Sunday, March 06, 2011

A Question of Ecosystem Viability

Two major rumors in the last week have me thinking about ecosystem viability and what it means for tablet PCs in the next year or two. The first rumor was a potential game changer as a video surfaced (via CrackBerry) of a Playbook demo in which an RIM representative can be overheard saying the PlayBook will support Android Apps. It’s not the first rumor of this sort, but it’s the first one to come directly from RIM (even unconfirmed).

The other rumor is that Microsoft’s newest operating system – Windows 8 – won’t be ready for tablet integration until the second half of 2012. With recent rumors pinning the development of Windows 8 around build 3 and a beta likely to be released this summer, the timing seems about right (though possibly a bit earlier in 2012 than some people think). That’s a long time to wait to get into a market that is starting to boom as we speak.

Both rumors (and the reaction of writers to them) point to one thing – the market can only support so many development ecosystems. It’s not so much about the people who buy these devices. If the Apps and hardware are there, people will buy any number of different operating systems.

That’s not the problem. The problem is that when there are too many options, developers tend to shift resources to those platforms that are the most profitable – in this case iOS and Android. RIM seems to be at least contemplating that as they don’t deny rumors of Android support on the Playbook. And while this is a great way to drive sales, it will probably further deflate the Playbook development community. Why would a developer produce two apps – one for Android and one for Playbook – when they could just as easily create only an Android app?

On the other side of the coin, Microsoft is still playing catch up, and unfortunately they are doing it slowly. It’s sad to see a company that was so much at the front end of tablet PC development fall so far behind the curve. By the time they release their first tablet specific OS, if Windows 8 is tablet specific, the iPad will have been on the market for two full years with a third generation device just having launched (if it follows Apple’s normal development cycle).

Android will have had a full year to propagate on new tablets and there will be at least two other major players on the market in the Playbook and HP’s WebOS. If Windows 8 was released right now, it would be a little late to the party. By 2012, the party might be moved somewhere else entirely.

This is a new age of ecosystem sales. People don’t just buy devices – they buy the experience those devices offer. And the more people buy into the iOS and Android experiences, the less likely any of them will shift to a new model, especially developers who make so much money with the current offerings.

  • Of course, things can change. We don’t know what Windows 8 for tablets will look like. Deep integration with a desktop, advanced handwriting support, a centralized app store, actual ARM support for longer battery life – these are all features that could help Microsoft’s new offering succeed. But, will it be too little too late? That remains to be seen. 

Friday, March 04, 2011

Should Your Tablet Be a Desktop Extension?

I like to use my tablet PC as a replacement for most of the technology I own. That’s not to say I don’t use a PC or mobile phone at all, but in general, if I can get away with using a tablet, I do. So, I am always intrigued when a new player in the remote desktop market arrives and people start talking once more about how useful it is to access your PC on the go.

Specifically, Citrix has finally released their GoToMyPC software for the iPad – something many Citrix subscribers have been waiting for. LogMeIn and Team Viewer have both been available for a while on the iPad and there are a handful of cloud tools to access files and remote file structures, so this isn’t new, but it is interesting.

It comes down to one thing though – should a tablet PC be a fully functional workstation replacement? The question has been asked a lot lately because, frankly, the first few generations of tablets tried very hard to be fully functional. Even modern Windows 7 tablets provide full functionality of a PC with some hardware limitations. It was the iPad that changed all that – paring down what a tablet does to simple, intuitive multi-touch gestures. Android tablets are a little more powerful and have far more latitude for developers, but the same idea remains – it’s not a complete desktop replacement…yet.

Eventually, I envision a tablet PC market that can utterly replace desktops. It happened with notebooks and laptops in the 2000s. Early laptops were heavy, had very poor battery life and couldn’t keep up with even mid-range desktops. That has changed. You can buy laptops today that last for 6+ hours unplugged and provide plenty of power for desktop publishing, graphic design, and even gaming.

So, it will probably not be long before we see a sharp increase in the viability of tablet PCs as notebook and desktop replacements.

But, it goes beyond the power under the hood. You can make a super powerful tablet PC, but if the software and input solutions are not there to provide users with the intuitive interface they need to use something like Photoshop CS5 or Office 2010, it gets tricky. And that’s when people start looking to software solutions like GoToMyPC.

Personally, I think this software is fantastic. It provides a great option for enterprise users especially who don’t want to upload sensitive documents to the cloud where they are vulnerable. It also allows us to access software not yet available on the iPad or Android devices. But, as time passes, we as consumers need to support the idea that the developer community building up around tablets will provide these solutions and finally allow us to use our tablets as full blown workstations.

The time is coming – it’s just a matter of when.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Getting Data into Your Tablet

One of the most interesting things about tablet PCs is the fact that there are now so many different input methods. Where before the input methods on a PC were fairly static – mouse and keyboard for most of us – we now have handwriting recognition, Bluetooth keyboards, multi-touch, and a handful of other software solutions that are growing in popularity.

So, which is best? Whichever method you like best to maximize productivity is probably the best solution. I have my preferences and you likely have your own, but here are some of the more interesting ways to get more out of your tablet, depending on how you use it.

