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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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By invidious on 3/4/2011 10:50:49 AM , Rating: 1
At 10 hours the Ipad battery life borders on excessive. I would never use it 10 hours in a single day. And I would always plug it in at night. I would prefer a device that allocates a little less of its hardware budget to battery life and more to things like screen reloution, expandable storage, processing power.

By ChronoReverse on 3/4/2011 10:57:34 AM , Rating: 2
It's not like the iPad2 lacks any processing power so it's no compromise there. A higher resolution would be nice but I doubt it'd reduce the battery life below 8 hours from 10.

With that said, I feel that Xoom's battery life is just fine (between 8 to 12 hours depending what you're doing from reports).

It's the earlier Android tablet "efforts" that were craptastic. 6 hours? 4 hours?

By headbox on 3/4/2011 12:51:54 PM , Rating: 5
The tablet wars are a battle where tech specs are not as important. iOS and apps run smoothly, which is all that matters about RAM/CPU power. Build quality and battery life are far more important. If you say "I don't need 10 hours of battery life" -great, who cares, others do. They're not building this for you to tinker with in Mom's basement, this is meant to be a mobile device. Ever fly from Dubai to Atlanta? Feel like watching a movie every night while camping away from a power source? Like to leave it on the coffee table instead of plugged into a charger? The list goes on and on...

I had an iPad (sold for $450 just before iPad 2 came out) and you seriously do NOT look at it and think "oh I wish it had a better resolution." The quality of the screen is great, and the resolution appropriate for the size.

By name99 on 3/4/2011 1:28:41 PM , Rating: 5
I had an iPad (sold for $450 just before iPad 2 came out) and you seriously do NOT look at it and think "oh I wish it had a better resolution." The quality of the screen is great, and the resolution appropriate for the size.

I love my iPad, but I think you are wrong on this, for a certain class of users. I use my iPad primarily for reading technical PDFs, and it is obvious to me that a higher resolution would make the reading that much more pleasant. It's not that the current resolution is bad, far from it, but it is a fact that the diagonal edges of text show a slight fuzziness, and small characters (think subscripts of subscripts) are less visible than they would be on, eg, iPhone4.
This is enough of an issue for me that I will not be upgrading to iPad 2 --- the new features are nice, but have little effect on my primary use of the device.

Having said this, I think the analysis of why Apple did what it did is for the most part very foolish. Specifically, as I see it, Apple put into this iPad what was necessary to remain competitive for the next six months or a year --- but no more than that.
I suspect that Apple could, TODAY, ship an iPad with a retina level display. People disagree with me on this, but, seriously --- in a world where you can buy a good quality 46" LCD TV for $600, manufacturing high quality displays is basically a solved problem. I think there are two things going on
- Apple has some sort of contracts with most/all of the relevant manufacturers that mean that better displays do not have an urgency to them, because it'll be a while before competitors have access to that quality of display, not to mention that they'll have to get the cost of their BOM down, which seems to be a real problem for them.
- Apple is maintaining that better quality display in reserve as the WOW factor they need for when iPad2 starts to look stale against the competition.
Just like with retina display on iPhone, I suspect people will not realize this was what they wanted until they see just how much sharper double-resolution iPad looks.

[And, of, course, it would be a mistake to believe that displays have reached their ultimate peak with retina. There is still scope there for switching to a LED rather than LCD display, giving higher brightness and contrast, to be followed by wider color gamut (vide TVs with RGB AND YELLOW LEDs). And of course who knows how lenticular lens 3D will ultimately play out over the scope of the next ten years?]

By Solandri on 3/4/2011 2:57:12 PM , Rating: 2
Completely agreed. The low resolution is what's keeping me away from an iPad. I have my sheet music collection on an old tablet with a 1400x1050 12" screen (146 ppi). The iPad's ppi isn't that much worse (132 ppi), but 1024x768 just isn't enough to cleanly display a sheet of music.

The new GPU they put on the iPad 2 makes it pretty obvious they could've put in a higher res screen. Pushing the additional pixels would not have been a problem. They are just holding it back for the iPad 3 (my hunch is their supplier can't produce enough of them yet to meet Apple's demand).

Essentially, they're adopting the upgrade model Canon used in the early years of its DSLRs. Odd-numbered refreshes they would upgrade the hardware. Even-numbered refrehses they would upgrade the sensor. While it's annoying not to get a complete upgrade every release, it does mean you don't feel compelled to upgrade your device with every new release.

