The HP TouchPad

Teardown - The HP TouchPad

The IHS iSuppli team goes inside the tablet controversially sold for near giveaway prices as its owner looks to exit consumer hardware.

So, did you get one? The HP TouchPad tablet achieved massive 'sales' following its retail price cut last month to just £90 in the UK and $100 (£61.37) in the US for the 16MB version. It was a massive inventory burn-off due to HP's August decision to quit the consumer hardware business and, as those orders reach owners, many are finding why the TouchPad stuttered in the market with its original (and currently more typical) price tag of between $499 and $399.

The TouchPad had a difficult gestation and history is likely to judge it as an example of the inherent risks of missing your consumer electronics market than a rival to the iPad.

The story begins more than two years ago with the launch of the Palm Pre running the WebOS smartphone/tablet operating system. Both got very good reviews but the platform failed to deliver sufficient sales faced with the greater marketing muscle behind Apple's iOS and Google's then emerging Android rival.

Earlier this year, Jon Rubinstein, head of the WebOS team, admitted that resulting uncertainty within Palm significantly disrupted product development during 2009 and 2010. It had been hoped that the company's acquisition by HP late last year would reenergise the platform – and the TouchPad does indeed feature the 3.0 version of WebOS – but it has instead fallen victim to one of the more remarkable corporate about-turns in recent times.

'The TouchPad tablet was late to the market,' says Wayne Lam, principal analyst on the teardown team at IHS iSuppli. 'It missed its true mark in the standard set by Apple's iPad2.

'The physical design mimics that of the first generation Apple iPad with its thick, rounded plastic enclosure at roughly 14mm-thick against just under 9mm for the latest iPad2 design. The plastic enclosure forced HP to compromise on thickness and forced it to add internal frames and mounting brackets – a physical design more reminiscent of laptops than true modern tablets.'

In terms of component numbers, the TouchPad also lags behind the iPad2, with an overall count of 1,373 (1,078 on the main PCB), against approximately 1,000 for the market leader.

In other respects, though, the TouchPad contains design elements that are innovative and, perhaps more importantly, may help HP as it seeks buyers for the IP behind it or to value any spin-out rather than closure of the consumer business.

'The distinguishing market feature of the TouchPad is WebOS 3.0, which offers a very capable third platform in the tablet space, after Apple's iOS and Google's Android Honeycomb,' says Lam.

The design is well integrated with new silicon from communications specialist Qualcomm (previously, Palm worked with Texas Instruments (TI) on the high end and Qualcomm on the low end of its smartphone development). Specifically, the TouchPad features a brand new asynchronous dual core 1.2GHz applications processor, the APQ8060 (APQ for 'Applications Processor Qualcomm').

'The APQ8060 is interesting,' says Lam. 'It marks the first time we've encountered a stand-alone discrete apps processor solution from the mobile giant and is also the first asynchronous processor we've encountered this year. Nvidia's Tegra 2, Apple's A5 and TI's OMAP 4 dual-core apps processors are all believed to be synchronous.

'Having asynchronous capabilities with dual-core computing means that the TouchPad can take advantage of power savings when shutting down individual cores that are not needed.'

The asynchronous approach has required a design with more advance power management. There are two discrete Qualcomm power management chips implemented in the TouchPad: the primary PM8058 provides system-wide management while the secondary PM8901 oversees additional power rails to meet fast transient currents required by the greater than 1GHz clockspeed.

The HP TouchPad is also the only iPad rival so far to use the same display size and format. Indeed, the LG-manufactured 9.7in display shares a very similar part number to displays seen in the iPad, and the complementary multitouch capacitive overlay is designed and implemented in similar fashion.

However, HP uses a Cypress Semiconductor for the touchscreen drivers and controls. This off-the-shelf solution differs from Apple's proprietary approach, which features a three-chip solution against Cypress' six-chip on a separate PCB assembly.

Another interesting part of the design is HP's use of InvenSense's three-axis gyro MEMS sensor – a real player in a space previously dominated by ST Microelectronics.

One thing the TouchPad certainly is not, though, is the leader for a flood of very low-cost tablets. The price tag on the clearance devices remains more or less a third of its productioncost at $322.66. It is not a technological poster child for commoditised tablets. Even when that Android 'hack' arrives. *

Analyst group IHS iSuppli provides detailed teardowns for many leading electronics devices. Find out more about its commercial reports at www.isuppli.com

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