Handwriting Recognition 

For iPad and Android users, handwriting recognition is fairly limited, but for those that use a Windows tablet like I do, handwriting recognition is fantastic. Microsoft’s TIP – which they’ve been working on for more than a decade now – offers intuitive interaction with most applications and allows you to easily input your thoughts. Software like OneNote even makes your handwritten notes searchable.

Bluetooth Keyboard 

While I have almost universally switched from typing to handwriting on my tablet, sometimes you need to write a little bit more and having a good keyboard on hand is very helpful. Bluetooth keyboards are generally mobile and lightweight and they can be synced to your device on the fly only when you need them.

Built-In Multi-Touch 

The multi-touch interface on the iPad and Android devices is very good. It allows simple, intuitive interaction with your data that feels fantastic. This type of input is wonderful for web surfing, checking email, or other tasks that don’t require a lot of data entry. It is only when working on spreadsheets or documents, or typing long emails that the interface can be most frustrating.


SWYPE is a software solution for data input and it is fantastic. It takes the technology behind autocomplete, which has been standard on mobile phones for many years now, and ups the ante considerably. Instead of just guessing what you’re trying to say based on the form of the word, SWYPE predicts text based on the motions of your finger across a keyboard. 

To start, you place your finger on the first letter of a word, and then you move your finger around the keyboard in a swiping gesture, touching each letter in the word. The algorithm in SWYPE then determines which word you were targeting and displays it on the screen. All this would be useless without accuracy. Luckily, SWYPE is incredibly accurate and one of the fastest non-keyboard input methods for a tablet.

And of course, there are other tools like Dragon Naturally Speaking or the Windows Speech Recognition tools built-into all Windows Vista and Windows 7 tablets.

However you enjoy inputting commands into your computer, a tablet PC has solutions designed to meet your needs. And because of the robust developer community growing around tablets, we’re likely to see even more incredible methods in the years to come. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Honeycomb Arrives - What Happens Next?

Today is the day – the first Honeycomb tablet officially hits the market today, arriving at Verizon stores and Best Buys across the United States. And on the 2nd we will finally hear from Apple about their new iteration of the iPad. The year of the tablet is officially underway and that means there will soon be more tablets than we know what to do with crowding shelf space at your local electronics store. What role will Android play in the new market and how will the platform develop in 2011? Right now we are still guessing, but there are quite a few possibilities.

Full Android Functionality

For those that wanted a full scale PC experience on a tablet computer, the early Android releases like the Galaxy Tab were a little disappointing. Samsung’s first foray into the tablet market was impressive, but it was pared down quite a bit due to the use of Android 2.2, an OS designed for mobile phones.

With Honeycomb finally here, we will likely start to see new apps and possibly even new tablets that can do exciting things. It will still be a bit of time though before the apps roll in as the final Honeycomb SDK was just released on Tuesday. But, with new tablets coming from the likes of LG and Toshiba, plus Motorola throwing quite a bit of marketing weight into their first slate, Android is getting a strong push in 2011.

The Enterprise

An area we should keep a close eye is the enterprise. Companies are clamoring right now to adopt and integrate tablet PCs into their technology plans. But, thus far only the iPad has made an impact in the enterprise community, mostly because there were so few competitors in 2010. Even though Apple claims 80% of Fortune 500 companies are exploring enterprise use of the iPad, I imagine many will take a closer look at Honeycomb tablets as a potential alternative in 2011.

The iPad is not built for enterprise use, and while Apple has produced a handful of features and is expanding support for enterprise on the platform, the open nature of Android is friendlier for IT departments that must contend with support tickets and content control on a mobile scale. Third party companies are already arriving with solutions for Android like push app installation, remote support and rebooting, remote content control, and lost or stolen device detection.

And while BlackBerry Playbook will surely be a factor in the enterprise discussion this year, until it is released, there is no way to know if it will be the device to fill the gaping hole in enterprise mobility or if Honeycomb can make headway in that market.

What Happens Next?

Everyone wants to know what happens next – will Apple slide in market share to Android as it did in the smart phone market? Or will Apple’s commanding lead be bolstered by the iPad 2, likely arriving sometime between April and June? It is impossible to know for sure, but one thing is for certain – the arrival of Honeycomb is going to have a big impact on the tablet market and we will all be watching very closely.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Importance of Display Size in a Successful Tablet

A lot of people argue right now about what the perfect tablet looks like. Should it have this feature or that feature? Does it need Android or Windows or iOS? Can anyone but Apple but profitable? There are a lot of little quirks in the tablet market right now that are drawing attention from analysts, but one of the biggest is probably display size.

Can a successful tablet hit the market with a display size of less than 10”? Steve Jobs doesn’t think so, and yet we have news that Apple may be preparing a new product that is essentially a larger iPod Touch, checking in at 5” instead of the 3.5” that it sits at now. And that brings up even more questions. Not only does display size matter, but how small is too small for a tablet to be a tablet anymore? When does it become a media player or gaming device?

The Profit Margin Issue

Right now, one of the major issues for most manufacturers is that Apple has a pretty big portion of the component market cornered. With all that cash sitting around, the company can afford to make moves like they did in January to shore up $3.9 billion in components. And Apple’s estimated share of the display component market is growing larger constantly as they prepare to expand their iPad offerings.

