You could be forgiven for overlooking the Ainovo Novo7, a 7-inch Chinese Android tablet, as likely just another me-too device to be sold in electronics districts next to fake iPhones and bulk cables. And in a way, that’s what it is: at $100, it can’t possibly be as well-built as the iPad or newer Galaxy Tabs, and the size and design aren’t going to impress anyone. But it’s got two things going for it: Ice Cream Sandwich and MIPS.
Naturally to many people neither of those terms signify much of anything. Most people only care whether it runs Netflix and Angry Birds. But both these features point at an interesting breakage between the China and US markets, one that will only widen with time.
First, there is Ice Cream Sandwich, with which our readers are probably already familiar. With a number of new features, performance improvements, and so on, it’s the next generation of Android and the hope is that it will help to unify the disparate platforms stuck at this or that previous version. It’s making its debut on the Galaxy Nexus, which is shipping as I write this. Yet it made its real debut in China on a clone device last week, and now it’s on another, perhaps more interesting one.
There will be a flood of ICS devices soon, sure, but it’s really indicative of how totally disconnected the Chinese and US markets are, to say nothing of the European, Australian, Indian, Korean, and so on. It’s humorous that while the immense machinery of the US marketing machine is warming up, preparing to ship, and running prime-time ads, there are devices available for purchase outright for a few bills on the street in China. And these aren’t pirate devices: the Novo7 is the real thing, with access to Google services, though Market access is restricted in China. Andy Rubin even praised the device as a “big win.”
Part of why Rubin called out the device was its MIPS architecture. Without getting too technical, suffice it to say that MIPS is an alternative to x86 (which we find on our computers) and ARM (which we find in our phones and tablets) architectures. Why should that matter? Because China wants it to matter.
Back in March we heard about China’s Loongson processor series, which is totally homegrown in an effort to avoid reliance on western-owned technologies. The Loongsons use a MIPS architecture as well, and it’s likely that China’s government is heavily subsidizing this research and companies that produce MIPS chips in order to further cut the cords that tie China to the west. Indeed, Ingenic, the manufacturer of the chip inside the Novo7, is Chinese (not a big surprise) and specializes in MIPS architecture.
These China-specific devices are going to be more difficult to internationalize, but cheaper to produce and sell locally. It’s sort of protectionism via R&D. This is only the beginning, though, as MIPS architecture is still a ways behind ARM and Intel in efficiency and speed. But seeing a tablet like this really does drive home the differences between our countries which may shape the consumer electronics trade for decades to come.