By mcnabney on 3/4/2011 5:45:18 PM , Rating: 2
I don't think a retina-quality IPS screen even exists in a 9.7" size.

Remember, the Retina display is 326dpi versus the iPad's current dpi of 132.

Getting Retina-sharpness on an iPad size display would require a resolution of about 2560x1600. Apple already sells displays at that resolution - they are 30" diagonal and cost at least a grand. I would be amazed if they could even get 1600x1200 on an iPad.

By name99 on 3/4/2011 5:55:49 PM , Rating: 2
This is very short-sighted thinking.
What's the difficulty in creating a larger retina display?
As I said, the technology for handling huge floats of glass, and growing very large (and flawless) arrays on them, whether LED or LCD, is now commonplace. It's not like fifteen years ago, when one just had to accept that LCD screens came with a few flawed pixels.

What is better to say is that no-one has publicly demoed a retina-class display in that form factor, not that they don't exist. As I've said, I suspect that they exist today --- at companies where Apple has bought up all the supply and current production. I know this sounds conspiracy theory, but that's not my point, I'm just making obvious extrapolations.

I mean, it's not like we were all aware that retina displays were possible before iPhone4, were we?

By kmmatney on 3/4/2011 7:23:13 PM , Rating: 4
I generally agree with you, but it makes sense for Apple to go with the existing display a while longer. Developing the current 9.7" IPS display took time and money, and only keeping it for a year would not make financial sense. In general, they are OK with their current display for now, and will get the best return on investment that way. I'm sure they have a higher resolution display in the works.

By tim851 on 3/5/2011 11:11:40 AM , Rating: 2
What's the difficulty in creating a larger retina display?

Price, most likely.

It's like asking why not every laptop has an aluminum unibody or carbon-fibre enclosure, a quad-core CPU, 8 gb of memory, 2 tb of ssd space and an OLED-display. The technologies are there, but the price would be off.

Apple doesn't manufacture displays. It buys them from somebody. Smartphones have been the riot for a couple of years now, so somebody just developed a retina 4" display, being quite certain that some smartphone manufacturer is gonna take it off their hands.
The Tablet boom (dare I say 'bubble') started 9 months ago. I'd say no sooner than 9 months ago did some display manufacturer think: "Maybe we should develop a 10" retina display."

Maybe it's production ready now, but Apple had to finalize the iPad 2 specs some months ago and after the fiasko with the white iPhone (and previous fiaskos like mobile G5 processors from IBM), they could have very reasonably though: nah, demonstrate the ability to produce 10" retina displays in large volume first.

Of course, it's entirely possible that Apple just keeps them back to have something of noteworthyness in 7 months, when the iPad 3 is rumored.

By cheinonen on 3/7/2011 12:30:21 AM , Rating: 2
The difficulty for a larger retina display comes from yield. Apple probably sets a limit of 1 or 0 bad pixel for a display on an iPhone, and would need something similar for an iPad. The iPhone has a 3.5" display, and getting to an iPad size display means around 8-9 times as much screen area. Say when they produce these retina displays for an iPhone you have 10% flawed, and then you pay $50 to make each. So, a group of 90 screens will have 9 bad ones, and will cost $4,500 to make, with a net cost of $55.55 per screen.

Now move up to a screen much larger, and keep that same defect rate. Suddenly if you make 10 screens (since they need 9 times the area), and get bad pixels at the same rate, because of the larger size you're going to wind up with 80% or so of those screens having a flaw. So, same $4,500 to make, but you get two good screens out so they're only $2,250 each.

Larger size screens have much larger defect rates typically, and so the much larger prices associated with them. It's why going from 42" to 50" on a TV might be $200, but going from 50 to 65" can be a couple thousand of dollars, because the yields are so much worse. I imagine once Apple can get good yields and costs, they'll put the screen into an iPad.

By KoolAidMan1 on 3/4/2011 11:53:26 PM , Rating: 2
Higher pixel density displays are already in iPhones and iPod touches. Apple buys IPS and custom IPS displays in such high volume that they have tremendous power in negotiating lower component prices, which means that it won't increase the prices of a higher res iPad when it finally does come out.

If the iPad increases its pixel density, it will likely double on the x and y axis in order to ease application compatibility. That is what they did going from the older iPhone display to the iPhone 4.

The main thing holding the iPad back from doubling its pixel density to 2048x1536 (wow) is the SoC. Once they can drive a display of that resolution without compromising performance, heat, or battery life, you'll see that display in an iPad.

