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Steve Jobs shocked the electronics industry by delivering a 33 percent thinner iPad.  (Source: AFP)

Samsung will soon release its own Galaxy Tab-branded competitor in the approximately 10-inch form factor, but price, size, and battery life may be issues.
Company says it's hard at work trying to make the changes necessary to stay competitive

It looks like Apple bought itself a bit more time atop the market with the announcement of the iPad 2.  With Android tablets coming on strong and competitors like HP's webOS and Microsoft's Windows 7 waiting in the ranks, all eyes were on Apple March 2.  The company delivered an impressive device that shrunk the form factor, increased the processing power, maintained the battery life, and according to numerous unconfirmed reports, will double the amount of RAM to 512 MB.

The iterative hardware improvements weren't much of a surprise to the electronics industry.  What seemed to take them aback was the form factor.  Lee Don-Joo, executive vice president of mobile devices at South Korean device maker Samsung told South Korea's publicly funded Yonhap News Agency, "We will have to improve the parts that are inadequate [in our tablets]. Apple made it very thin."

The iPad 2 is an incredible .35 inches thin -- approximately a third of an inch.  That's approximately 33 percent thinner than the first-gen thickness of 0.5 inch and thinner even than the 0.472 inch Samsung Galaxy Tab.

Samsung's Galaxy Tab was the first major Android tablet to be billed as a possible "iPad slayer".  However, the device was quite different from Apple's in its strengths and weaknesses.  While packing superior hardware, it featured a smaller 7.0-inch (diagonal) LCD screen and debuted at nearly $900 USD without contract.  Those factors caused many tablet buyers to stick with the iPad, which had an entry level Wi-Fi-only price of $499 and 9.7-inch screen.

Today Motorola has taken up the Mantle of "iPad killer" with its new Xoom dual-core Android "Honeycomb" tablet.  But Samsung is hungry for mores success of its own, and will soon release a new Honeycomb 10.1-inch tablet of its own, pricing on which hasn't been confirmed.

Mr. Lee comments, "The 10-inch (tablet) was to be priced higher than the seven-inch but we will have to think that over."

To put things in perspective, between October and December Samsung sold 2 million Galaxy Tab devices, while Apple sold 15 million iPads between April and December.  That gap becomes more noticeable when you consider how far behind Android devices have left the iPhone in the mobile market.

The iPad 2, like the first generation model, doesn't exactly pack the most incredible hardware in the world.  What it does do, however, is offer an impressive form factor and equally noteworthy battery life.  Both of those marks were complaints about the recent Xoom -- it was too bulky/heavy and the battery life fell short of promised figures.

Both metrics are even more critical to tablets than they are to some other mobile devices like laptops.  While you can always plug in a laptop, you seldom run a tablet plugged in, so battery life is essential.  And while your notebook computer rests comfortably on a table or your lap, you actually hold the tablet, so weight becomes a major issue.

And what is equally surprising is that price may be the key thing keeping the iPad as the top selling tablets.  Apple has a long-standing reputation of delivering high-end gadgets, which -- according to some -- are more than a bit overpriced.  But with the iPad it has delivered a more minimalistic hardware set and a remarkably low hardware price.

When it comes to tablets, it's still Apple's game to lose.  If it can maintain its mobility edge (battery life, form factor) and price edge it may be able to hold on to its lead even as Android brings out the big guns processing power-wise.

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Oh god, please
By piroroadkill on 3/4/2011 10:32:26 AM , Rating: 5
Because tablets have been priced far, far too highly for such a limited device. I never thought I'd be pleased about an Apple product.. being competitive on price!

RE: Oh god, please
By Da W on 3/4/2011 10:38:19 AM , Rating: 1
And what's the point with thickness? Do you absolutely HAVE TO have the slimmest device ever? I have a HTC surround phone, it's bulky as hell, but i like it that way.

RE: Oh god, please
By ChronoReverse on 3/4/2011 10:44:26 AM , Rating: 2
Thickness isn't that important but weight somewhat is. If you have hold it up for a period of time, might as well make it as light as possible as long as you don't compromise performance. With that said, being thinner isn't much of a selling point. It's only if you're significantly thicker that it becomes a detriment.

With that said, I've used both the n1 and the g2 phones so I'm used to both thin and bulky.

RE: Oh god, please
By chalupa on 3/4/11, Rating: 0
RE: Oh god, please
By nafhan on 3/4/2011 10:49:37 AM , Rating: 3
I like thin devices, but you have limited return as things continue getting thinner.
1" to .5" makes a huge difference. However, I'm not certain I would notice the change from .5" to .33" on a device as large as the iPad. Still nice, it just doesn't matter as much once you reach a certain point.

