06
Jun
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The name Kai seemingly popped out of nowhere during NVIDIA's meeting of stockholders last month. Since then, we've heard it many times - but I still don't think it's getting the attention it deserves. Its importance, and what it means for the future of Android tablets, is being greatly understated across the board. I believe that Kai is going to be revolutionary for Android tablets - here's why.

The Budget Powerhouse Is Upon Us

We don't often use the words budget and powerhouse together in the same sentence. Historically, budget smartphone have been small, underpowered, and outdated. In the tablet arena, budget devices offer an even worse experience: most of have shoddy touchscreens, horrible resolutions, and are lacking access to the Play Store.

KO-aag-apps._V166939197_ KO-aag-books._V166971925_

Then, then Kindle Fire came along and changed the way we thought of a budget "tablet." Except, it's not really a tablet. It's a glorified e-reader with some tablet functionality baked-in. Sure, it's cheap, ultra-portable, and offers a decent experience; but it doesn't offer Play Store access (without some hacking, at least), and is running a modified version of Android 2.3, which was not designed for tablets. All of the above can also be said of the Nook Tablet.

However, the Fire proved one very good point: people want a $200 tablet. The sales numbers back this up, too; Amazon moved 5.5 million Kindle Fire units during the first quarter of its availability. For comparison, only 3.27 million iPads were sold during its first quarter after it became available. Currently, the Kindle Fire holds over half of the Android tablet market, and there's one clear reason for that lead (because, honestly, we know it's not because of the advanced experience or cutting-edge hardware): price. With numbers like that for a very basic tablet experience, imagine what would happen if a fully-immersive tablet experience for roughly the same price became available.

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History will tell us that many users don't want to spend $400 or $500 for an Android-powered tablet. Not only can this be backed up by just reading many comments across the 'net about tablet pricing, but I can also verify it in my own personal life. Everyone I know (and some who I don't) come to me when they're shopping for a tablet. Many of them are Android loyalists (love you guys!), while others just don't want an iPad for whatever reason; either way, they all want to know the same thing: what's the best device they can buy for budget x. Sometimes that's $300 or $350, while others it's substantially less.

The Turn, The River, and The Flop

At CES, NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang showed off a 7" Tegra 3-powered ASUS tablet that would compete directly with the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, but instead of offering a watered down tablet experience, this was a full-fledged Android device, complete with quad-core processor and Android 4.0. At the time, it was announced that the device would be available for the unheard of price of $250.

wm_IMG_00621 kai

We didn't hear anything else about that particular device for several months. Then, an eerily similar device emerged when the Kai platform was officially announced, but this time it had a $199 price tag attached to it. This raised some eyebrows - a full-featured tablet for less than $200? Little did we realize at the time, though, this wasn't just one single tablet - this was the guideline that could bring affordable Android tablets of all shapes and sizes to the masses.

And that's exactly what Kai is: a design reference. The very brick and mortar of it consists of a 7" touchscreen running at 1024x600, the quad-core Tegra 3 (possibly running at a slightly slower clock speed than the current crop of high-end Android tablets), and ultra-affordable PC-type memory (RAM).

Google Takes Notice

Back in March, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google is planning to open a store sometime this year where it will sell Android devices. We've already seen this plan start to take anchor with the GSM Galaxy Nexus landing in the Play Store, and more recently, the addition of GN accessories.

Further backing up this rumor, we've also heard that Google is in talks with five different manufacturers to create an expansive portfolio of Nexus devices. It wasn't specified which manufacturers or what type of devices are being talked about, but I expect to see a range of both smartphones and tablets become available out of these dicsussions.

n7

Speaking of tablets, by now we've all heard about Google's rumored Nexus tablet, the Nexus 7. The device is said to be produced by ASUS, feature a 7" form factor, and, you guessed it, the Tegra 3 processor. With all these things added together, Kai is the first thing that comes to mind. The main difference here is that the baseline blueprint for Kai calls for a 1024x600 display resolution, and the Nexus 7 is rumored to run at 1280x800. All this information combined makes me believe that the aforementioned 7" ASUS tablet has actually become the Nexus 7 and we will see it sold exclusively through the Play Store for around $199.

