2010 is shaping up to be the year of the tablet. And by tablets, I generally mean 5 to 10 inch computers with touchscreen displays and no keyboard. Some run Windows. Others run Google’s Android operating system or custom Linux distributions. And the elephant in the room is the upcoming iPad which will run a version of the iPhone operating system.
But I don’t mean to imply that 2010 will be the year of the tablets the way 2009 was the year of the netbook. Because that would imply that this is going to be a hugely popular product category and that sales will be through the roof. We don’t know if that’s going to happen yet. The truth is, there aren’t very many tablets available for purchase at the moment. Many won’t be out until mid-year. And it’s not at all certain what people are looking for in a tablet — or if they’re even looking for devices in between a smartphone and netbook/notebook at all.
What I do mean is that dozens, if not hundreds of companies are busy pumping to new products to compete in this space. There’s a huge variety of tablet-style products making the rounds at trade shows and other events. It’s not clear how many will see the light of day, but here’s a roundup of a few new tablet-style devices I’ve spotted in the last few days:
Huawei SmaKit S7 Android tablet
This 7 inch touchscreen device showed up at Mobile World Congress recently, where Charbax from Armdevices.net got a chance to check it out. You can watch his video overview after the break, but the hardware looks pretty decent, and the Android operating system has been skinned and customized to give you access to several different home screens for entertainment,web, communications, and so forth.
The tablet can handle 720p HD video playback on its 800 x 480 pixel display or on an external display with an HDMI output. It has integrated 3G capabilities allowing it to function as a phone, and you can use a Bluetooth headset with it. You should also be able to access the Android Market to download and install pretty much any Android app. It’s currently running Android 1.6, but a version with Android 2.1 should be available later.
There’s also a docking station for connecting external devices through USB and audio/video ports.The SmaKit S7 should be available toward the middle of the year… somewhere.
Video after the break, as well as details on two other new tablets.
Digitalris X9 Windows tablet
This 9 inch tablet also features WiFi and 3G capabilities. It also adds GPS and Windows 7 to the mix. It features a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270, 2GB of RAM, and a 160GB hard drive and has a multitouch display.
ChinaGrabber is selling the X9 selling for $789.99, although I suspect it might actually be a bit cheaper if you’re in China and can pick it up without exporting it overseas first. The site also provided a short hands-on video showing the tablet
Here’s a little hands-on-video, courtesy of ChinaGrabber.
Mastone Prowave Android Tablet
The folks at Slashgear spotted this Android-powered tablet from Mastone at Mobile World Congress last week. It’s powered by a Freescale iMX515 processor and features 3G and WiFi wireless networking.
Like Huawei, Mastone has customized the Android user interface by adding a few widgets and applications. There’s no word on pricing or availability for this model.
Totally unscientific poll:
We were having our once a month Friday working lunch (extra 45mins and free wine…. were in a french province, no social stigma involved) in the IT dept. My friend asked a few questions to gauge response on a few things we are working on and he added at the end asking who is thinking about buying a pad, i or other.
28 computer geeks and 2 only said yes. (3 people either had or still have a tablet style laptop so its really 25 people.)
One of the two yes votes says its gonna be perfect for the toilet while the other will only get one as part of a Lenovo U-1 combo, either laptop/tablet or netbook/tablet.
When people saw the U-1 demo online (the Rev3 with Louderback), another 5 said they would probably get something like that.
But the tabket idea… not so much.
10 people in the room have Iphones, btw.
Bottom line, the result of this little office poll shows 1 out of 25 are interested in a tablet while 6 want a U-1 type hybrid.
While this has no corrolation to the real world, I have yet to find a tech savvy friend/coworker that is enthused by the idea of tablets.
Im not counting Mac fanbois who would buy a coffin with a fruit logo on it.
I remember in the summer of 2008 when the 9 inch netbooks were all the rage at the Taiwan computer show in June and how many people said they would be interested in a sub-300$ netbook (back in the days when SSD was the thing).
Apart from the self serving tech blogs, I havent heard too many people express their desire for tablets.