So, it drives up the costs for other companies to build their own 10” screens and when they launch, like the Xoom will next week, the cost is much higher than many would like (the Xoom will sell for $799 without subsidies). Other devices, however, have launched at smaller sizes and have kept cost down. The Galaxy Tab and Dell Streak 7 are both 7” tablets that sell for less than $500 with subsidies while sporting decent technical specs. And while sales are brisk, they are nowhere near in line with Apple’s.

Some say it is because of Apple’s dominating lead, but others point out that a tablet of only 7” starts to look an awful lot like an oversized media player. Typing on the screen and performing daily tasks gets a bit tougher, though not impossible at that size. I don’t think there is degradation in usability, but many people will look at a small device and compare it to the iPad their friend or neighbor has and wonder, why.

What’s the Perfect Size?

There is no perfect size for a tablet screen. Just like some users prefer a netbook screen of only 10” to a 26” monitor on their desk, others will prefer a 7” tablet they can place in their pocket to a 10” screen that requires a bag to carry.

What I’m really interested in right now is what consumers are willing to purchase. How will manufacturers balance price and function to effectively take a larger portion of the market away from Apple? In 2011 we will see a number of new 7 inch tablets along with many new 10 inch models. Assuredly, the 10” tablets will continue to sell better, especially because Apple will keep their iPad at 10” only.

However, with new options opening up in oversized media players and low cost devices, the market is still far from set, and through it all, display size will likely play a major role in consumer interest. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What Should a Tablet Really Cost?

I remember early 2010 before the iPad turned into something more than a longstanding rumor. A lot of people were interested to see what Apple could do to jumpstart a tablet PC industry that to date had only drawn interest from a handful of tech enthusiasts. Sleek design, intuitive features and mass market appeal went a long way, but what blew away a lot of people was the $499 price point.

Of course, there are more expensive iPads. The top end model with 64GB of storage and a 3G antenna costs $829, on par with the projected sale price of the new Motorola Xoom, but if you ask someone how much an iPad costs, most would say “$500”.

What about the New Guys?

With that in mind, can new devices compete with Apple when their starting price points are so much higher? A lot of the excitement surrounding the Xoom was tempered when we found out it would ship at $799 with a WiFi only model available for $600. The Galaxy Tab only gets under that magic $500 price point with a contract through a mobile carrier.

And it’s not as if Apple takes a hit on profits. I believe Apple likely makes the same amount of profit on their devices, regardless of a $500 price point, as Motorola, Samsung, RIM, HP and LG are likely to make with their new tablets. The difference is in the economics of scale. Apple produces significantly more devices when they launch a new product – they have a worldwide brand they can mobilize to sell those products. And now that Apple has taken such a commanding lead in the early tablet market, they can afford to keep their price points low going forward.

The cost of components are such that, unless a manufacturer plans well in advance, shoring up stockpiles of key components (especially those screen materials), they cannot afford to compete on certain levels. Apple’s moves in January to invest $3.9 billion in long term contracts for certain components show what a company with so much cash and an existing market so large can afford to do in shoring up its competitive advantage.

Remaining Profitable

The cost of components is always shifting and so too will profit margins for these companies. I’m hopeful that pricing will not harm companies that aim for innovation in the tablet market. Companies like Motorola and Samsung need to make a profit to stay in business. They cannot afford to cut their margins too thin just to compete with lower priced devices.

And as consumers, we need to remain supportive of higher priced devices with advanced technologies, especially if we ever want their prices to drop. Because unless they develop a stronger following, these other companies will never have the leverage needed to make the same investments as Apple.

How much should a tablet cost? I feel that functionality dictates a lot of the cost. An entertainment focused device like the iPad or Galaxy Tab should cost what a reasonable consumer can afford to pay - $500 seems to be the magic number. But, larger, more powerful tablets can and should be able to sell for slightly higher price points. What that number ends up being remains to be seen, but as long as consumer interest is there, hopefully it will remain low enough to be affordable. And for those companies that can afford it, WiFi only models and smaller screen sizes will be effective ways to provide a reduced cost lineup for entry level tablet users.z 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mass Market or Niche Specific - What a Tablet Needs to Succeed

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – 2011 is going to be an interesting year. No one really knows where the tablet market is likely to take us and as a result, a lot of people are trying to guess. Just the other day, NDP Group threw out one of the biggest numbers I’ve seen yet – an estimate of more than 242 million tablets by 2015. Do I think it’s possible? Absolutely. Do we know for sure that it will happen? Not quite. And yet, part of the fun right now is trying to determine exactly where this tsunami of new technology will take us.

Will Apple dominate for years to come as they did in the portable music player niche? Or will then become one of many high profile players in the market as they did with their iPhone? Will Motorola make a strong debut at the end of the month despite a $799 price point on the Xoom? Or will then struggle to get a foothold against a less expensive, more ubiquitous device in the Apple iPad?

Right now, a lot of analysts are worried about pinpointing who can compete directly with the iPad. Maybe there isn’t a direct iPad competitor, but do we really need one anyways? The iPad fulfils a niche need. Despite its incredible sales numbers in 2010, the device cannot replace a desktop or laptop computer for heavy users. In fact, like many Apple products, the iPad is designed to provide the creature comforts of computing in a sleek, well-constructed frame. It is attractive, it is easy, and it has a LOT of Apps and media.

Other devices do not yet have these features, but that may be okay because in a market that is currently hurdling toward the future, the next big question should probably be “who can deliver the best device in each niche?” not who can provide another mass market device.  

