Attack of the Tablets


There isn’t a single week in the last few months when there is no news related to tablet PCs. Till last year, any news on new tablet PCs was responded with loud *yawn*. But now, even the tininest of news on tablet PCs is exciting. Let’s take a look at why this landscape shift happened.

The Past:

TabletPC was popularly seen as convertible laptop where the display of a laptop rested on a swivel hinge. The display can be rotated and slammed onto the base and used like a notepad/tablet. But there is a problem with this type of implementation. These devices are still bulky and hard to hold in one hand, lacked ease of use due to the dependency on stylus. And the OS used to be regular desktop OS with slight improvements. In the end, neither the hardware nor the software was not optimized for touch. To make it easy, let me compare a HP tablet PC with ipad.

HP-TouchSmart-tm2t-Multi-touch-Tablet-PC

HP Touchsmart tm2t is one of the latest convertible tablet and it weights 1.9kgs. ipad on the other hand weighs 0.68kg. While tm2t was 1.18” thick, ipad is .5” thick. Though tm3t tablet comes with capacitive touch display, the UI is not so well optimized for touch, expect for few HP’s Touchsmart apps. This is similar to Symbian S60v5 on 5800XM. These operating systems were designed with keyboards and mouse in mind and what you get for touch input is very limited when compared to tablets like ipad or Galaxy Tab. As a result, the tablet PC industry never picked up and was largely ignored by end-users.

Lenovo, on the other hand came up with interesting design but again, the UI was a flop. Lenovo IdeaPad U1 looks like a normal laptop but instead of using a swivel hinge, this laptop had detachable display unit. Interesting part here is that the display unit has snapdragon processor and Skylight OS that can do basic tasks like browsing, music, pictures. In this case, the concept was good but UI was too limited and the touch response was just average. The end result is that people ignored this concept like every other tablet PC.

lenovo-ideapad-u1-hybrid

One aspect which most of the software and hardware companies ignored is User Interface. And it was Apple again that showed the way forward for tablets. Instead of slapping an OS that is meant for notebooks/desktops on to ipad, they used the UI that is designed for touch displays (iOS). Though initially people (including me) said that this is a bad move, in the end, it worked better than earlier implementations of a full fledged OS.

The Present:

The release of iPad generated lot of renewed interesting among companies. The reason is that with iPad like devices, the whole ecosystem evolves at a rapid pace. Buyers look at the device as a premium living room device, hence pay a premium price. It doesn’t stop here. Users start buying applications designed for these tablets, pay for subscription music and movie services, buy content like music and movies and eBooks. And the more they spend on content, the tighter they are bound to the ecosystem. And by implementing OS wide advertising, there is lot of revenue that can be generated.

So, let’s take a look at the few tablets that have created lot of buzz in the industry.

iPad

ipad

When it comes to designing mobile devices, Apple has been ahead of competition and they got it right with their very first try. Apple, instead of designing a tablet that can replace laptop as desktop, designed ipad to be a living room device that sits between a desktop and laptop. It’s a fun device, not a workhorse and you cannot use it as the only computing device unless all you need is multimedia device with internet connectivity. The gamble to use iOS instead of OS X on ipad paid off brilliantly. While all the earlier tablets were having notebook hardware, Apple went in a different direction. A4 chip (based on ARM’s architecture), flash drive, wi-fi/3G, multi-touch, 10hr battery life, half an inch thick. These are the design elements that are seen in smartphones. In short, ipad is ipod Touch with bigger display and 3G connectivity(optional).

Cisco Cius:

Since the rise of iPad, many companies have started to look to Android for challenging iPad/iOS. Cisco took the same path but their implementation of Android tablet is purely business centric. This is how it looks like:

cisco-cius-android-tablet-1

Confused, right?

In Cisco’s words,  “Cisco Cius is an ultra-portable, mobile collaboration business tablet that offers access to essential business applications and technologies”. This device actually comes in two parts.

Cisco Cius lift[3]

  • Base station which acts like a desk phone and has USB and Bluetooth connectivity to take external keyboard and mouse. Acts like a base for the tablet for video conferencing and telephonic activities.
  • Detachable tablet with 7” TFT touch display, 802.11b/g/n, 3G, 720p video through Cisco Telepresence conferencing, virtual desktop client and runs Android operating system with access to marketplace applications. Good thing is that this unit weight just half a KG making it one of the lightest tablets. It comes with 32Gb of flash memory and is powered by Atom processor.

