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Thread: Crunchgear's John Biggs on Why He Doesn't Believe In the Notion Ink Adam

  1. #21
    Senior Member mjm2950 is on a distinguished road
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    only time will tell once it is released. I for one hope they survive and provide a viable option to the iPad. Still waiting to pre-order mine.

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  3. #23
    Junior Member hazydave is on a distinguished road
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    Hi all... first post here. I've been following the Adam and Notion Ink since the first announcement. There were Android tablets all over CES last January, but nothing ready to ship. I use a Droid smartphone, I'm kind of sold on the idea of a tablet, and absolutely convinced the Apple iPad is the wrong answer. About me... I've done hardware design since the early 1980s. I used to design computers for Commodore, and I'm currently designing hardware at my fourth startup company. I figured I might have a unique perspective on this... and after reading Mr. Biggs article, I had to say something. He's obviously not an engineer, and clearly not a proper journalist either. I kind of wonder why he's got a platform at all, but given that he does, here's my response.

    Timing

    Sure, Notion Ink has been working on something for awhile. I co-founded a startup company in Germany in 1996, PIOS Computer AG, which initially made Mac Clones. After Apple killed that market, we shifted to set-top boxes. One project took us nearly three years. Could a billion dollar company like Apple have done it faster? You bet. That doesn't mean they did. According to Steve Jobs, the original idea of a touch device was for a tablet, which shrunk and became a PDA/Phone. So by their own admission, Apple was working on the iPad since sometime in 2005-2006, possibly even earlier.

    At my current startup, the original project was a gaming robot. This changed to R/C controllers (Nomadio "Sensor" and "React"), then some high-end mesh radios for industrial and military robots. Unless the Notion Ink people decide to tell the whole story, we don't know just how long they've devoted all company resources to the Adam tablet. Given that the Tegra 2 was announced publicly only last January, it certainly wasn't all that long that the Adam was in modern form. As for "also-rans", yeah, there are lots of also-ran tablets, also-ran smartphones, also-ran desktop and laptop computers, TVs, cameras... any area of consumer electronics you'd like to examine. The fact that there's excitement over the Adam (from me as well) suggests that many experienced tech-heads have some suspicion that this isn't simply an also-ran.

    The one legit concern he does raise is the Genesis SDK. This is an Android device, at least while running Android. An SDK to let custom apps do special things is ok to have, but if the tablet is not perfectly functional with off-the-shelf generic Android apps, it will fail. Compare this to game console add-ons, like the X-Box or Sega upgrades launched into very vibrant markets. These things always fail, simply because there's no volume of users who have the extra add-ons, so why would any software developer so limit their market. And then, with so few things that use the add-ons, consumers generally don't buy them. So if the Notion Ink SDK is not mandatory, then it's fine... if it lets them (and any others who want to do Notion-Ink specific code) enhance some apps, great.

    Build and Price

    So in the first section, he's suggesting that the Adam and/or Notion Ink may not be attractive enough to "go international", simply remaining an also-ran in the home market of India. Now he's concerned they'll sell so many that Pixel Qi won't be able to keep up with production.

    And for the short term, he probably has a point. Production isn't an event, it's a process. You ramp up production to match the known market. Assuming (as I will, for this discussion) that there's no shenanigans going on here, the Notion Ink people will have a market forecast, investor money, possibly pre-orders, that define the scope of the initial build. As that's successful, they'll weigh continued demand, and if things go well, order more. The glass from Pixel Qi is one of those components, and certainly, they have the ability to ramp up their production, also based on demand. This is true of all consumer electronics. An established company like Apple has enough capital to build whatever they like, but they don't know demand for certain until after the product ships. The iPad itself was occasionally hard to get last Spring. Apple was, however, able to keep making them, LCD and other suppliers included (Apple doesn't actually manufacture even one tiny screw on the iPad -- it's all built at a contract manufacturer like FoxConn in Taiwan, with parts from various IC and component companies, many based in the Far East.