Companies thrive and customers win when the focus is taken away from trying to please the most possible customers instead of playing to strengths and developing a device that does specific things very well. And while devices like the Xoom and TouchPad look incredibly attractive, their success hinges largely on the ability of retailers and the manufacturer to market toward a tech-savvy niche of users who want more power in their devices.

How to Establish a Niche in a Growing Market

I don’t think no one stands a chance as a mass market manufacturer. There will surely be at least two or three very strong devices in the next two years that rise to the top of the field for Android and Windows tablet computing. But, as the tablet market moves forward, I think we will also see a strong shift in focus toward creating niche devices that serve more specific needs.

Even Apple has done this in the past with their Mac OS as Windows took and held a huge lead in the home operating system market. If you cannot be the biggest fish in your pond, find a smaller pond. Apple did that with schools and creative professionals.

And right now, I’m as excited to see what manufacturers do with medical devices and enterprise integration on tablets as I am to see what the next mass market entertainment-focused tablet can pull off. Convertible tablets, 3D based tablets and many more are drumming up interest right now and it’s a good thing. The more companies are willing to seek a specific niche in which they can excel, the more varied and advanced tablet technology is likely to get.

But for now, we are likely to see things shake out a bit between companies like Motorola, HP, LG, and Asus. Apple may have taken the crown in 2010 for mass market device of choice, but there are a lot of alternatives in 2011 hoping to give them a run for their money. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Year of the Tablet Consumer

Since CES I’ve felt like we’re building to something – a showdown of sorts slated for this spring. With dozens of new devices coming out in the next few weeks and even a handful of new operating systems set to land, the tablet market is about to change in ways we’ve never seen before. So, what does it mean for consumers? Let’s take a closer look at the state of the tablet market.

Sales and New Products

In 2010, there were 17 million tablet sales, most of which were Apple iPads. In 2011 that number is expected to climb north of 40 million and include a lot more Android and Windows devices. How much more of the share will be for other manufacturers remains to be seen, but one thing we can be sure about is that the ecosystem model developed by Apple isn’t going anywhere.

People want a device that provides a complete system. They want App stores and operating systems they come to know and trust throughout the day. They want a device that is operational but also a part of their identity – and while PCs and phones have done this, tablets stand to be even more of a cultural touchstone because of their mobility and the fact that they will be shared and used frequently in the presence of others.

Developments Coming Soon

As of two days ago, the signs still point to a release of the Motorola Xoom tablet on February 24th. The Best Buy ad leaking the launch date also pegs the price point at $799 and shows a variety of data plans for those wanting high speed access.

When the Xoom launches it will signal the opening salvo in a yearlong back and forth between Apple and everyone else. While Apple clearly dominated in 2010 it was mostly because they blindsided the market. Other developers were not ready for the raw demand for tablets while Apple played the cards and guessed right. They subsequently cleaned up because of it.

In 2011, things won’t be so simple. New devices will likely come out with better technical specs and stronger performance numbers than the iPad, even after the iPad 2 launches. Apple will surely upgrade their device in April with a dual core processor, much more powerful screen and at least one camera, but will it be 4G? Will it support SD slots? Will it have HDMI out? These and a dozen other questions will fill the articles of tech writers everywhere and will likely impact how consumers respond to the flood of new devices.

And then there are the other guys. We cannot forget about RIM and their Playbook release set for some time in spring or summer. MeeGo may see its first major release in 2011 as the open source OS continues to gain steam. HP continues to promise a slew of new options in WebOS for tablets and Windows 7, despite a lack of new innovations at CES will continue to appear on new devices, including a number of convertible tablet/netbooks.

If 2010 was the year of the tablet, 2011 is the year of the consumer – users will have more options and greater opportunities to make choices that reflect their needs and desires in a device. Now, we just need to sit back and wait to see what the consumers decide. 

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Five Things You Need to Ask Before You Choose a Tablet Operating System

It looks like we are only a couple weeks away from the first Honeycomb tablet hitting store shelves. To commemorate the moment and the soon to be rampant iOS vs. Honeycomb conversations, I want to talk about what an operating system should do for its user.

This post is not designed to single out any one operating system and declare it the “best”, though I’m sure we each have our opinions on that matter. Rather, I want to talk about what a good tablet PC should do for its user. We all use technology in different ways so we all have different expectations for what it will do.

1.       Is it Truly Mobile?

One of the primary reasons tablets are so attractive is that they provide an untethered alternative to a desktop computer (and are markedly lighter than notebooks). But, in the age of streamlining and cloud connectivity, is your device really 100% mobile? Remember that tablet computers do not have optical drives and their storage space is usually limited to less than 64 GB (usually around 16-32) with some offering SD expansion slots. If you are required to plugin to software on a desktop or constantly delete and replace files, mobility suffers. In this category, iOS suffers due to its reliance on iTunes while Android works wonderfully due to its support for over-the-air updates and SD backups.

2.       Will I Use it for Work?

Technology makes work easier, so many of us want to use our tablets to reply to emails, check spreadsheets and finish a few last minute edits. Some systems are better suited than others. A Windows tablet has access to Microsoft Office while Android has a burgeoning security environment starting to develop. A lot of enterprise users are waiting for the Playbook to arrive as well, to see what it will offer.