This is getting closer… I’ve decided that I don’t want a smart phone so much any more. What I want is a device that can also be an ebook reader, display movies, navigate the internet, and play my music, is light and can use a bluetooth handset to make calls. I need the device to have a larger screen than is available on the typical smart phone. I don’t necessarily need the screen to be large however. On a netbook screen size also defines the real estate available for the keyboard, making 10″ devices pretty much the smallest I can use since anything smaller is to cramped to touch type on… I’m not looking for a computer replacement with the device I’ve described above, and I’m willing to have relatively limited content creation abilities, so touch screen entry is fine.
What I’m trying to find is something that lets me ditch all the devices in my pockets and replace them with something that does everything fairly well. I don’t want the cost of a voice calling plan, the concept is beginning to seem increasingly idiotic. Why would I want to pay a carrier for the right to have minutes of voice time? What I want is all I can eat data, screw voice time, I’ll use VOIP for that. If I can get the data plan for around $30 a month I’ve just cut out a very large cost to modern living right there… If no one else can get that kind of deal then I guess I’m being drive to a iPad because the reduced cost of ownership and the form factor are ideal for what I need out of a device in this category… I just don’t want to trade my carrier’s (Sprint) walled garden for Apples… I’d also really prefer a Tegra 2 system with the Pixel Qi display, which means an iInk Adam this second… If they can get the data plan right.
In the end I think tablets are going to shake up the smart phone market. People keep thinking that they’re going to disrupt the netbook market… And they will. People who aren’t interested in content creation via the keyboard won’t by netbooks, anyone who is interested in that (and this includes just doing email efficiently) will keep buying netbooks and laptops. But what does a smart phone really bring to the table that 5″ tablet doesn’t? An archaic voice plan?
I couldn’t disagree more. People who want an ebook reader will buy an ebook reader. People use cell phones. A smartphone is a phone on steroids. A tablet is something but doesn’t replace anything fully. It’s a half assed gadget. Think about it’s use. Are you going to put it into your pocket like a smartphone? No. Are you going to type with it? No. Are you going to use it over your home PC or laptop? No. You’ve bought into this tablet hype. You don’t need 2 touchscreen devices for portable computing needs do you? You would take a smartphone because it can do what the tablets can do. The tablets don’t have a keyboard and either does a tablet. So, aren’t we right back at the beginning? Just because manufacturers are pumping these out doesn’t mean they are this great saviour. It’s called filling up your warehouse before you even know that people want the item you’re stuffing into your warehouse. Does Apple has this much influence over common sense? It seems that way.
Think about all the devices it could replace. And yes I could put a 5″ tablet in my pocket. As it is now, I’m carrying around an old iPod, a cell phone, an ebook reader, and occasionally a laptop.
I would contend that as a convergance device a smart phone is actually more half assed. It only makes sense in the current context we’re used to thinking of them in, which is as PHONES. A smart phone isn’t really a phone any more, it’s a mini tablet that a carrier has bolted onto a phone, so that you get locked into paying for a service plan with them, which usually works out to just about $100 a month… Which means that the functional cost of a cellphone is really quite high.
I’d be willing to pay more for a more capable device. One in which I actually have some of the specifications on how it works (try getting the exact processor, ram, application storage specifications for a phone as it’s coming out), and ‘dumb’ data plan, which allows me to VoIP.
Once we move out of the 3.8″ screen size and up to the 5″ size in the modern parlance we’re talking MIDs/Tablets, or ‘smart phones on steroids’ to quote most of the technical journalists I’ve been reading. I personally see quite a bit of use for a even larger device, in the 7″ – 10″ range, just for the larger resolution screen. I’m already carrying around a bag everywhere I go that has most of my devices in it. My wife calls it my murse. Carrying around a capable tablet, which allows me to ditch all my purpose built devices, and their chargers, and all the overhead that goes with keeping them synched and paid for, would make my life quite a bit easier.
What does an e-book reader really do better than a tablet? What does a cell phone do that you couldn’t conceivably do with a tablet, a BT headset, and a high speed 3g or preferably a 4g device? Today that’s going to be hard because the market hasn’t had a chance to mature, but project a few years in the future once it has… Netbooks have generally consolidated on a screen size, level of performance, etc, and there’s no reason to assume tablets won’t as well.