Based on how quickly SoCs are improving, I reckon we'll see it in a year.

By snakeInTheGrass on 3/5/2011 11:22:02 AM , Rating: 2
Yep. Retina display will be a potential game-changer for reading, particularly if they get some of the new LCD tech that apparently handles visibility in sunlight better. A lot of people think the current screen is really nice - and it is in terms of color, viewing angle, brightness... but NOT if you are using and iPhone 4 as well and then move over to the iPad. iPad is way more comfortable for surfing / games / whatever, but it's definitely low-res looking after coming from the phone.

Presumably panel prices / manufacturing volumes just aren't there yet. Too bad, but figure it's probably just a year off, and the iPad 2 hardware is already fast enough to drive the higher res panel, so by the time they ship, it should be really snappy even with all those extra pixels.

By KoolAidMan1 on 3/5/2011 12:19:18 AM , Rating: 2
It's not that the current resolution is bad, far from it, but it is a fact that the diagonal edges of text show a slight fuzziness, and small characters (think subscripts of subscripts) are less visible than they would be on, eg, iPhone4.

Absolutely. Having very high DPI displays makes sense for handheld devices. Having 90-110 PPI is fine for a desktop monitor since those sit 2-3 feet away from you. Something like a smartphone or tablet benefits from 200-350 PPI since you hold the display closer to your eyes. You can see the grid pattern much more easily, aliasing in text, etc etc.

The iPhone 4 display renders text smoother and cleaner than print can. No bleeding or aliasing or anything like that. Pixel density so high that you don't even need to anti-alias text, that's nice.

Having something along those lines in a tablet is the next step. It doesn't necessarily have to be >300 PPI like with the iPhone since you don't hold a tablet as close (and if it's doubling resolution to 2048x1536 then I don't think it will be), but it does need to be of a higher pixel density than it is now.

By BZDTemp on 3/5/2011 12:27:54 PM , Rating: 2
It's not like the iPad2 lacks any processing power so it's no compromise there. A higher resolution would be nice but I doubt it'd reduce the battery life below 8 hours from 10.

Handling more pixels could very well be the difference. More pixels means a more complex display, more display memory and more CPU+GPU operations to handle it.

Also it seems to me the iPad2 is surely lacking in processing power as is simply not able to handle Flash :-)

By nafhan on 3/4/2011 3:19:29 PM , Rating: 4
10 hours is "typical" usage (web surfing, movies, lightweight games). You can run down the battery in less time with "heavy" usage. In fact, I'd bet you could kill it in less than 5 if you play certain games.

By kmmatney on 3/4/2011 7:16:24 PM , Rating: 2
Don't travel much?

I don't have an iPad yet, but am traveling to the UK on Monday, and then to Moscow in April. I should have an iPad2 by the time I'm heading to Russia (if they are not sold out), and will fully appreciate the the long battery life. I see more iPads at the airport and on planes more than anywhere else - battery life is a huge feature.

By KoolAidMan1 on 3/5/2011 12:12:24 AM , Rating: 2
I've done multiple LAX to JFK roundtrips using in-flight wifi with the iPad. Using it in-flight for as long as they allow electronics turned on, doing email/web/IM, watching movies, playing games, and going both ways without recharging, I still have power left to spare when I get home. That crazy battery life is incredibly practical.

Oh, and it fits way better on the seat tray than a laptop does. :)

And as you said, it is crazy seeing how many iPads have replaced laptops in airport terminals and business class lounges. Now my laptop lives in the overheard bin when I fly.

By snakeInTheGrass on 3/5/2011 11:16:33 AM , Rating: 2
I actually love the 10 hour life - great for flights, road trips, web surfing / reading / games... you just aren't always looking up to figure out if you're dead in the water yet. When you get the 10% warning, you still have about an hour left, can finish up what you're doing and plug it in. And you may not need to plug it in for several days of 'average' daily use, which is also much nicer - battery life end up being something you just don't normally have to deal with.

In terms of processing power, there hasn't been anything on the current model that leaves me really wishing it was just faster - I'm sure it will seem 'slow' after using the iPad2, but Apple did a good job optimizing the platform, and as a result it's not like you feel even the iPad(1) isn't up to the job. With the iTunes streaming in the house in 4.3, I'm actually more inclined to go with lower storage now - why load it up with all of my music & a bunch of movies at that point? I can fit a lot of music / apps on in 16GB and pick a few movies for the road when I need to. Nice.

But definitely do count me in for a retina display once those can be reasonably manufactured...

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