3.       Will I Switch in the Future?

If you plan on changing devices in the future, iOS is out of the question. After spending hundreds of dollars on iOS Apps, it will be hard to make yourself replace them all on an Android or Windows device. Android is likely the most versatile device in this regard. MeeGo, while not yet available in most markets, will likely provide similar flexibility.

4.       Apps or Hardware?

Are you a fiend for the highest end hardware or do you want the largest selection of Apps? By far, iOS wins the App arms race, though Android is close behind and the number of tablet specific apps is only growing. Windows suffers in software, but the devices tend to be decently powerful and provide a good number of enterprise features.

5.       How Often Will I Use It?

Finally, how often do you plan on using your device? If you just want a device to entertain you on an airplane or train, Apple’s iPad is a great choice because of the sheer volume of movies, TV shows and apps. However, if you plan on using your tablet as a complete replacement for your notebook or desktop, you’ll want something more powerful and capable of being fully untethered all the time.

Choosing a tablet device is getting harder with each passing month as new options hit the market. So, be sure to spend enough time getting to know your options. It’s likely the OS you choose now will be with you for some time to come. 

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Honeycomb Gets Close and New Devices Start Teasing

There is a lot of news to talk about this week, though on many sites you must sort through page after page of notes on the Verizon iPhone. For those not in the United States, the battle between iPhone users and AT&T isn’t that big of a deal, though it is interesting from the standpoint of market share since, as the largest consumer base for smartphones in the world, when something changes in the US it has resounding effects around the world.

That said, I’m intrigued by the slew of recent release dates, rumours and new content additions that have appeared on the radar of late. To start with, no one can quite figure out when the new wave of tablets will arrive this spring. An errant Best Buy Facebook Page accidentally said that the Xoom would be available on February 24 in the US. While this hasn’t been confirmed or denied, it seems more and more likely considering how long Motorola’s been sitting on this device.

Of course, since Honeycomb officially debuted three days ago, the floodgates are starting to slide further open as more people prepare to launch their first Android 3.0 devices. Our first official look at the OS was nice – the same slick interface we’ve come to know and love from Android but optimized for a bigger screen.

At the same time, news is swirling around the perceived announcement of an iPad 2. No one really knows when Apple will officially announce it, but Darrell Etherington at GigaOm doesn’t think it will be in the next week (at the 4.3 unveiling), if only because it’s too far from the likely launch date and Apple needs to be more careful with their announcements now that they have real competitors. To me, if the Xoom really does hit soon, I see Apple laying out their plans shortly afterwards to cut off the likely sales of Motorola’s new device, but it remains to be seen if that will happen. The price point for the Xoom will have an impact as well.

In other news, The Daily was officially announced this week and along with it a handful of competitors like New York Times’ I’m interested to see if this surge to provide an iPad newspaper will cross over to other tablets. It’s obvious that the news media and print industry are playing catch up right now, but at some point, they have to start to thinking ahead – whether for new devices or their admittedly weak subscription plans.

I suppose the message from this week is that we’re in a bit of a limbo phase. While there are some new devices hitting the market (the Dell Streak 7 arrived with a slightly disappointing screen and the first Asus Eee tablet with Windows is finally available), the big boys are still on hold – soon enough though we’ll get our hands on the Playbook, Xoom and iPad 2 and can start really arguing over which is best for 2011. 

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Getting Behind the Tablet Sales Numbers

One thing that a lot of tablet PC prognosticators like to do is gauge and measure the market, either while a device is available or weeks to months ahead of its launch. So, when we do get data, inevitably it will be thrown around a dozen different ways before we understand what it really means.

Sometimes, numbers are simple. Estimates of more than 13 million iPads beings old seem realistic considering the demand for the device and the capacity at most retailers. However, the numbers for the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which reported to have sold 2 million units, are not quite the same. Usually, statements like this mean “2 million shipped to retailers” not actually sold to end users. We don’t know how many that means, but company statements have already tempered it quite a bit.  

Measuring the Future

What does that mean for companies that have a new device coming out in 2011? What does it take to create a mainstream device and how does the public generally respond to certain features? No one knows. In fact, right now, the only devices on the market to draw data from are the mega-selling iPad and a dozen or so smaller devices with varying reviews and sales numbers – none of them with outstanding selling points.

I think that niche devices like the Playbook will actually sell decently well to their respective markets, though whether they can be mega-sellers in the mass market remains to be seen. I also think that there will probably be at least one other breakout device in 2011 – most likely the Xoom, though LG’s new tablet is starting to look very attractive with the announcement of multi-carrier 4G support and 3D playback.

We have no idea what will drive end-user interest. Reviews, technical specs, and usefulness have never really been the determining factors in what sells in the technology industry. Apple’s products are never the most powerful or the most feature-rich – they are often the “coolest” and that works for them. So, to be successful, does a company need to “out-cool” Apple or can they simply find their way into the niche through a variety of highly useful, mass-market features?

It remains to be seen. But, I have a feeling in 2011 we’ll be doing a lot of number parsing as sales numbers like that of the Galaxy Tab start to pour in. 

Monday, January 31, 2011

Possible Component Issues in 2011?

