How did Google and Asus manage to deliver a $199 Tegra 3 tablet like the Nexus 7? According to Nvidia Tegra boss Mike Rayfield, it's part of a concerted effort to drive down the cost of components. Nvidia's Kai program, which we revealed a few months ago, isn't just about using cheaper DDR3L memory and putting more technologies in the chip: Together with Asus and other device manufacturers, Nvidia is actively negotiating with suppliers to make $199 tablets far more common. "We went to all of our component manufacturers and said, 'we want to build this reference platform, we want to give people a good deal,'" and combined with what Rayfield characterized as a degradation in component prices over the past year, a number of companies have managed to achieve the magic $200 target.
Rayfield confirmed that the Acer Iconia Tab A110 is also a Kai device, as well as a kid-friendly tablet called the Nabi 2, but interestingly enough, not all Kai devices will take advantage of Nvidia's proprietary tablet technologies. Nvidia told us that the Nexus 7, in fact, uses Nvidia's Prism to extend battery life by reducing the screen's brightness while pumping up color to compensate, but not Nvidia's DirectTouch, which offloads touchscreen data to the Tegra 3 processor. It does use DDR3L RAM, though.
So, what's the performance difference between a $200 Kai tablet like the Nexus 7 and a $500 device like Asus' Transformer Prime? We'll soon test for ourselves, but it's negligible according to Nvidia. The Nexus 7 has a smaller screen and smaller battery, but it's the same Tegra 3 chip, except that it's clocked at 1.3GHz in single-core mode and 1.2GHz in multi-core mode, 100MHz slower than the Transformer Prime's CPU. We watched it play Bladeslinger (picture above; video below) and it certainly seemed to push enough pixels quickly enough to provide good-looking gameplay at the $200 price point.
When will we see more Kai tablets? Rayfield couldn't say, but told us that the company is "running hard" to ensure that more get built, and hopes that economies of scale will further lower the per-unit price of the components that go in them as more manufacturers jump on board. How many Kai tablets should we expect? "A lot."