Last week MIPS and Ingenic Semiconductor, announced worldwide availability of the world’s first tablet based on Google?s Android 4.0, known as ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’ (ICS). It?s retailing for less than $100 in China. The tablet is powered by Ingenic’s JZ4770 mobile applications processor which leverages a MIPS-Based XBurst core running at 1GHz on 65nm process geometry at TSMC.

The NOVO7 tablet was initially available through Hong Kong-based Ainol until it sold out within a matter of 72 hours. MIPS said the unit will be going into higher volume production during the first quarter 2012.

What got the computing world so excited about the NOVO7? Besides the low price, the Ainol NOVO7 has features that match or exceed many 7-inch and some 10-inch tablets. Further in the announcement is a feature-by-feature comparison of the NOVO7 to the Samsung Galaxy Tab, Amazon Kindle Fire, and the original Apple iPad.

Android 4.0 or ICS is a merging of the Android 2.x smartphone branch and Android 3.x Honeycomb branch for tablets, including software navigation keys, a holographic user interface and several other UI improvements. The first ICS phone is the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which has gotten good reviews and some say it is one of the best Android phones.

The Ainol NOVO7 website shows the 7-inch tablet as an entertainment device that claims to have 6 hours of game time playing Gameloft?s Spider-Man Total Mayhem (pre-installed). For music playback, the claims are 25 hours and 7 hours of web browsing.

Ainol NOVO7 Tablet - World's First $99 Android 4.0 based Tablet

Ainovo.com boasts that "NOVO7 obtained Google CTS (Compatibility Test Suite)" meaning that Gmail, Google Maps, GTalk and the rest of the Android apps should run perfectly. [BSN* will know very soon.Ed]. Ainol is also saying that it’s the "world’s first Android 4.0 tablet". However, Fuzhou Rockchip is saying the same thing about its Android 4.0 PAD.

The NOVO7 even has an endorsement from Andy Rubin, senior vice president of mobile at Google and the face of Android at Google. Rubin said in the MIPS press release: "I’m thrilled to see the entrance of MIPS-based Android 4.0 tablets into the market. Low-cost, high-performance tablets are a big win for mobile consumers and a strong illustration of how Android?s openness drives innovation and competition for the benefit of consumers around the world."

We spoke with MIPS Director of Product Marketing, Mark Throndson, along with Amit Rohatgi, Principal Mobile Architect, and Jen Bernier-Santarini, Director of Corporate Communications. Rohatgi said the launch of the NOVO7 "was effectively breaking the price performance barrier for tablets today."

Throndson explained that MIPS developed a 64-bit architecture nearly 30 years ago, with the products based on MIPS64 shipping inside networking equipment. He said MIPS is a leading provider of industry-standard processor architectures and cores for digital home, networking and mobile applications. Companies including Cavium Networks, NetLogic Microsystems and even Cisco Systems are shipping MIPS64 architecture for their network products. Power consumption also seems to be a strong point of the MIPS architecture. The MIPS XBurst processor’s power-efficient architecture provides extended battery life ? the 7-inch tablet draws less than 400mA during active web browsing.

MEET INGENIC, CHINESE SOC DEVELOPING STARTUP

Ingenic Semiconductor was founded in Beijing in 2005 to develop innovative processor technology. The company’s JZ47xx series application processors are widely deployed in embedded devices and consumer electronic products including educational electronic devices, eBooks, and biometrics, with more than 30 million units shipped to-date. 

Block Diagram Ingenic JZ4779 SoC
 Block Diagram Ingenic JZ4779 SoC, made in 65nm using TSMC’s General Purpose process

The Ingenic JZ4770 SoC is seen by some as a direct competitor to the ARM Cortex-A9 single core offerings. At the ARM website they show the TSMC 65GP process geometry running at a maximum of 772MHz. The TSMC 40G process geometry is running at a maximum of 990MHz. Thus the MIPS -  Ingenic JZ4770 65nm process running at 1GHz is a significant step up from what ARM was able to achieve. Obviously the ultimate question is how will the MIPS vs ARM compare at 1GHz running on 7-inch tablets. That testing will happen in the near future.

Ingenic Roadmap for MIPS XBurst SoC
Ingenic Roadmap for MIPS XBurst SoC – going 64-bit with the new manufacturing process – is Ingenic going from 65nm to 28nm? Only time will tell.

In October, MIPS Technologies and semiconductor value chain producer eSilicon announced the tapeout of a high-performance, three-way microprocessor cluster on GlobalFoundries low-power 28-nm process technology. Wafers are currently running in GlobalFoundries? Fab 1 in Dresden, Germany, with silicon expected in early 2012, and SoC designs can start immediately.

