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Suggests PC-makers may undercut Apple and Amazon with $US150 'slab

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SSA Digital is a little-known Chinese company that is very good at two things.

One is getting spam through the filters here at Vulture South, which is the only reason we know about the second thing at which it excels: making seven inch tablet computers so cheaply it is prepared to sell them for just $US40 apiece in lots of 10,000.

We've smiled nicely and asked SSA to send us one, but it has declined to do so.

PC makers do understand such niceties. They also understand that tablets are eating their lunch, at least at the low end (go visit an electronics store and ask where all the Netbooks have gone).

Which is why Taiwanese analyst outfit TrendForce has cooked up a recipe for a $150 tablet, as it feels that with Android seven-inchers now at $199 the only way PC companies can get into the game is by undercutting the likes of Amazon and Google on price.

To do so, they'll need to cut the following corners:

  • Use a cheap display TrendForce says prices for fringe field switching (FFS) displays have plateaued, making twisted nematic displays a cheaper alternative. That technology, however, produces a rubbish viewing angle. Enter 'view angle compensation film' a sheet of polymer that can return a display to respectable visibility at low cost.
  • G/F/F touch Premium touch screens us transparent conductors layered onto glass, and use two layers of glass in an arrangement known as “G/G”. A cheaper way to deliver a touch screen is with a G/F/F panel that has a top layer of glass, then two layers of film. G/F/F isn't as responsive as G/G, but costs 70 per cent less to make.
  • Cheap memory TrendForce points out that mobile DRAM costs $10 per gigabyte, while conventional DRAM is $3.50. Flash memory is a buck a gig in four-gig lots, or six dollars for an eight-gig module.
  • Cheap CPUs A decent CPU sets a tablet-maker back $24, TrendForce says. But comparable silicon can be had for $12.

The analyst's musings conclude that its recipe would allow allow PC-makers to come up with a bill of materials of $99 or less, but also says “Whether the potential low cost tablets will indeed become a major hit remains to be seen, as much of their quality and specs will likely be affected by the costs of the materials used.”

One piece of good news is that TrendForce feels cheap tablets from established brands will “intensify the pricing competition within the 2013 tablet market,” which could be helpful for those wishing the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire were just a little more affordable.

But there's also bad news for SSA Digital and its ilk, as the analyst says that if PC-makers got into the tablet caper it “will certainly put a lot pressure on China's white-box tablet makers.” Which may not be a bad thing: a $150 tablet with an inferior screen, slow CPU and little memory that drains the battery at high speed sounds dire.

SSA's lack of interest in a sending a review unit to Vulture South may therefore have been entirely sensible. ®

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