This Week in Tablets: Apple stumbles, Intel bumbles, and Barnes & Noble disappoints

September 29, 2012
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Mapgate is officially legitimate. Apple CEO Tim Cook admitted as much when he publicly apologized to iPad and iPhone users for the inconsistent and (occasionally) flat-out wrong map results the company’s new map app is giving out.

The nice thing about Apple is that the company is the first to admit when it has failed. As much as the anti-Apple contingency revels in Cook’s admission, it’s hard to imagine Google, Microsoft, Oracle, or just about any other big company in the world being so candid about its failings.

The most interesting question is how fast Apple can fix the problem? In a typical scenario–antennae-gate, battery-gate–Apple could mobilize massive resources against the problem. Not so this time, because Apple does not own TomTom, the maker of the map data the Apple app uses.

Left unsaid here is this question: Why would Apple contract out map data to a declining GPS map maker? It seemed like a bad idea then, and it really seems like one now, particularly in light of response like the one TomTom VP Caroline Fisher gave Reuters earlier in the week:

“We are more than willing to work with Apple to help fix any problems,” Fisher said, “As we would with any of our customers.”

Translation: Um, Apple, you might have a problem here.

Tough week for tablets

Apple’s mapgate may have dominated the headlines this week, but there was lots of woe and foot-in-mouth statements to go around.

In one of the most startling admissions I’ve heard in some time, Intel chief Paul Otellini was widely quoted by Bloomberg as telling Intel employees that Microsoft was shipping Windows 8 before it was ready.

The quote got enough traction in the press that Intel was forced to publicly backtrack on the CEO’s comments in a separate statement.

Intel has problems of its own, of course—the chipmaker’s earnings have been struggling, largely because of the changing market dynamics brought on by tablet devices.

The bummer about the timing of Otellini’s comments is that they overshadowed Intel’s announcement of its new dual-core, quad-threaded tablet-ready CPU, the Z2760. Formerly known as Clover Trail, this processor will fuel many of the first generation of Windows 8 tablets.

An interesting byproduct of Intel jumping into the tablet chip market with both feet is that the market dynamics for chipmakers such as Texas Instruments are becoming more challenging. TI recently admitted that it will not be committing major resources to strengthening the position of its OMAP line of mobile processors going forward.

That’s not surprising. Even in a growth category such as tablets, there’s only so much room for everyone.

Nook HD provides no surprises

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the week however, was Barnes & Noble’s Nook HD announcement.

Some time ago, B&N teased its pending announcement by saying it would be debuting some kind of tablet technology that had never been seen before. I can’t believe I fell for that. What we saw, unfortunately, was the exact same thing we’ve all seen before.

The Nook HD has two variants—a 7-inch and a 9-inch version. The smaller tablet has a 1440 x 900 IPS display with 243 pixels per inch, while the larger has 1920 x 1280 display with a whopping 256 pixels per inch. In terms of pixel density, that’s iPad Retina Display caliber, making this a great device for reading text.

Everything else on the two ICS tablets, however, is pretty standard fare, and it’s hard for me to imagine how Barnes & Noble will succeed with a me-too device.

I’ll give you one guess as to which processor is in the two devices? TI’s OMAP, of course.

This week’s winner: iOS 6 users

Far and away, one of the best new features in Apple’s iOS 6 update is the inclusion of VIP status in the email app.

If you’re like me, you have multiple mail accounts running through the iPad (and iPhone), with hundreds of emails per day. The ability to quickly scan emails from your most important contacts and co-workers (like your company’s CEO) via this tag is literally a lifesaver.

It’s also a great example of one of the things Apple does best: sharing features and functions between its mobile and desktop ecosystems. The VIP feature was recently included in Apple’s OS X Mountain Lion release for its desktop operating system.

This week’s loser: Intel

During a week where Intel should have dominated headlines for its impressive new mobile processor, Otellini stepped on himself and insulted one of its most valuable partners weeks before the launch of Windows 8. Not smooth, Intel. Not smooth. 

There will be plenty of opportunity for redemption for Intel in the coming weeks and months, that's for sure. The company will have ample opportunity to say plenty of nice things about Windows 8.

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