Thursday, November 25, 2010

What Was NEC Thinking?

It’s not every week that I have two tablets I can point at and say “that’s how not to do it” but after Monday’s post about the Toshiba Folio 100, I have another device I want to point out that just plain gets it wrong.

And while Toshiba at least had good intentions with their Folio design, NEC has completely missed the boat when it comes to their newest tablet entry – the LifeTouch. The device, which on paper doesn’t sound bad with Android, 3G, USB, SD Card reader, and 3 megapixel camera, all running on an ARM Cortex, is just a bit clunky if you ask me.

Here’s the problem. As you can see from the image above, not only does the LifeTouch eschew the increasingly standard silvers and blacks of modern tablets for a bright, glossy white, it is loaded with clunky buttons, a whole lot of extra material and a 7 inch touch screen that looks smaller than it ought to.

Just after receiving news that in the US alone, Samsung has sold 600,000 Galaxy Tabs, we now know that there is a huge market for Android tablets, but devices like this aren’t designed to capture that audience.

To be fair, it’s not like no other devices look like the LifeTouch. Only three years ago, many devices still sported buttons and had thick, heavy bodies for carrying. The difference is that back then touch screens simply lacked the responsiveness and flexibility they have today. And Windows on tablets was still being done with modified XP installations – it wasn’t nearly optimized for touch screen yet, so you needed buttons.

But, today’s devices are sleeker and more efficient than ever. Touch screen has moved forward at rapid speed and Windows is now a hot commodity for enterprise tablets (which is the market the LifeTouch is aiming for). And, this isn’t even a Windows device. It’s Android which means it was built for touch screens – definitely no reason for buttons.

In the end it all comes back to one question – what exactly was NEC thinking? Not only will this device launch at the tail end of the biggest year for tablet computers ever to date, but it will be immediately hobbled by questionable design, an older version of Android (2.1), and no clear market.

The last two years has been an amazing time for anyone who follows tablet computing. The speed with which the market has moved forward still astounds me and the new technology and sleekness of some devices being announced is downright impressive, but every now and then someone gets it wrong. It’s not to say a future device from NEC won’t adopt a sleeker design and a more intuitive layout, but for now we’re getting one more lesson in how not to build a tablet in 2010.

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