The history of the tablet PC began in the late 1980s with the introduction of computer screens that were guided by pens. Back then, the prevailing thought was that the so-called slate PCs would usher in the age of the keyboardless computer.
Nearly 20 years later, many still considered tablet PCs a market afterthought. Even with the introduction of improved touchscreen technology, tablets were a niche product that appealed primarily to gadget geeks.
That all changed, of course, on Jan. 27, 2010, the day Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iPad. Despite the skeptics, including myself, Apple’s device would not only reverse the tablet platform’s fortunes but would change the course of the electronics industry.
An instant success with consumers—with its 10-inch touchscreen and ability to let users read e-books, browse the Web, watch movies and play games—the thin, all-in-one device set the standard against which not only all tablets but all mobile products would be measured.
The initial success of the iPad forced competitors to enter this “new” market. Most competing offerings launched with little of the fanfare that accompanied Apple’s tablet, and few (so far) have achieved anything close to the iPad’s success.
Competitors quickly learned it would require innovation to make gains in this burgeoning industry. Samsung established itself as a true competitor to Apple by introducing the Galaxy Tab, which incorporated Google’s Android OS and a number of features not found in the iPad .
By the end of 2010, tablet vendors had sold nearly 20 million units worldwide. Many analysts believe total shipments will nearly triple this year. The battle for this new market will lead to numerous technical advancements, as manufacturers seek to outdo one another and thereby draw consumers’ attention.
January’s Consumer Electronics Show demonstrated that primary trend this year will be the continued exponential growth of the tablet industry. Companies that revealed new tablets at the show included Cisco, Motorola and Research in Motion. Meanwhile, expect Apple and Samsung to field variations on their existing lines in 2011.
The tablet market isn’t contained to the usual suspects of consumer electronics manufacturers. As with any leading-edge product, opportunity exists for all sorts of players to enter the field.
Consider, South Korea’s Yukyung Technologies, whose Viliv X70 EX 3G is a good example of a tablet that preceded the iPad.
The Viliv X70 EX 3G is a mobile Internet device and ultramobile personal computer that features a 7-inch WSVGA (1,024 x 600) touch-sensitive display from manufacturer Chunghwa. Compared with the more-typical capacitive touchscreens of competing devices, the X70’s resistive technology limits capabilities and is difficult to operate.
The hardware supports 720p high-definition video and includes a global-positioning system receiver, a single-chip solution for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and an integrated High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) cellular-data module for 3G broadband. Video conferencing is made possible through voice-over-IP and the unit’s integrated microphone and Webcam.
The X70 is one of the first tablets we’ve analyzed to use a 32-Gbyte solid-state drive, built by SanDisk. Most of the tablets on the market integrate more cost-effective flash for storage.
Opening up the Viliv reveals a very compact design. Yukyung mounts the SSD and the HSPA module on the main board, where a majority of the other internal devices are contained.
The Viliv is very much a “globally designed” tablet; its complement of more than 90 IC packages was sourced from more than 40 suppliers.
The main brain of the X70 is its 1.33-GHz Atom Z520 processor in combination with an Intel AF82US15W graphics and memory controller hub. Samsung provides the tablet’s system memory: 1 Gbyte of K4T1G164QQ DDR2 SDRAM.
GSM/W-CDMA cellular wireless connectivity is provided by a combined transceiver, the RTR6085, from Qualcomm, which also earned a design win with the selection of its MSM6290 analog and digital baseband processor by Yukyung. Four Avago Technologies power amplifiers (ACPM-7381, ACPM-7331, ACPM-7311 and ACPM-7371) are used for the X70’s W-CDMA bands. On the GSM side, the manufacturer leverages a TriQuint Semiconductor quad-band power amplifier, the TOM7M5012.
Finally, Samsung delivers the 1.3-megapixel CMOS image sensor, the S5K5AAF, used for the X70’s Webcam.
Click on image to enlarge.
Though introduced quietly before Apple thrust the tablet computer into the spotlight, the X70 stands unique among competitors because of Yukyung’s choice of Windows rather than the Android, iOS (in Apple’s case) or webOS (HP) platforms. That software decision might appeal to those who require a tablet more closely resembling a “true PC” in operation.
As Asus, Motorola, RIM and a host of other companies jump into the tablet game, they’ll closely examine design decisions by industry pioneers such as Yukyung, assessing the impact of those decisions on the marketplace and the industry. With a market as young as tablets, innovation is the key to maintaining predicted exponential growth.
Teardowns, in the meantime, will remain a great map for identifying the direction of the industry.
About the author
Allan Yogasingam is technical marketing analyst for UBM TechInsights.