The Beauty of it All

Tegra3_Chip

The fact that the Nexus 7 is said to be running at a higher resolution than suggested in the design reference is the best thing about Kai: it's completely customizable. As I've already said, Kai is just a suggested guideline for manufacturers who want to build a low-cost, high-power Android tablet. And if the Nexus 7 rumors are true - that's exactly what Google and ASUS have done. I realize that this statement banks a lot on the assumed price of the Nexus 7, but it's becoming clear that Google wants to make devices affordable, hence the $400 price of the non-carrier-branded Galaxy Nexus found in the Play Store.

Another perfect example of a device presumably based on the Kai platform is the recently announced Acer Iconia Tab A110, the successor the A100. The A110 features a 7" display at 1024x600, 1GB RAM, 8GB internal storage, and Android 4.0 - all for less than $200. Is it the sexiest or sleekest tablet we've ever seen? Not really, but I'd put it head-to-head against the Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet any day of the week and come out the victor every time.

The possibilities don't end there, either. The door is wide open for devices with displays ranging in size - 10.1", 8.9", 7.7", 5", 13", or whatever other size manufacturers decide to use - all packing a powerhouse chip and coming in at an amazing price. Of course, larger display sizes will likely raise the retail price a bit, but $250 for a 10.1" tablet with a quad-core processor and a full Android experience beats anything we have on the market right now, hands down.

Ultimately, I feel like once it's embraced by manufacturers, Kai will absolutely revolutionize the Android tablet market; cheaper devices open the door for more consumers, and with more consumers, comes better support from manufacturers and developers.

One thing is for sure: NVIDIA's engineers got this right. They figured out how to keep costs low and performance high, and shared this information with a number of device manufacturers. Not only is that a win for consumers, but manufacturers, and Android as a whole.

Cameron Summerson
Cameron is a self-made geek, Android enthusiast, horror movie fanatic, musician, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys here at AP, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, plucking away on the 6-string, spinning on the streets, or watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on repeat.

  • tanknspank

    What ARE the guidelines for the kai platform? I want to know what I'm losing in the end compared to previous tablets, or what has changed in internals that they are losing that they are able to drop the price so much. There has to be a shortcoming somewhere that makes up for the price.

    • Todd

      I think what you are losing is a $700 price for a 7" HTC Tablet that doesn't run ICS.

    • Ron Amadeo

      The most expensive part of a tablet is the screen. Expect the screens to suck. Poor colors, bad viewing angles, etc.

    • http://twitter.com/dextersgenius Dexter M

      +1.

      I too would like to see more specifics of the platform. Like when you say its a "design reference" how detailed does it go? Does it tell manufacturers what components to use? Does nVidia they give them circuit-board schematics/layout? Or is it just a rough top-level architecture design? Do OEMs have to license the design from nVidia, like how chip manufacturers have to do for making ARM CPUs?
      I'm not sure how the whole thing works out. Some more details would be welcome..

  • Travis Jennings

    Love the article.
    $200 for a 7" tablet doesn't beat the $400 I spent on a 10" tablet with the same or better specs. Where's the larger screen and thinner device love? In the long run, that's what we want.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Cameron Summerson

      Maybe $200 for a 7" tablet doesn't beat the $400 you paid for a 10.1" device, but how does a $250 or $300 10.1" tablet sound? That's the type of thing we could see become a reality thanks to Kai. 

      • jayray78

        1024x600 on a 7" isn't exactly impressive. Its palatable, but not impressive. If, by extension the price reduction does translate to a 10" tab, my question would be what are we going to sacrifice to get to that price point. Obviously, the screen is the most expensive component. With most tablets heading in the HD direction, I get the impression that even for the budget minded this would be underwhelming.

        • Charles Sanchez

          Read the article... it started out as 1024X600, it's now 1280X800, and that's still only reference. The Kai chip is very similar to Tegra 3... it can run higher resolutions. It all depends on what you want to pay for.