These devices smack me as being game changers, that can fundamentally change markets much like netbooks tumbled the laptop market to a great extent. All I think that we as consumers need to do is break out a little and stop thinking like good little consumers who love the walled garden and focus more on what the tech makes possible.
I’m curious if anyone else agrees.
I think you overlook the “netbook” which in fact does all the things that you mention. Tablets are being forced onto the public whereas the netbook was bred from a consumer need. The only thing in reality that a netbook can’t do is make phone calls like a phone. So, you could still have your cell phone and take along a netbook and have all that you need. No the netbook won’t fit in your pocket, but either will all these tablets that are being rushed into the market. In reality I can’t think of many things that a netbook cannot do. I don’t think you can suggest that a tablet can do task better or faster than a netbook. Let’s do an email typing speed test shall we? Personally if you take out a device it should be able to do everything so that it can make your life more productive. If you can’t type with it, I can’t see the usefulness. If you can’t type on a real keyboard, then it better be as small as a smartphone.
I enjoyed reading your well thought out points though.
I have a specific use case in mind. I spend a LOT of time on public transit. I commute via the bus to work and school. I also spend at least one weekend a month flying somewhere on business. A plane works for laptops, the bus in my experience doesn’t so much.
I’ve tried a number of devices, the screens are either mirrors, or so washed out as to be useless even in partial shade. I’ve tried smart phones, netbooks, matte screen laptops, they all fail the screen test in one way or another. I think the Pixel Qi screen from everything I’ve seen would fix that, and I’m hoping to be able to get a netbook with one, or get a replacement screen and attach it to my Asus 1005HA. That would rock, but it’s only part of the problem.
On the bus, it’s almost impossible to write, but I have a lot of stuff I need to read. Using a netbook is a pain here too. The keyboard gets in the way when you’re not using it. The hinged design makes it harder to hold in one hand. If I had a fold down over the screen like a tablet style netbook that might not be as much of an issue, although weight definitely would be. A touch screen would also be REALLY handy, because using a trackpad, especially one as small as the one on my netbook while it’s bouncing around in my lap is less than ideal.
So, of all the devices I’ve been trying to play with so far, and make work in this usage case, the closest have actually smart phones. That said, what I’ve found pretty universally is that they suck at both being a tablet, and being a phone. The screen is too small to read comfortably even if you do hold them in shade so you can read the screens. The battery on every single one I’ve tried dies FAR too quickly. And honesty the small size actually makes them uncomfortable to hold over a long period of time. It’s always in my hand, I find it hard to prop up like I do a hardback book, which I think is why I’m having that problem. Lastly, every time I try to talk on the stupid phone I have to press the screen up to my face, and it just gets covered with oil. The only way to avoid this is with a BT headset… And for all of this I get to pay about $100 a month. And really I want the data plan more than I want the call minutes, I just don’t talk to too many people any more. Verizon just broke down and allowed skype on their phones. I use Google Voice on my wife’s Pre all the time to take calls… So increasingly I’m asking myself why am I paying for minutes when the data plan is all I want and really need.
And once I leave the concept of having a cell phone behind, and start looking for a good portable internet device that allows for easy passive consumption of media, not so much content creation, but good consumption… These devices start making a lot of sense.
Maybe it’s just me. I know my current needs are pretty specific. The other guys in my IT group mostly think like you do (they also ask me why I bought a netbook instead of a ‘real’ laptop). That said, I can keep my netbook on me for those times when I need to write code on the go, or just write an email, and get a tablet instead of an ebook reader and still be carrying less weight than I am now. I think that’s a no brainer. I’m pretty sure I can also get the tablet to replace my cell phone, especially over time, although probably not at once. If I can do that then I think I’ve totally won, and throughly justified my expense, otherwise in my mind I’m just ahead. Maybe I’m alone in this though.
If you don’t use your netbook for typing, a tablet is probably a good replacement for it however. They combine some of the advantages of a smartphone (low weight, touch interface) with some of the advantage of a netbook (fairly large screen, decent video playback).
I could probably do about 80% of what I do with my netbook with my smartphone if it had a larger screen, and I can probably do the remaining 20% on my full size laptop anyway.
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