years ago

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.

realneil 4 years ago

"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.

Cleverboy 4 years ago

"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.

rapid1 4 years ago

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!

realneil 4 years ago

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.

Cleverboy 4 years ago


Well, there's two types of "getting it".  There's the "I'm smarter than you" type and the "I have a totally different perspective" type.  It's like someone saying, "I don't get why you collect cans... you only get a small amount of money from the recycling center." To which the person returns, "Well, every little bit helps.  I use it for pocket change."  The first person can shrug his shoulders and say "Ok. But, I'd never do that.  Doesn't make sense to me."

That doesn't mean one person is smarter... it just means they may have a different set of needs than the guy who doesn't find VALUE in what he's doing.

That brings us to the tablet.  I'm SUPER clear that while you scoff at any notion that Apple's is a "super-low" entry point, I have the numbers on my side. You can't show me anything else that does what the iPad's OS does with a capacitive multitouch screen UI... anywhere NEAR $500. The point is, you would like it to be a netbook and its not.  It's also not an ebook reader.  It's a different category that steals a little from both.  ebook readers can't run a spreadsheet program, but they have e-ink... netbooks don't currently offer the ease-of-use and multitouch UI the iPad offers... but they're mini-laptops that run desktop software, browsers, and in many cases can be expanded.  If the Amazon Kindle DX (with its accellerometer and larger 10" screen) is $489, why aren't people complaining that its ridiculously priced?  Because its not.  It also has (in my opinion) horrifying limitations that aren't out-weighed by the addition of "e-ink". 

Apple is suggesting that there is a category for "media readers" that don't end with ebooks.  They've put together an end-to-end solution that is state-of-art and pushes the envelope of GUI mobile experiences.  They are GAMBLING that by doing more than the Kindle (which requires abandoning e-ink for video-playback support), that they bring more people to the table.  Analysts are saying that this will work and that Apple will realize 5-10 million iPad sales this year.  --But, they say that most people who want ebook readers will still get ebook readers.  They're saying that Apple will likely eat away at the netbook market, at people who would probably get a netbook, but get sold on the iPad's value proposition (targeted uses and presentation).

I agree we should WAIT and SEE it (use it for ourselves) before we decide either way.  However, I already have an iPhone, and I'm surrounded by family that are picking up iPhone's left and right (and I'm not pushing ANYONE to get it, cause I don't care if they do or don't). People around me love the UI.  They "get it".  The next question is... will they go for an "appliance" product that has the same UI and begins to help them do more of what they would normally use a full-computer for.  That answer seems obvious to me.  If I carried my Bluetooth Apple keyboard and an iPad, most of my mobile computing needs are taken care of immediately with software like "Pages" and "Safari".  I have lots of PDF books I've been reading on my iPhone that are mocking me for a bigger screen, but the same rich user-experience.

rapid1 4 years ago

I think the development level and mainly the A4 processor is the only real technological achievement of this item personally.

rapid1 4 years ago

I also wonder what answer this will bring from Intel. If anyone else (IBM,AMD etc) makes a processor Intel has always answered sooner or later. The later part is also generally not there forte. So I will be interested to see if we will see another UL cpu or atom with enhanced capabilities or speed come out soon. This is also being that the snapdragon NEC Via etc units are also biting at Intel's pocket book on this sector as well. As I said and many of you already know Intel has always been rather aggressive. So I will be interested to see there answer here.

Cleverboy 4 years ago

Intel has NO response to Apple's use of their own A4 chip.  That's really the crux of the matter.  Apple isn't trying to compete with Intel, they are simply choosing an approach that (if proven successful) their own competitors would be hard pressed to duplicate.  If Apple's competitors press Intel for a response, they will have one that is predictably as good or bad as that competitor's implementation of what Intel has provided. Apple's only excuse for doing this, is to differentiate itself in the market with a better, more highly optimized final product (by allowing the hardware, OS, and software to work in tight concert).  If, like with the PowerPC roadmap, this trajectory is deeply troubled by advanced developments from Intel, then Apple will gladly change lanes.  These kinds of decisions aren't usually for just the next product iteration however, they are always part of a larger roadmap they will have to live with for over a decade out.

rapid1 4 years ago

I don't know the points you make are very valid, but even VIA got an answering chip. I guess though on this one the chip is so specialized that you right. In all reality it deserves no answer. I just think it's interesting Apple actually jumped in the chip business for this, especially on the first run. I think they should have kept developing it and then they may have had a valid answer. This chip although interesting I do no see as that answer.

Cleverboy 4 years ago

"I think the development level and mainly the A4 processor is the only real technological achievement of this item personally." - rapid1

I'm not sure how much of a technical achievement the A4 CPU actually is, given that Apple purchased the company already creating chips for use by a number of clients. The A4 itself is new, but observers will be hard pressed to provide useful relative benchmarks for a chip inside of such a wholly proprietary environment. One useful metric will be when one compares benchmarking software on the iPhone 3Gs with the same benchmarking software on iPad and other devices (3D, rendering, movie playback, etc). However, this fails to account for realword scenarios and custom optimizations Apple may have in play.  You can have the best chip, but the worst drivers and/or APIs on a given OS.

iPad can comfortably sit in a class by itself, because it will be the only truly average consumer ready multitouch mobile OS on the market (queue youTube videos of babies using the iPhone).  Between now and its launch, HP will be working hard to replicate the level polish it had for its Touchsmart in a tablet format that matches the iPad's application and usability set. Apple is coming at the "solution" for the smartphone/computer tweener from a completely unchallenged direction that most competitors won't be able to quantify, never mind compete with.


Soupstyle 4 years ago

lol that was great 3vi1

rapid1 4 years ago

Dang that's vicious 3vi1 I love it getting ripped by college students classic and ripped hard.

gibbersome 4 years ago

[quote user="3vi1"]




+1 Big Smile

Haha, they must have come across your female hygiene joke!

Soupstyle 4 years ago

All apple and no games makes jack a 'clever' boy?

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