May 31, 2010

iPad Rivals Being Unveiled This Week At Conference

iPad rivals will be showcased this week at the Computex conference in Taiwan, the first major trade show since the release of the iPad in April.

The tablets, which are expected to cost $100, are part of a trend in the PC industry as component costs fall, with laptops and notebooks attracting low-cost competitors from relatively tiny companies throughout Asia.

Manufacturers such as Eken, G-Link, Bluesky and Kinstone will all be unveiling their version of an iPad-like tablet.

Also, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative is expected to produce a $75 tablet next year for disadvantaged schoolchildren. 

According to the In-State research firm, unit shipments of tablet devices are predicted to increase by 230 percent over the next year. 

"With pricing at around $100 and wireless broadband rolled out in both advanced and emerging economies to enable an "apps" infrastructure, this will definitely increase the size of the market," Richard Brown, head of marketing at chipmaker Via, told the Financial Times (FT).

Brown expects its Prizm processors will be powering 50 tablets announced at Computex.  Most of the devices will have limited memory and storage and will run web-based applications.  He says that with chips based on designs of the U.K.'s Arm and using Google's free Android operating system, manufacturing costs can be as low as $60-$70.

China is the leader for cheap innovation, with the "shanghai" bandit phonemakers of the grey market moving on to the manufacture of tablets that can use readily available smartphone components.

Chris Wei, senior analyst at Taiwan's Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute, told FT that "even a number of mainland Chinese brands that made netbooks" are shifting their focus on to tablet PCs this year.

However, Wei said there would not just be competition on price.

"The iPad is still in its first generation so it still has some limitations that rivals will improve on", such as by using more powerful hardware components or by supporting Adobe Flash content, according to Wei.

Wei told FT that a number of tablet PCs that will be shown at this year's Computex have also been converted from "smartbooks" using Arm-based processors that were featured heavily at last year's fair but never made it to retail stores because brands turned conservative about new products during the economic downturn.

"Some of these tablets, if you take away the outer casing it's basically a smartbook inside," he said.

Last week, OLPC announced a partnership with chipmaker Marvell that said it would bring forward production of its third-generation device by two years. 

Nicholas Negroponte, founder of OLPC, said the device would have a multi-touch screen capable of videoconferencing and HD video.  He said the device will cost as little as $75 because of the falling cost of components.

"I've seen many of the Chinese manufacturers make low-cost laptops and they have all been so junky and flimsy, so I hope we can influence things for the better with tablets," he said.

Other companies are also producing tablets at slightly higher prices.  Archos of France launched a 7-inch Archos 7 Home Tablet for $180, while Dell's Streak will be offered in the U.K. in June for $100-$200.

Apple's iPad runs a minimum of $499 and released Internationally on Friday.  The company sold over a million devices in just 28 days, which is half the time it took for the iPhone to reach the same amount.


Image Caption: The OLPC XO-3 is a tablet computer designed for children in developing nations. (Credit: OLPC)


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