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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 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.

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