This year is shaping up to be a banner year for tablet makers with estimates pegged between 30 and 60 million devices being shipped this year. That’s a lot of tablets – almost 15% of the total PC market right now and growing rapidly, but as we all know, these devices don’t necessarily use the same components as a lot of traditional devices. Along with bloggers and pundits weighing in, many market analysts have added their opinion to the fray – some even downgrading shipment expectations due to potential shortages.

We already saw shortages to some degree in 2010 with some areas not getting iPad access nearly as quickly or in as great a number as the demand might signal. Other gadgets contributed to this shortage as Asian supplies of the components in LED backlights were stretched to the limit. So, it’s no surprise to anyone involved with the market that there may be a squeeze in 2011 as dozens of new manufacturers enter the market and attempt to shore up components.

Apple probably won’t hurt. This is a company notorious for measuring and quickly responding to demand for their products. Even when shortages have hit the Cupertino based tech giant, they have responded quickly. What really remains to be seen is how the other companies can respond to the heightened demand. Many companies need to buy components and that means getting orders in early without taking on too much financial burden before a product goes to market.

What this probably means is that most of the companies out there with big names and sure demand like Samsung with their Galaxy Tab and Motorola with their forthcoming Xoom will be fine. However, smaller companies who want to get into the market without over investing will likely produce a limited amount of initial stock. That could mean that if a device breaks through and becomes extremely popular that it will be faced with inevitable supply problems.

It will be interesting to see what all of these means for an industry that is already in upheaval mode right now. Will we see new players who were smart about their component orders and big companies fail because they didn’t think ahead? Or will everyone simply have trouble finding their next device this year? 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Five Things a New Tablet OS Needs to Succeed

In 2010, we saw the arrival of the first new tablet OS since Windows 7 was launched in the form of iOS. Android showed up on some tablets as well, though the first tablet-specific Android iteration is still a few months away. That means 2011 is shaping up to be a year of showdowns and epic feature comparisons between all the new tablet operating systems set to hit the market, including Honeycomb, RIM’s QNX OS, WebOS, and MeeGo – all slated to make their tablet debuts in the next 6 months. Along with a probably upgrade to the iOS in 5.0, what does each of these operating systems need to do to succeed in a suddenly very crowded market?

Security Options

Right now, the consumer market is booming. Children, college students, and 9-5ers are all clamouring for a new tablet to carry with them. But, the biggest market not yet invested in tablet computing is the enterprise field and that’s because of the lack of security on those devices. Android and iOS devices simply don’t have the necessary interface or tools needed to support a corporate system like RIM does. Whether the Playbook is the solution or not remains to be seen, but the tablet that pulls off a secure corporate environment first that is easy for IT departments to maintain will have a huge jumpstart.

Low Learning Curve

Of course, along with security, IT departments look for devices that are easy to pick up and use. We are still in a transitional generation – with many people in the workforce who did not grow up using computers. So, it is important that any new tablet OS be agile and easy to use. I don’t think we need to see an iPad clone, but we also need something more intuitive than the standard touch interface on Windows 7.
Unique Target User Base

I don’t know how many mass market devices can be supported in the tablet field. No one does. In personal computing, despite thousands of competitors, only two came out on top – Windows and Mac. Will we see the same very one sided race with tablets between iOS and Android? Or will the new OS options hitting the market target unique niches in which they can thrive – such as enterprise, creatives, or the youth set?

Strong First Party Interface

In 2010, the story behind Android and iOS often boiled down to who had more apps. But, in 2011 I think apps will start to take a back seat to the first party interface tools that come in the operating system. How does the manufacturer design the user experience and how effective are the free, built-in tools that make up the OS. We already know that no one can catch up to iOS or Android in terms of raw apps, and many companies have publically admitted they won’t try, so first party interface is vital to success.

Powerful Hardware

Finally, the hardware. The fanciest, most attractive operating system in the world won’t mean a thing if the hardware running it fails. Toshiba launched a DOA tablet in 2010 that ran a perfectly effective copy of Android, but the device itself was riddled with issues, including poor implementation of some hardware based features in Android. Whether Playbook’s OS or the new Honeycomb edition of Android are good or not will matter a lot less if the devices on which they are being run cannot hold up to scrutiny.

You’ll notice I didn’t discuss Apps as a major feature. Like I said, no one will catch up to iOS and Android. With nearly half a million apps in the App Store and nearly 200,000 in the App Marketplace, it’s too big of a lead. However, that doesn’t mean a new or revamped operating system cannot come out and wow us with strong first party tools, a dedicated niche, and a powerful support system that will drive sales.  

Monday, January 24, 2011

Three Things Android 3.0 Has Going for It in 2011

If last year was the year of the tablet, one has to accept that it was primarily the iPad that gets credit for that. So, if 2011 is the year of the tablet part 2, at least we get to spread the credit to a second platform this year as Android prepares to take over a major chunk of the tablet market thanks to the release of Honeycomb (3.0) and the variety of new devices that will go with it. So, what will drive success for the Android platform in 2011 – here are three possible sources.


First up is diversity. With so many devices set to sport the newest Android edition, we know we’ll have a lot of options to choose from this year. Motorola’s Xoom is at the top of the list for sure, but there are also new Android tablets coming from Toshiba, Asus, and Acer. I’m a huge fan of diversity in technology – it forces ingenuity in ways we can only ponder right now. It will be interesting to see who comes out ahead and what features allow them to do so.


