UI makers could be the winners in new portable designs

El Segundo, Calif. — Thanks to the user-interface (UI) design of Apple Inc.’s iPad and its competitors, component makers focused on improving the interaction between humans and interfaces are expected to get a boost to their bottom lines, reports iSuppli Corp.

But it also means a new competitive dynamic in the electronics supply chain whereby some companies will supply and control the value of the UI and others will become commoditized in the never-ending quest to drive down prices, said iSuppli.

“Display companies could shift their R&D priorities to develop touch and UI intelligence into their products, grabbing value from other UI components and protecting them from being commoditized. Intellectual property-savvy semiconductor suppliers could do the same. During the next five years this will become one of the most important battlegrounds in the electronics value chain,” said Derek Lidow, president and chief executive officer at iSuppli, in a statement.

Lidow explains: “Electronic products have always been designed the same way, with a motherboard-oriented approach starting with the circuits and semiconductors on a central printed-circuit-board (PCB) and then wrapping UI-focused elements like the keyboard and display around it.”

But this is not the case for the iPad, said Lidow. “Rather, it is designed with the UI as the starting point: Apple started by designing the screen, the touch pad and the battery, and lastly focused on the semiconductors and where to put them. This design is what gives the product a unique feel and functionality.”

iSuppli projects that shipments of Apple’s iPad will reach 20.1 million in 2012, up from 7.1 million in 2010. However, the influence of the iPad is expected to extend beyond Apple. Other companies offering competitive products include Google Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Microsoft Corp.


Lidow says the clear beneficiaries of the UI-centric design philosophy are the suppliers of the display, touch screen assembly and related electronics.

While the battery is not usually considered part of the UI, in the iPad it plays a critical role in supporting the user experience, said Lidow.

“The weakest link in the iPhone is the battery life,” said Andrew Rassweiler, director and principal analyst, teardown services manager, for iSuppli, in a statement. “With the iPad, Apple has rethought design priorities to ensure long battery life and serviceability. The bulk of the iPad is designed to accommodate the battery pack, which was also designed to be easily removed and replaced, although not by consumers.”

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