19 January 2010

my ideal tablet

If rumors are true, Apple will be releasing the details of the next great “consumer tablet”.  Speculation has whipped up into a frenzy and has a lot of people wishing and hoping.  Needless to say, I’ll be very surprised and delighted if they actually build something that I’m willing to wait in line to purchase.

If someone does come out with a tablet, here’s my simple wish list:

  • Entertain when I have a few minutes between other activities
  • Inform of what is going on in the world around me (news, blogs and my social network)
  • Be easy to hold, read and interact with, in a wide variety of posture
  • Small and light enough to transport with my other things
  • Real world battery life of over 8 hours
  • Does not incur any reoccurring or additional charges (e.g. no subscription, no fees for content, etc.)
  • World class user interface that allows me to simply and elegantly interact with the device

There’s a lot of ways this can be accomplished, but the devil is in the details for actually making something that is usable, useful and needed.  I’ve had some conversations with ODMs who can definitely produce the hardware, but lack the vision for putting together a comprehensive hardware, software and content ecosystem for a total device solution.  Apple is uniquely positioned to do so, but will they?  If not, here's hoping that someone will soon!

14 January 2010

CES and Tablets

Last week was the annual trek to Las Vegas where everyone is vying for the spotlight with their latest gadgets and technologies.  As I reflect on what I’ve seen at the show, it was clear that on the show floor, there really weren’t any break out products or new technology that was dramatically different.  It’s true that Intel and LG did have a tiny PC-phone running a Moorestown processor, but honestly that’s something that isn’t ready for primetime nor is it really all that interesting, yet.

Plastic Logic did have their e-reader QUE on display and while the technology behind the display and physical device is impressive, the end application wasn't all that impressive.  The basic concept has been around for at least 10 years -- A Xerox company, Uppercase, created a very similar device “eCase”.  All of a user’s documents were printed to this portable device where they could be marked up with a pen and synched back to the PC.  For eCase, the target market was executives who were not big on email and thus would have all of their email and other documents printed to this portable device where they could ink their reply and their secretaries would then respond appropriately.  This was primarily born out of the costs of such a device at the time (> $1500) and from an understanding of Xerox’s executive culture.  So what has changed since then?  The overall weight of the device is significantly less, greater connectivity options (3G), longer battery life, new screen technologies, a bunch of 3rd party content providers and a wider breadth of marketing for the device (e.g. business users rather than executives).  The device is still going to be rather pricey and black & white only.  All of that said, I think that there is a huge potential upside for devices like the QUE, but the value proposition to the user still requires a lot of work.  Other than a bunch of early adopters, I don’t know too many people who are going to pay $649 and up for this particular device.

The buzz about the show, more from the online community and private showings was about Tablets or Slates as they now seem to be called.  Slate, eWeek and JK on the Run had great articles about the overall situation.  Many of them appeared to be rushed for CES as a hedge against whatever Apple might be cooking up, from the $117, 5” tablets from Chinese companies that few have ever heard of before to the behind the doors presentations from Dell, none of the devices were all that compelling.  That is to say, from my perspective as a founder of the Tablet PC at Microsoft, what I saw was stock solutions with narrowly focused UIs that don’t take into account the purpose, functionality or potentially unique aspects of what a Slate can become.  What manufacturers and OEMs are missing is a rich targeted experience.  If you want to make a great slate, customize it around a particular set of content and functionality!  And then do your homework and make sure that the solution you’re providing really is something that is needed, useful and usable.

05 January 2010

Courier tablet to be revealed at CES?

The New York Times is indicating that Microsoft and HP are going to be presenting a new consumer tablet at CES.  This could be the rumored Courier tablet or it could be some other slate type device that is more geared for consumers.  HP has been experimenting with touch screen based computers for the last couple of years in addition to being one of the earlier OEMs releasing a Tablet PC.  However the rumors are now going that this multi-screen Tablet is going to be launched in order to take some of the pizzazz away from Apple and their tablet.  Only have to wait until tomorrow to find out - and if the rumors are true, I'll definitely be trying to get a look while I'm at CES.

Update:  Seems that many sources say that the New York Times didn't get its facts straight and thus, Microsoft won't be announcing a tablet, only 7 hours now to SteveB's keynote.

Update 2:  Nothing to see here.  SteveB just showed off a new Tablet from HP, that has a touch input display and not the fabled or rumored Courier device, just good old Windows 7 with HP's Touch interface shell.

CES bound

This week is the biggest consumer electronics conference in the US – CES.  Many of the companies have already started their PR wars with the news release and leaks of their new products.  While I’m sure there will be some surprise products in the mix, that will be introduced in the next few days, there are 3 particular products that have caught my interest and I’ll be spending some time investigating.

Marvell’s Plug Computer

While not mobile technology in the normal sense of the word, this is an interesting device since you basically attach it right to a plug in your home / office and you now have a network capable device.  Obviously you need to connect to it in some fashion or another since it’s really a “headless” computer (e.g. no monitor or keyboard), but for those users who spend a large portion of time on the road and use a laptop as their main computer, this could be invaluable as a mini-home server providing access to content at home rather than having a larger standard PC for this activity.

Lenovo’s Skylight One Pager
This is a Snapdragon based Smartbook.  It’s superlight, thin and supposedly has an all day battery.  I’ve had some thought in a previous posts about Smartbooks, but what is different about this one is the widget interface and that there is supposedly built-in content stores for movies and media.  If the execution on this is as good as it looks initially, this could be a surprise winner once the initial pricing goes down.

Freescale Tablets
This is really a Smartbook with or without the keyboard, but here Freescale is promising significantly lower costs for the devices.  However Freescale doesn’t seem to be providing any content integration stories, so I will be looking for those ODMs/OEMs who are looking to take these to market.  I’m positive there will be quite a few at CES, the question is whether any make the leap to provide real value-add to the device.

I’ll be at the show Friday – Sunday, so if you have something you think I should see or want to chat, feel free to send me an email evan (at) efeldman (dot) com.