To me, openness is one of the major reasons Android stands to win in 2011. As more users come into the tablet market, there will be a greater emphasis put on being able to do whatever you want with your device. Access to Flash, integration of custom apps, and security installations for enterprise users are all big on many wants lists – and the iPad cannot yet deliver those things. Whether Android can or not remains to be seen, but it certainly stands a chance.


Ideas come out of an open platform and diversity in hardware options. That’s what I’m hoping to see as manufacturers try to stand out as a new option in the increasingly crowded tablet market. As the rhetoric heats up between Apple and Android device makers, the opportunity to see new things is only going to increase. Already, we’ve seen the Xoom with its selection of intriguing new features and just yesterday, Toshiba announced their new Honeycomb tablet would sport a swappable battery (something we’ve been hoping for in a tablet for months now).

The Other Side

Android tablets are set to make a huge impact on the market this year. However, it’s entirely up to the manufacturers of those devices to make it happen. Right now, we’re seeing rumors of a $799 Xoom tablet from Motorola and last year, Toshiba’s first tablet foray was a certified disaster, so having Android 3.0 isn’t exactly a slam dunk.

But, 2011 is definitely shaping up to be some kind of year for the tablet PC and right now I’m guessing that Android will have a LOT to do with that. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

And the Numbers Are In...

Just yesterday, IDC released numbers for Q3 sales of tablets around the globe. As expected, those numbers were very good and as expected, a good percentage of them were iPads. Specifically, the numbers show that Apple made up nearly 90% of all tablets sold in the quarter with 4.2 million sales (of 4.8 million total shipments).

Of course, that’s the not the number I’m most interested in. The final numbers for total shipments in 2010 is expected to be roughly 17 million (once Q4 numbers are finalized) and a lot of those will be iPads for sure (though the Galaxy Tab made a nice run at the end of last year). But, it’s the prognostication for 2011 and 2012 that really draws my attention. IDC has pegged the 2011 market to be somewhere in the vicinity of 44 million tablets with 2012 expected to sell more than 70 million.

Of course, no one company could maintain numbers like that alone. Just like with the smartphone market which saw a huge surge in popularity with the iPhone, but ultimately gained most after Android was released, the tablet market looks ready to explode on the precipice of a widespread Android 3.0 rush.

It’s not just Android and manufacturers like Motorola and Asus that are pushing the market, however. Yes, Apple will have a new iPad available soon – probably in April – and it will likely sport at least 80% of the upgrades that Apple’s customer base has been driving for (the usual almost everything upgrade). But, there are also newcomers slated to hit the market soon, including RIM with their Playbook, HP with WebOS, and the newest versions of MeeGo. Windows tablets are still a tossup with third party extension being absolutely necessary at this point to drive any kind of innovation in those devices, but even so, by the time 2012 rolls around, we might be looking at the first Windows 8 tablets.

It’s amazing to see the growth we’ve seen in only the last 9 months. A year ago we were prognosticating that the tablet market might take off any time and Apple’s new device seemed like a tossup – it could be popular…or it could be a flop. And yet, with the iPad wedging open a new market and millions of consumers turning their attention to this burgeoning market, we are getting ready to enter a completely new era in mobile technology and personal devices.

I’m interested to see where it leads us – not just in sales numbers (these companies could sell anything), but in the actual real world uses of those products. How will they impact our lives in the two or three years to come and how will they affect the way business gets done? Those are the questions I am most excited to have answered.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Investing in Your Child’s Future

I am frequently very interested in the technology and ideas that go into devices used by children. That’s not to say that I feel a child should spend 24/7 plugged into an electronic device. But, in an economy that stresses connectivity and mobility more and more in its workers, children need to start learning how these devices work and what they offer much earlier in life.

So, what then would be the greatest tech investment for a child? For a long time, the answer would have been a new computer. Where you put that computer and what you allow your child to do on it are personal decisions, but having at least one desktop accessible in the home for surfing the Internet, writing homework assignments and maintaining contact with family and friends is a must.

But, more and more, the trend is turning away from having the newest desktop or laptop technologies in front of our children and more towards mobile devices. There are a few reasons for this.

First, children can more directly relate to a touchscreen mobile device. They can carry it and instead of using a keyboard and mouse – slightly abstract concepts for inputting data – they can use their finger, something most children excel at.

For all these reasons and more, it makes sense to start a child off with a tablet computer to acclimate themselves to the Internet, email, and other mobile systems that they will be using for the rest of their lives. More than that, there are apps that make a tablet computer even more effective for things like learning mathematics and reading, or simply for reading picture books.

Of course, for those not interested in spending hundreds of dollars to watch their child play with a Galaxy Tab box or drop a Xoom on the floor, there are companies developing less expensive, more durable tablets for children. Unfortunately, these devices tend to dumb things down a bit. We have a habit of making assumptions about just how little our children can understand when using a tablet. In most cases, they can get a lot more out of the devices if we’re willing to provide open access to more advanced operating systems.