Cius also support applications like WebEx, Cisco AnyConnect VPN Client, Unified Communication. There is not much known about this device. If you can to know more about this device, you can check the following pages:

Samsung Galaxy Tab:

SGT

This arguably is the most talked about tablet right now. There were few Android tablets that were released earlier like Archos 10 but they never got the media/public attention. The Samsung Galaxy smartphone lineup has been a hit among consumers and when Samsung announced Galaxy Tab, it got immediate media attention. And why not. The device is sleek and has functionality that can envy Apple loyalists. While the size of the device makes it easier to carry around, features like GSM, 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, EDGE makes the device rich in connectivity.  Unlike iPad, one can download content like movies and music to this device and enjoy playback on-the-fly.  7″ capacitive touch display, 16/32GB internal memory and option to increase storage using micro SD, front and rear cameras, powerful Cortex A8 based processor, DivX,FullHD . There is no doubt that this tablet is one of the most feature rich tablets. Had it come with a bigger display (10″ at least), it would’ve been perfect replacement for those low-end laptops. The only concern is how good Android 2.2 is for tablet style usage. Google made is clear that the OS is not meant for tablets yet. The future looks really good for this tablet now, given that the only competition will be iPad.

Blackberry PlayBook:

blackberry playbook

Playbook is a tablet to be released in 2011 by RIM. A surprise announcement that happened in last week of September, this tablet runs new Blackberry Tablet OS, which is based on popular QNX operating system. Specification is very similar to what Galaxy Tab has. 7” multi-touch display, front and rear camera, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, true multi tasking HDMI. The most interesting h/w is the dual core Cortex A9 processor, capable of high of processing power. Coupled with true Unix OS, this device is capable to go head-on against iPad and Galaxy Tab and with right amount of marketing, can take sizeable market share. Not to forget that this device has out-of-the-box compatibility with Blackberry Enterprise Server, making it a favorite tablet for those who rely on Blackberry smartphones for on-the-go computing.

Notion Ink Adam:

adam-from-notion

This could be the tablet that could open doors for ‘Made in India’ gadgets. Designed by a startup company “Notion Ink’, the sleek and sexy looking Adam tablet is unique in it’s own way. A 10.1” Pixel Qi transflective display gives near e-ink like reading experience and in normal mode, it acts like an LCD display. Thanks to Tegra 2 processing unit, this device is capable of delivering 1080p connect to HDTV via HDMI. After many delays, the tablet can be expected to enter the market early 2011. Another interesting design is use of 180 degree swivel camera  instead of having two camera. Thanks to this design, video conferencing and chat can be done using high resolution camera instead of 1.3mp or VGA camera that is used in other tablets. Other interesting features include track pad, sleek design, USB port, 3G, micro SD slot.

The Future:

  • Netbooks: The effect of iPad is already seen on netbooks. The inflow of these tablets will have even bigger impact on netbook sales, eventually taking them out of market. Reason is that though these devices are limited in functionality, they are evolving very fast and by end of 2011, should have full functionality that netbooks have and will be far more powerful and efficient than netbooks. There would be no effect on laptop and desktop market though as the difference in functionality between tablets and laptops is very high.
  • eBook reader: More number of tablets with Pixel Qi like displays will also effect sales of eBook readers as people won’t need to buy a device just for the sake of reading books.
  • Publishing industry/print media: With leading publishers like WSJ and NYT embracing digital distribution lines recently,  tablets are set to be the de-facto medium for publishing industry. Gone will be the days when you have to wait for the newspaper delivery in the morning. all you will need to do is open the respective news application and enjoy interactive news reading with links to live/recorded video/audio.
  • Streaming Media: Most of the tablets coming out now have powerful hardware that can play 1080p videos on big screen TVs with ease. With internet speeds getting better and better, one can stream FullHD movies and TV shows to HDTV using tablets.
  • Classroom: This would be a huge relief to those kids who stuff so much into their school bags that it can be used for weightlifting. Gone will be those days. Instead of carrying a dozen textbooks and dozen notebooks, students can carry a single tablet filled with eBooks, making it a perfect eLearning companion

With the desktop market shrinking every year and laptop market crowded with big brands like Dell, HP, Toshiba, many brands had no other option but to search for new product lines. Best example here would be Samsung. Their laptop and netbook line never picked up due to the heavy competition from companies like Acer, Dell, HP, ASUS. Now, their Galaxy Tab is one of the early entrants in to the tabletPC market which is showing lot of promise. The only competition that they will have is from Apple till companies like Blackberry, Dell jump in. And by then, Samsung will have large market share, which they can keep by innovating new products.  The future looks bright for Tablets and only time will tell who will rule this new market.

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