BILL OF MATERIALS OR HOW A $99 TABLET WAS CREATED

In order to analyze how a $99 tablet is possible, check out the feature-by-feature comparison of the NOVO7 to Samsung?s Galaxy Tab, Amazon Kindle Fire, and the original Apple iPad.

Ainol NOVO7 versus its ARM-based competitors: Amazon Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 and the venerable Apple iPad. We know it's not fair price wise, but...
Feature-by-feature comparison

Amazon?s Kindle Fire media tablet has a Bill of Materials (BOM) cost of $185.60, according to preliminary findings from the IHS iSuppli Teardown Analysis Service. When manufacturing services expense is added, the cost increases to $201.70.

The Kindle Fire display and touch screen is estimated at $87.00, while memory is estimated to cost $22.10.

The Galaxy Tab carries an estimated BOM of $270.50, according to preliminary findings from the IHS iSuppli Teardown Analysis Service. When manufacturing services expense is added, the cost increases to $290.50. The Galaxy Tab display and touch screen is estimated at $57.00, while memory is estimated to cost $51.00.

The original Apple iPad carried an estimated BOM of $205.22, according to preliminary findings from the IHS iSuppli Teardown Analysis Service. When manufacturing services expense is added, the cost increases to $214.57. The original iPad display and touch screen is estimated at $95.00, while memory is estimated to cost $62.00.

The HP Touchpad 32GB and iPad 2 32GB carry an estimated BOM of $318.00 and $326.60 respectively. Their display and touch screen assembly costs are $132.00 for Touchpad and $125.00 for iPad 2. With memory cost estimated at $71.00 for Touchpad and $65.70 for the iPad 2.

In every case the biggest expense is the display and touch screen, with memory coming in second place.

iSuppli always qualifies their analysis with this statement: "Please note that these teardown assessments are preliminary in nature, and accounts only for hardware costs and does not include additional expenses such as software, licensing, royalties or other expenditures."   

Please continue onto the next page.

HOW WE ESTIMATED THE BOM FOR THE $99 NOVO7?

In China many low-cost 7-inch tablets can be found in the $65 to $80 range using the VIA 8650 800MHz CPU. Thus it is clear that Chinese OEM/ODM can upgrade an existing design for less cost than the big name sellers can design a tablet from scratch.

Using the Apple iPhone 4S as a reference smaller mobile device, we find iSuppli estimates the BOM at $188.00. Take the iSupply estimated cost of $37.00 for the Apple iPhone 4S display and touch screen with 960-by-640 resolution at 326 pixels per inch (ppi). We conclude the Ainol NOVO7 display is significantly less expensive than the 4S because their display is only 800-by-600 resolution at133ppi. Possibly a display and touch screen cost as low as $17.75, or less than one-fifth of the NOVO7 selling price in China.

Clearly, we always get the quality and feature set we pay for. However, at nearly one-quarter the cost of the Galaxy Tab and less than one-half the cost of the Kindle Fire, the consumer market just might purchase a lot of them.

Gartner Tablet Sales Projections to 2015According to the latest Gartner forecast, worldwide tablet sales will reach 63.6 million units in 2011 ? a 261.4% increase from its 17.6 million sales in 2010. With this strong growth rate, tablet sales are expected to reach 326.3 million units by the end of 2015. Garner projects that through 2015 the iPad will sell over 50% of the tablet marketplace.

The Electronista web site reported that:

"Merrill Lynch analyst Scott Craig in a research note estimated that 2012 would see multiple tablet designers cut out of the market. RIM would be the primary victim, as its poor BlackBerry PlayBook sales had not only lacked momentum but created a ripple effect where developers didn’t write apps. In his projection, the analyst saw the PlayBook as non-existent in 2012′s market share.


Craig went on to pinpoint Acer and ASUS as likely to flame out, as they were squeezed at the high end by the iPad and below by the Amazon Kindle Fire. AMD would also be on the bad end as it’s dependent primarily on low-end notebooks, "the area most likely to be hit by tablets.

The winners would be familiar from late 2011. Apple would still have the majority, even into 2013."

Obviously Ainol NOVO7 is going to need a lot of help from Android developers, along with input from Ingenic and MIPS on hardware updates.

The form factor has a lot of potential in the POS (point of sale) marketplace. Carrying a 7-inch tablet weighing 335 grams versus a 10-inch tablet weighing a hefty 613 grams is a big deal by the end of an eight hour work day. With properly designed applications the limitations of lower screen resolution display would be less of a distraction. Another option is to switch over to the Pixel Qi "3Qi" 7-inch screen display and you have great outdoor screen reading. Add in a docking device that recharges the NOVO7 battery and we could see a lot of them in nearby stores, job sites, and restaurants.

BSN* will have a hands-on review of the NOVO7 in the near future. So stay tuned for what we find with the real deal.