In the 15 months since the introduction of the iPad, competitive tablet manufacturers still can’t match the design efficiency of Apple Inc.’s groundbreaking product, according to an IHS iSuppli Teardown Analysis of eight tablet models from information and analysis provider IHS (NYSE: IHS).
“Since Apple controls both the operating system and hardware design of the iPad, it is able to attain design efficiencies that other tablet manufacturers cannot,” said Wayne Lam, senior analyst, competitive analysis, at IHS. “These efficiencies become obvious in areas like the memory and the battery, where Apple maintains advantages in cost, space savings and performance compared with every competitor in the business.”
Other tablet makers employ operating systems from third-party firms—such as Google Inc., which provides the Android software used in most competitive products on the market today. Many of these tablet makers also outsource the blueprints of their products to third parties, employing reference designs and design services from contract manufacturers.
This contrasts with the model employed by Apple, which uses its own operating system and maintains tight control of its design, components and contract manufacturers.
“Apple takes a vertically integrated approach to its products, from the operating system to the user interface, to the hardware design, down to the selection of individual parts used in the device,” Lam noted. “For example, Apple even uses its own applications processor design in both the iPad and iPad 2. In contrast, Android tablet makers buy those capabilities from the likes of Nvidia, Texas Instruments and Qualcomm. This gives Apple greater control in multiple areas of product development.”
The table presents an overview of the results of the dissection of eight tablet models. Note that the BOM figures accounts only for hardware and manufacturing costs and do not take into consideration other expenses such as software, licensing, royalties or other costs.
iPad’s Memory and Battery Stay Slim
Apple’s control over the operating system allows it to reduce costs by limiting the quantity of memory in the iPad. In the current-generation iPad 2, the density of synchronous dynamic random access memory (SDRAM) is 512 megabytes—half that of the 1 gigabtye used in competitive designs. This memory density reduction results in a nearly $14 reduction in the BOM of the iPad 2 compared to other tablets. Likewise, the original iPad contained half as much SDRAM as comparable competitive devices with single-core applications processors.
“The iPad’s efficient memory usage stems from the fundamental difference in the architecture of the operating system,” Lam said. “Apple’s iOS handles multitasking differently than other tablet operating systems, allowing it to reduce the amount of memory required to support the microprocessor.”
Also, Apple’s tight management of its product design, software integration and component selection also allow the iPad’s battery to be the thinnest of all competing tablet designs while still having the largest capacity.
Extensive teardown research also reveals how Apple is setting the pace in the tablet market in the areas of pricing and screen size.
Apple established the sweet spot for tablet pricing, pegged at $500 for the Wi-Fi version of the Apple iPad that included 16 gigabytes of NAND flash memory. Samsung reinforced this pricing standard with the 16-gigabyte version of the new Galaxy Tab 10.1 model.
Other tablets such as the BlackBerry Playbook from Research in Motion Ltd. and the TouchPad from Hewlett-Packard Co. have gravitated toward that price point as well.
Apple also is setting the standard for display sizes, with the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen becoming the default standard in the market. Although some tablets have been introduced with screens in the 7-inch range, notably RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook and the upcoming HTC Flyer, the number of designs in the market with 10.1- and 9.7-inch displays have been more plentiful.
The IHS iSuppli Teardown Analysis Service also illustrates the trend toward multi-core processors in tablet designs. Following the introduction of the Motorola Xoom in February and the iPad 2 in March, all new tablet designs within 2011 have included dual-core processors that deliver higher computing and graphical performance.
In 2012 IHS expects to see this trend to continue with the introduction of tablets featuring quad-core processors for even more enhanced performance.
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