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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@realneil

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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"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.

 

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lol that was great 3vi1

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

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3vi1:

 

+1 Big Smile

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

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