    As for pricing.. yeah, every tablet being launched in the near future will be compared to the iPad. Here's what Mr. Biggs says:
    as for pricing, you’ll notice that the Adam is priced at $498 for a 3G version. Why? Because the cheapest iPad is $499. Why is it so expensive? Because tablets are expensive.
    In short, Apple makes the only successful tablet so far, it's expensive, so by logical conclusion, tablets are expensive? By the same logic, so are laptops. Apple's cheapest laptop computer starts at $999, and their average is significantly higher. The average full laptop (excluding Netbooks) sold in the USA last year cost $550, and this year, low-end full laptops are falling as low as $300. By his logic, all laptops much cost $1000 or more.. laptops are expensive. This is one of those areas in which an actual journalist would provide some backing data, or simply not make that statement. Yeah, I know, it's the internet.

    Tablets will do what every other consumer electronics product does: differentiate. Discount models will be pushed out as cheap as possible, while those that compare better with the iPad will be priced relative to it. But keep in mind, everything Apple makes is overpriced. Compare a Mac laptop to something with the identical features from Dell or HP... the Mac is usually 2x-3x as expensive. Apple counts on this... that's their bread and butter. They will never own a significant market for long, whether it's personal computer, smartphone, tablet, STB, etc. Apple fans might protest, but Apple knows this well. They don't care -- they optimize for profit, not volume. Yeah, they get plenty of volume, but make no mistake.. Apple could sell much cheaper, and get more volume, and still be profitable. But not as profitable. So there's plenty of wiggle room in the iPad price. Keep in mind, a modern tablet is much cheaper to build than the typical Netbook, based on component costs. The only additional expense is the touchscreen... and that's not entirely true, as some Netbooks have them too. But otherwise, they're using a cheaper chipset, less RAM, less storage, smaller batteries, etc. This is not rocket science.

    (see next)....

  4. #24
    Junior Member hazydave is on a distinguished road
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    (continues)

    Yes, there will be lots of tablets at CES this year. There were last year... a couple dozen, and that was nearly a month before the iPad was announced. Some of these were from small companies, a few are actually shipping, some have been scrapped or repurposed, some probably went back to the drawing board. This year, we'll see the same things again, only more of them. Will other tablets be as interesting? Could be... this is just the most interesting one, IMHO, right now. I like the design, I like the fact they're actually thinking about design, rather than just copying Apple (who also didn't seem to think about design... the iPad is just a big fat iPod... and not even a big fat iPod 4, from its looks). The Pixel Qi screen is also the right answer, for me anyway. Part of what I intend to use the tablet for is reading. I want to be able to see the screen all-day in a brightly lit electronics lab. I'd like to read novels or song chords and lyrics, whether I'm in the dark or on a beach somewhere. No, it's probably not as wonderful in all ways Apple as the IPS screen on the iPad.. but then again, in-plane switching displays are relatively power hungry. And they don't work any better in bright light than TN or MVA glass.

    Now, next Mr. Biggs launches into crazy town...
    To build your own tablet, motherboard and all, and not depend on OEM motherboards that will, in the end, control the size and shape of your device, you must build and manufacture your own silicon. This is expensive. Apple can do it because they’re sitting on billions. Can Notion Ink do more more than just repackage a standard OEM board? Probably not.
    He's demonstrating a frightening lack of knowledge of how the world in general, and electronics in specific, work. In most cases, the companies making circuit boards, custom or otherwise, do not make custom silicon. Most IC companies do not make circuit boards. Sure, there are exceptions... Intel has a very successful PCB business. But last I checked, AMD doesn't. Most of the other companies making PCBs for the PC industry don't make chips: FoxConn, ASUS, Gigabyte, etc. These companies make generic boards, the kind you can buy at NewEgg and Microcenter, but they also make very custom boards for OEMs; OEMs like Apple, Dell, HP, etc.

