Electronic Design
Success Of iPad Is All About Software

Success Of iPad Is All About Software

Steve Jobs has announced Apple’s new iPad. It’s a slick device, as you might expect from Apple. It uses a 9.7-in. in-plane switching (IPS) thin-film transistor (TFT) LCD with a 4:3 (almost) aspect ratio, making the screen a bit smaller than a typical sheet of paper. The bezel around the periphery makes the whole unit a bit larger.

Also, the iPad’s multitouch interface allows iPhone-style operation. Battery life is supposed to be about 10 hours. On standby it is supposed to sleep for up to a month. The built-in accelerometer makes switching between portrait or landscape mode a flip of the wrist, something common on cell phones like the iPhone.

The unit is half an inch thick and weighs 1.5 lb. It runs Apple’s 1-GHz A4 processor. The A4 is a high-performance, lower-power chip that has roots in Apple’s purchase of PA Semiconductor. PA Semi’s Power architecture utilized a tremendous amount of clock gating among other technology designed to reduce power consumption while retaining performance (see “Judicious Clocking Subdues Power-Architecture Cooling Needs”).

High-performance computational and display support is required since the iPad is designed to stream HD content and work as a gaming platform as well. It has up to 64 Gbytes of flash. Additionally, the iPad has 802.11n and Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Cell-phone connectivity is not built-in.

As expected, a large onscreen keyboard provides text input. The size of the tablet and the responsive touch interface make it a touch-typing target. Of course, that means you need a flat surface or you need to resort to one-handed or thumb typing.

The hardware is impressive. But the built-in applications, from image and video management to the Safari browser, are the key to the iPad. Apple rewrote its apps for the iPhone and Mac to take advantage of the iPad’s larger touchscreen. The user interface in applications like e-mail has been a problem compared to competing pad-based solutions in the past. An enhanced iPhone software development kit (SDK) supports the iPad. Downloadable from Apple’s Web site, it includes a simulator that runs on the Mac.

Likewise, the link to Apple’s iTunes Store is critical. The Store provides access to content as well as third-party applications in the same fashion as the iPhone. Apple’s primary advantage is the current acceptance of its distribution system by both consumers as well as developers.

As usual, Apple has put together the complete package including hardware, software, application programming interfaces (APIs), and a distribution system. None of these has been missing in the past, but the entire package has been lacking. The iPad platform will put the tablet on people’s radar, and it is likely to receive a significant amount of competition from Android in the future. There already is a slew of tablets that are on the market or being delivered in the near future to make things interesting.


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