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What Can Tablets Replace?

August 31, 2010 Leave a comment

On the 3rd of September 2010, the IFA and gadget enthusiasts around the world converge on Berlin. This year the focus is expected to be on 3D, tablets and… 3D tablets. Over the next few days the media will be awash with proclamations of “iPad Killer” tablets, tablets “killing” the netbook or laptop categories, tablets have become “the number one Christmas wishlist item!” and so on. Before the mayhem starts and our minds and credit cards are whisked away by thoughts of big, shiny, touch screen devices, we should pause and ask a question: what can a tablet replace?

It might seem unfair to raise this question now, when we are still unaware of the specifications for devices still to be announced, but we can still conduct some analysis if we approach the question from the other side. In order to achieve this, we must ask a different question: what is wrong with our current options?

Portable Media Players

Pros – Small, portable. Good audio playback. Large memory storage and/or memory expansion.

Cons – Screens are too small. Dependent on a PC/MAC/Laptop to load media. Poor browsing experience. Poor apps store (for Android PMPs such as the Archos 5).

PNDs (Personal Navigation Devices)

Pros – Very good GPS antennas. Large screens. Simple menu layouts. Easy to use.

Cons – Single use device. Large and bulky.

E-Readers

Pros – Light, very portable (depending on the model). E-ink displays allow comfortable reading in any area with light, and also give the devices fantastic battery life.  If you are travelling, its easy to add new content without weighing down the luggage.

Cons – Single function device. A laptop or tablet is still needed for media consumption, browsing and word processing.

Netbooks

Pros – Light, portable way to carry almost full office productivity on the go. Keyboard. Can be used to for media consumption, browsing and e-book reading. Front facing camera for Skype/Google calls. Email.

Cons – No built in disc drive. Fragile under basic load conditions (when compared to a laptop). Uncomfortable for e-book reading. Display is poor under sunlight.

iPad

Pros – Portable. Full media consumption (via iTunes). Good email and browsing experience. Can load games from the iPhone. Every major e-book store available. Thousands of applications available to “mould” the iPad as you would like it via the Apps Store. Very long battery life. GPS (3G model).

Cons – Heavy and not practical for one-handed use. Must be propped up for extended use. Uncomfortable for typing. Very long charging time. No camera for Skype/Google calls. No full office experience. Not entirely desktop independent. Very expensive. The applications that bring the most productivity are purchase only. No multi-tasking. No flash support.

Laptops

Pros – Portable. Complete media consumption including optical discs. Full office experience. Great multi-tasking. Full keyboard. Camera for Skype/Google calls. Can be used for e-book reading, browsing & email.

Cons – Large, heavy and bulky. Poor for e-reading. Poor battery life.

Now that we have identified the problems, lets consider the solutions.

Archos has done an admirable job trying to combine the first two devices with their Archos 5 Internet Tablets. This has not been a success of course but they were moving in the right direction. Almost every tablet announced since the Archos 5 has included GPS. The ideal device at this screen size would combine a portable media player, e-book reader and navigation applications. This type of device should be the natural progression for the PND industry, as they attempt to stay relevant in a world filled with GPS enabled mobile phones and tablets. Imagine a device such as the Cowon v5, a 5″ display but with Android 2.2 or 3.0 and Navigon’s Navigator application pre-installed.  Such a device could redefine the “high-end” PND market.

Moving forward to displays of 7″+,  issues with e-book readers, the iPad and netbooks can be resolved. The problems are resolved by building a scalable device, a tablet that can be enhanced with accessories. The OS is also scalable, enhancing the ability of the device to adapt to the users needs. Due to its availability, market support, developer support and cost, Android is the only real choice for a scalable solution. The tablet would launch with separately sold accessories such as Bluetooth keyboards and docking stations, that add to its ability to being a viable laptop alternative. To fully replace the e-book reader it would be necessary to use a Pixel Qi type display, but for most readers the ability of this tablet to work not only as a colour e-book reader but as a netbook replacement (with or without the keyboard) would be enough at the right price.

As the IFA event approaches, we should remember that most Android tablets are only scaled down netbooks. They offer almost the same basic functionality (browsing, basic word processing, email, webcam for Skype), with the key difference being that a tablet is slightly more portable and is faster to use as a “quick grab” device due to the OS (netbook manufacturers installed Android on some of their products for this very reason). What is desired by the masses is not a tablet but a netbook, running Android, with a detachable touch screen display. While you are glued to your favourite blog over the next week, it might be worth taking a note of how much extra netbook manufacturers like Samsung, Asus and Acer believe you’re willing to pay for the ability to leave the keyboard at home.

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