What we still don't know about Nvidia's Kai tablet platform

Nvidia reveals another morsel, but much remains unclear.

A low-cost tablet that doesn't cut corners remains the holy grail of the fledgling tablet market. So far, that market has largely been defined by Apple's stunning success with the iPad. Barely two weeks ago, Nvidia stirred up the rally cry for inexpensive tablets by dropping mention of its Kai reference platform for inexpensive tablets. This wasn't the first time Nvidia had talked about achieving a less expensive tablet--it did so at CES 2012, when partner Asus joined Nvidia execs on stage and announced a $250 tablet would be coming this summer. Well, summer is nearly upon us, and the drumbeat is getting louder.

The goal of a $200 tablet is not surprising. Next to the iPad, the Amazon Kindle Fire struck a chord with consumers by hitting a $199 price for a 7-inch tablet last November. But that customized Android tab made plenty of sacrifices to achieve its attractive price. Nvidia and Asus aimed higher, with the goal of hitting a lower price without stunting the usability of the tablet.

It's possible we've already seen and heard about a real-world Kai-based tablet. At CES 2012, Asus introduced the MeMo 370T, and we've heard nothing about this tablet since; nor did Nvidia ever refer to Kai during that event. Kai's codename was revealed during an investors' call a couple of weeks ago, when Nvidia let slip the very basics of Kai starting with its mere existence as a Tegra 3 reference design for tablets. But beyond that, we heard no solid details on the platform; instead, we've been left wondering when that news might come.

This week's blog post by Nvidia doesn't really add much to the equation, sadly. Nvidia outlined the goal and the challenges and need for a low-cost, "premium" tablet, but it doesn't really explain much about what will distinguish Kai-based tablets from existing Tegra 3 tablets.

The blog did confirm that Kai will use the quad-core Tegra 3 system-on-chip processor, and it will integrate Nvidia's Direct Touch and PRISM technologies, both previously announced at CES and both already part of the Tegra 3 platform. The blog does mention that Kai uses a "unique memory controller" with DDR3L "lower-cost PC-type memory". Well, new for Kai, perhaps, but already we have Tegra 3 tablets, such as the new Toshiba Excite 10, that uses DDR3L memory.

Which brings us back to what, exactly, is the secret sauce behind Kai? In follow up emails, Nvidia simply confirmed that Kai's controller is "different" and then repeated that it supports less expensive memory, so manufacturers can pick different designs and screen resolutions. Again, clear as mud as to what's truly special with Kai, and Nvidia remains tight-lipped about what Kai is, exactly, as a reference platform, and what the company's role has been in making it what it is.

Maybe Kai involves, in some part, Nvidia seeing an opportunity to do the legwork and bring together compatible components from the right partners to help move the Android (and, presumably, future Windows) tablet market along in a meaningful way. Ultimately, any tablet maker--or maker of a citical component of tablets--wants to find a way to challenge Apple's iPad dominance. Beyond what was discussed for the Asus MeMo nearly six months ago--a product that may or may not even reflect the Kai reference platform--we still have no information about chip speed, storage, ports, and display resolution of this mythical inexpensive tablet. And virtually none of those are directly within Nvidia's sphere of control.

Reference designs are often less about innovation and more about delivering a simple package to manufacturers who can't do the design on their own. Perhaps, in this case the Kai reference platform will turn out to be more about Nvidia finding a way for disparate tablet manufacturers to boost volume and thereby reduce cost, without any single one of them achieving that volume alone. Traditionally, volume is how manufacturing costs go down. No reason to believe that won't be the case with Android tablets, too.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Melissa J. Perenson

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?