RE: Oh god, please
By mead drinker on 3/4/2011 11:20:06 AM , Rating: 2
Thinness as a form factor does have diminishing returns but as an indicator of the electronics powering the devices shrinking it is quite extraordinary. Think about when "extended" batteries used in laptops used to be about 50% larger than the standard battery with only marginal improvement. Pretty soon we will be walking around with panes of glass with the slightest bit of a black edge serving as a masque for the electronics and batteries powering the device. Beyond that, imagine flexible polycarbonate sheets as displays that wind back into pen sized devices that are carried as scrolls(iScroll anyone?). Thinness if you recall exists on one plane, imagine if you eliminate that plane entirely. Thats were the smaller form factor is headed, and I can't wait till we get there.

RE: Oh god, please
By Solandri on 3/4/2011 2:40:41 PM , Rating: 2
A couple points on this.

First, thin is less structurally sound. You can take the exact same amount of material, and if you combine it in a thinner structure, it'll be weaker. It's why I-beams are the shape they are. Separating the two flat pieces of metal (top and bottom of the I) by the largest amount of space reasonable in between (making it thick) makes for a stronger structure when it comes to loading normal to the top and bottom.

So while thin may look good and is fashionable, it makes for a weaker structure. The tapered back (instead of a traditional boxy structure) Apple uses helps mitigate this somewhat, but the iPad 2 is going to be structurally weaker than the iPad 1. Unless they strengthened it internally to compensate, which I doubt since they made it lighter. Just reading the specs on the iPad 2 and seeing the pictures of it, I really suspect the artist in Jobs overrode his engineers and they're going to get a lot of complaints about bent and deformed iPad 2s. Just my gut feeling based on my structural engineering background. Even a solid 10" block of aluminum 1/3" thick is going to have a noticeable amount of flex to it.

Second, if you're going to go thinner, you have to give up on rigidity and move to flexible components. My laptop has an extremely thin LCD, and just bending it you can tell they went with a plastic face instead of glass. Without the structural support offered by thickness to protect the glass, your choices are it being easier to shatter the glass, or to switch from glass to something flexible that won't shatter.

This is why all that research into flexible OLED and e-ink displays, and flexible PCBs is important. Electronics are getting so small that simply enclosing them in a rigid box to protect them isn't going to be enough anymore. The rigidity of that box is going to be compromised by the thinness. So we must move towards flexible components which can survive the occasional bend without becoming non-functional.

RE: Oh god, please
By name99 on 3/4/2011 2:47:13 PM , Rating: 2
Unless they strengthened it internally to compensate, which I doubt since they made it lighter. Just reading the specs on the iPad 2 and seeing the pictures of it,

I ask, without being snide, if you are a mech eng and qualified to make these calls.
Let's consider two issues
(a) Apple made a big deal (in the iPad2 video, not the live event) about new manufacturing techniques that delivered a new and DIFFERENT unibody shell for iPad2. It's not like they just took the current one and shrank the sides by 30%
(b) The "interior" of the unibody shell is not just empty space easily flexed; it is occupied by a bunch of stuff but primarily the battery. And there's no reason the battery can't be shaped to specifically distribute stress as desired.

RE: Oh god, please
By RedemptionAD on 3/4/2011 2:59:25 PM , Rating: 3
He's thinking about the future beyond the iPad 2 and in more devices. More of a generalized principle.

RE: Oh god, please
By Solandri on 3/4/2011 3:13:33 PM , Rating: 4
(a) I'm making the assumption that the original iPad's aluminum was already sufficiently hardened to provide near-maximum rigidity. Any new process to improve on that developed in the last year would only provide a few percent more strength, if that. This is not a field which leaps ahead year-to-year like computing. Aerospace has been working on improving aluminum since the early 1900s, and the rate of progress is very slow.

(b) When you bend things, there are two things that matter:

- The resistance of the material to tension/compression. Oobviously the more it can resist, the more rigid it is.

- The distance away from the center. The further the structural member is from the center, the more resistance it provides to torsion (flexing). This factor scales with distance from center. In particular, any material along the centerline provides zero torsional strength.

So assuming the aluminum is much stronger in compression/tension than the PCB, display, and battery; and taking into account that the aluminum exterior is what's furthest from the centerline, I think it's reasonable to pretty much ignore those internal components for purposes of rigidity.