    • jayray78

      How much thinner do you really want these things to be? My Kindle Fire is thinner than my phone (Thunderbolt). A millimeter here or there isn't going to change the experience at all. I'd sacrifice a further reduction in thickness for more battery life personally.

  • Kenny O

    Note to self - Buy more shares of NVIDIA stock.........

  • celestre

    I think team Android has got a very narrow window of time to make these things work.

    If Windows 8 tablets take off in a big way, Android's chance to carve out a niche in the tablet market may come to an end as its caught between Microsoft and Apple.

    I don't know if Windows 8's tablet experience is going to be good enough for it to really take off, but if it is, Android better have a pretty significant portion of the market going in to the Windows 8 launch.

    • http://twitter.com/dextersgenius Dexter M

      Oh, Win 8 tablets are really awesome from what I've seen/heard - the UI is very responsive and it's overall very easy to use. But I think a large number of sales will come from people who mistakenly believe that they can run their regular desktop windows programs on there..
      The other issue is the lack of apps. It will be interesting to see though if Adobe Flash will work on Win8 tablets, as that can be a huge deciding factor - given that IE isn't exactly the most HTML5 compliant browser out there...

    • jayray78

      Don't forget that price point is also going to be a concern for Win8 tabs too. The question in regards to that is: how much of a premium windows 8 is going to command. Is anyone willing to pay $200 for win8 on a $200 tablet? =$400  I know I wouldn't.

    • jayray78

      Don't forget that price point is also going to be a concern for Win8 tabs too. The question in regards to that is: how much of a premium windows 8 is going to command. Is anyone willing to pay $200 for win8 on a $200 tablet? =$400  I know I wouldn't.

    • Charles Sanchez

      Windows 8 tablets will be expensive... very expensive.

  • RichardReich

    This gives the world an excellent opportunity to jam Apple back where they belong -- a niche design house turning out stuff for a limited audience of well-heeled fans needing to make an identity statement.  Hey, I can dream, can't I?

  • X2caleb2X

    We need a smartphone revolution. Full retail for a smartphone shouldn't cost $600 when a tablets go for $200

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=150201114 Camara Wilson

      applause

    • Steve Schneider

      It cost money to make things smaller.

      • andhavarapu

        It does. But as we have seen in tablet construction, most of the space is battery. So there is a lot of room for smartpone costs to go down. Especially getting the phablet prices to go down since space is not as much a premium there.

      • Joe S

        Apple makes a 50% gross margin. Tablet mfgs, ~10-20, maybe...

  • Guest

    Having a low-resolution like 1024x600 is a good opportunity for NVIDIA to beef-up their capability on the CPU side which has really been lagging...

  • dsellers2

    I guess I'm gonna hold off on getting my kids the kindle fire for Christmas to see if these release by then. Sweet, let me get a hold of it and root then iverclock and I have a beast of a tablet. ;)

  • Droidfan

    Year old 1280 x 800 screen technology could definitely make it to a $ 250.00 device.

  • Gumnam

    I am using a Allwinner based tablet. Its has low res(800x480), no 3g and gps. Except for those everything else is very good. Runs ics smoothly and plays good number og games (it has Mali 400).
    With Rockchip dual core quad core mali coming up how would Kai stack up with those. Note these would be selling under $150 range.

  • micc

    Maybe I'll finally get a tablet now lol

  • micc

    Maybe I'll finally get a tablet now lol

  • https://steamcommunity.com/id/m-p-3 m-p{3}

    I'll probably become a tablet owner very soon then. :)

  • Frank Bales

    This was interesting. Thanks. But I've been thinking about Windows 8 tablets impact on Android tablets. This could help drop the cost of those tablets as well, at least the ARM versions. A <$200 tablet (and cheaper cutting edge phones) is essential, imo, for Android to continue to dominate.

    I own a Transformer TF101, which I really like a lot, but I want something more. Cost is important because I make <$30,000/year. But I crave speed. Nothing really runs blistering fast on my Transformer.

    Frank

  • Rodrigo E. De León Plicet

    Egads! Cut that bezel's width in half, and I'm sold.

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