    A new circuit board is not terribly expensive. I have a product, a component in one of my company's router devices, that's in Rev 1 right now, going to Rev 2 next year. This is a very tight design, roughly a 4" x 6" board, 8 layers with two impedance controlled layers, probably on par if not denser than a main board for something like the Adam. It's got a lower-end ARM processor (from NXP, an embedded ARM7TDMI System-on-Chip), some logic, and a bunch of fancy RF stuff. For a run of about 10 boards, we're going to spend about $10,000, not counting my time on the schematics and PCB layout. And we're based in Pennsylvania, not India. No custom chips in sight.

    He's also entirely off the mark about Apple and their use of custom chips. Throughout most of their history, Apple was using off-the-shelf parts in iPods, first SOCs from PortalPlayer, then Samsung. Samsung made them a tweaked version of their SOCs for the iPhone, and they also made the iPhone 4's A4 chip... the "standard" version of that SOC is the part that powers the Samsung Galaxy series. Apple was able to cut out some of the features they don't use, and to integrate memory in the same package, which sames them a little money, but also eliminates a supply problem (which Apple has had in the past). These are pretty small systems -- there's no real reason the iPad couldn't have been designed to use the main board from the iPhone 4, but it's probably a cheaper deisgn, given all the room they've got. Same with the Adam -- designing a PCB to fit a modern ARM computer under a 10" screen is not a difficult thing. No need to use standard motherboards -- not that standard motherboards even exist for these products yet. This isn't a PC.

    Irrational Exuberance

    Well, sure, that's an opinion. But part of this is because many people think that tablets are cool, and this is a particularly interesting one. Notion Ink has also been blogging during the development, which does drive interest. And that's part of why they have me convinced this is a real product, not some work of fiction -- they've been blogging like I would blog during a product development of this kind. Things <i>never</i> happen as fast as you'd like it, but even less so when you have a new team together, when you're not spending Apple money, etc.

    Rational exuberance maybe? I certainly don't plan to buy one without having my hands on one... and certainly, no investment money is still coming in based on what was on the drawing board last year. The web site is for us, to get the word out to potential developers and customers. It's not for investors -- they never really are, unless you're selling a web-based business. Website work doesn't take away from development time -- I don't understand why writers seem to think the guy working on the web site is the same guy designing the PCB or writing the software. My company has about 15 people... one of them is our webmaster and all around graphics artist. He doesn't work on OS code development, he doesn't do PCB layout. Back when I had commercial products, I did interact directly with the customers... going all the way back to the Commodore 128. But that was done during personal time... if there really is such a thing, when you're part of something you think is important.

  5. #25
    Member swedshcancerboi is on a distinguished road swedshcancerboi's Avatar
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    Nice
    Nom Nom

  6. #26
    Junior Member ranran is on a distinguished road
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    Dave(?),

    thanks for the thoughtful post. I read it with interest and agreement.

    I am curious, though. How is it that you,
    ...certainly don't plan to buy one without having my hands on one...
    ?

    Of course I'd love to "try" one out first, but I don't see the feasibility of that. Either you're going to have to pre-order and hope for the best, or have a friend pre-order and then "test it out" when they get it....

  7. #27
    Registered Users dalinian is on a distinguished road
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    I'd love to see a NotionAddict with a skill for satirical writing publish a 'Why I Donít Believe in the John Biggs (Among Other Bloggers)' retort.

  8. #28
    Junior Member hazydave is on a distinguished road
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    Hope for the best, plan for the worst?

    Well, this could certainly be mitigated.... if there's an iron clad return policy, I might even pre-order. Or wait. It will be necessary to pre-order to get your hands on one first. But not forever, if the Adam is at all successful. At least, I do imagine they want to sell these at retail, at some point in the not-too-distant future.

  9. #29
    Junior Member slashgod is on a distinguished road
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    Hazydave, enjoyed reading your post. Full of insight.

  10. #30
    Junior Member IneedMYadam is on a distinguished road
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    Great! I'll take Bigg's NI Adam!

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