In a past job I worked at, we used foam in the center, sandwiched between two fiberglass laminate sheets to improve fiberglass' rigidity. The interior was so irrelevant to rigidity you could just fill it with a weak material like foam that I could literally crush with my fingers. What really mattered was the strength of the laminate sheets, and maximizing their distance from the centerline. The sheets would protect the soft foam inside from point loading like crushing fingers.

RE: Oh god, please
By snakeInTheGrass on 3/5/2011 11:31:37 AM , Rating: 2
Uh... wow, so why are you being rated down? It's a fair question whether there will be structural issues - it's not like the iPhone 4 antenna / glass back didn't demonstrate that art sometimes wins over science. (!!!)

But anyway, I have a KindleDX which is probably about the thickness of the iPad2 (it's thinner than my iPad) and doesn't seem to have any issues with bending/breaking, so I don't think they're at a place where it's going to cause problems on the iPad2 personally...

But I still don't get why that means you're getting rated down for talking a bit of engineering - it's not like anything you've said is flame-bait like 'Android will be able to be thinner because it's reinforced by Trojans'. ;) All of the manufacturers are going to hit some point where thinner is a problem.

RE: Oh god, please
By Solandri on 3/5/2011 8:41:03 PM , Rating: 4
But anyway, I have a KindleDX which is probably about the thickness of the iPad2 (it's thinner than my iPad) and doesn't seem to have any issues with bending/breaking, so I don't think they're at a place where it's going to cause problems on the iPad2 personally...

That's a fair comparison. The Kindle DX uses e-ink though, which is an inherently flexible display. The IPS panel on the iPad is much less flexible, so there's less tolerance in the margins for deflection. Long-term, computing technology should become more flexible, making this less of an issue. That's why the stuff you see in the news about flexible displays and PCBs is important. It's not just so you can make neat electronics which you can twist and bend, it's so our toys can continue to function without damage as they become smaller.

But I still don't get why that means you're getting rated down for talking a bit of engineering - it's not like anything you've said is flame-bait like 'Android will be able to be thinner because it's reinforced by Trojans'. ;)

It's hit and miss on these topics with fanboys. Whether they rate you up or down has little to do with facts, and mostly to do with whether they see you as "on their side" or "against them".

Here's a brief description of what I'm talking about, with a diagram, and avoiding the hairy math in the entry under Bending. The greatest stresses are furthest from the center, so it's the strength of the material there which matters the most. And the further you can put your stiffener from the center, the easier time it has resisting the stresses (due to increased moment of inertia).

RE: Oh god, please
By Aloonatic on 3/4/11, Rating: 0
RE: Oh god, please
By TheDoc9 on 3/4/11, Rating: -1
RE: Oh god, please
By smartalco on 3/4/2011 1:37:08 PM , Rating: 2
Ahahaha, what? You think sir Mick here is an Apple fan? Read the rest of his articles about Apple, he is anything but. Even if you don't like the company, occasionally everyone gets something right.

RE: Oh god, please
By Taft12 on 3/4/2011 10:42:38 AM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't call an iPad competitive on price compared to a netbook, but Samsung was planning on charging MORE than $900 for the 10" Galaxy?? WTF!

RE: Oh god, please
By ChronoReverse on 3/4/2011 10:53:31 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, I thought the same too.

It's really as if all these manufacturers wanting to jump on the tablet bandwagon don't get it at all. Did they really think they could jump into the market with less than half-baked efforts like this?

What kind of incentive is there to buy their products, even as superior as they are, if they cost more and in the end don't really add more critical tablet functions that the iPad lacks?

The Xoom actually added things but the iPad2, despite being slower, leveled the playing field in terms of what's necessary. Apple also gained a low-end model in the iPad1.

Honestly, it might only be HP that could possibly do this right but they have the weakness in releasing in the summer.

RE: Oh god, please
By Adonlude on 3/4/2011 11:21:11 AM , Rating: 3
From the beginning Apple has strived to stretch a phone into a tablet while all its competitors try to squeeze a laptop into a tablet. Apple is doing it right.

RE: Oh god, please
By Nutzo on 3/4/2011 2:03:18 PM , Rating: 2
I don't need a phone that doesn't fit in my pocket, and an ipad is to slow (including the limits of a touch screen compared to a keyboard) to be useful when I need a real computer.

RE: Oh god, please
By Solandri on 3/4/2011 2:20:31 PM , Rating: 5
My friend didn't need pokemon cards when they first came out, but he made a fortune importing and selling them to retailers.

Whether something is marketable is based on what people in general want, not what you specifically want.

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