I’d be interested to see a company start developing Android tablets for children that are specialized in terms of durable hardware but not dumbed down to the point of inoperability for anyone over the age of 6 or 7. Imagine a child growing up with a tablet that can adjust and adapt with them, showcasing new features and unlocking new opportunities as they learn in school. These are the skills they will need in the decades to come – it makes sense that we should be laying the groundwork as early as possible.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t endorse turning a child away from outdoor activities or team sports as pass times – everything should be done in moderation. But, access and mobility early in life will give children the edge they need as they age to be better at nearly everything they put their minds too. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Future of Speed on a Tablet

Coming hot off of CES, it seems that Apple found a way to at least partially circumvent the glowing buzz over devices like the Xoom and Playbook by announcing the Verizon iPhone on Tuesday. Personally, though, I’m still very interested in the stuff we heard last weekend and the impact it is already having on the upcoming tech season.

Specifically, what kind of power will we see under the hood of this next generation of tablet devices? In 2010, the range was relatively diverse. There were ARM 8 processors, a handful of Snapdragons and some proprietary devices that didn’t measure up to the high speed, nearly instant response rate that most users demand of mobile devices.

Now, with many new tablets migrating to WiMax and LTE 4G networks, they obviously need to ramp up the power a little bit and show off what chip manufacturers have been developing in the last three or four years.

Specifically, the first wave of dual core mobile processors are finally hitting the market, and Nvidia’s Tegra 2 is the biggest name among them. For those not familiar with the newest tablet processors, Tegra 2 uses the ARM CortexA9 CPU (dual core), GeForce GPU for high quality 3D visuals and offers full support for 1080p video playback. In short, it’s a full blown mobile computing system in a single chipset.

For reference, it doubles the power present on the iPad while providing the option for four times as much memory. With 4G connections demanding instant access to video chatting services, downloading, and multitasking, it’s almost a necessity. Beyond the raw horsepower, it will offer a breadth of multimedia benefits that Nvidia has become well known for.

For a long time, tablet processors were forced to be either converted smart phone processors, or converted laptop processors. In both cases, the results were less than stellar. Power wasn’t available in the smaller phone chips and laptop chips were often bigger and hotter. Now, with the tablet market taking off, we can look forward to the first real year of tablet-oriented processors.

This is the tech industry, however, and that means the Tegra 2 will likely only be the top offering for a limited time. While it will be present in a number of devices including the Xoom, G-Slate, Streak 7, Acer Iconia, and Asus’s full range of Eee tablets, new offerings are already on the horizon from Qualcomm in the form of a new Snapdragon MSM (8960) and soon AMD and Intel will likely be entering the tablet space with their own mobile processing units.

That’s not to mention Microsoft’s recent “System on a Chip” announcements during CES this year when they discussed new ARM devices being compatible with Windows 8 with full system interfaces in a single chip.

One major mistake the big chip makers made with mobile chips was assuming they were for smart phones only. Not only did the smart phone market expand rapidly to start rivalling home computing – the tablet market is well on its way to doing the same and with mobility increasing daily, soon too will the standard computing industry. Combined, that means a sharper focus on these small, all-in-one chips in the next 10 years. It may not be as exciting as holding the next new tablet in your hands,  but in the years to come it will represent a huge shift in mobile technology innovation.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tablet Overview from CES 2011

Another edition of CES is out of the way and it looks like we have a second straight “Year of the Tablet” on our hands. Where last year saw the breakout of the tablet market starting with some seemingly lacklustre announcements at CES and driven home by the mega success of the iPad and Galaxy Tab, this year we have quite a few new devices to look forward to, some with interesting features and others with a boat load of unknowns.

Right now, there is no way to know what will come of the surge of new technology. People like to make bold claims as early as possible so that they can say they saw it coming first. I won’t do that, because in a business like this you just never know what will happen. But, at the moment we are seeing dozens of potential “iPad Killers” shaping up with at least one or two of them looking really good.

Another major storyline that I touched on in my last post is the advent of 4G in many of these devices. With Verizon’s LTE network doing so well and Sprint’s 4G network online for the better part of 6 months now, tablets are now aiming for high speed mobile access, which is fantastic because it means a lot more functionality that should be available on a tablet, like video chat outside of Wireless.

The Big Android Question

Of course, most of the new devices on the cusp of being released are waiting for Google to drop their 3.0 Honeycomb Android OS, something that doesn’t have a firm release date (and likely won’t). Beyond merely waiting on Honeycomb to hit the market, we must hope that it works as advertised, without any major hiccups or shortcomings that will give Apple another major opening going into their second generation of iPads.

Assuming Honeycomb does land in good time, we’ll see a huge surge of new tablets hit the market in the next few months including the headliner of CES, the Motorola Xoom. And while Motorola made a great showing in Las Vegas, other companies will have their sights set on a larger cut of this market too including the Notion Ink Adam, the T Mobile G-Slate and the next generation of the Galaxy Tab, promising to have 4G connectivity.

I’ll be honest in saying I was a little disappointed with Microsoft’s showing. The big reveal we’d been hoping for to solve the Windows 7 issues on tablets didn’t come, but there was a lot of good news about how the Windows platform will develop into the next iteration and hopefully how hybrid devices like the Sliding PC 7 from Samsung or the Asus Eee Slate will operate. It’s not for everyone, but the hybrid option is intriguing to me.

Of course, it all comes down to a big guessing game. With three big time Asus tablet releases coming, the new Playbook, Apple’s second iPad, and many others hitting the market in the next six months, there will be a lot of discussion of the “next big thing” and where this market is going. What do you think? Which of these tablets, if any of them, stands a chance of rising to the top (or simply succeeding on a decent scale) in 2011? 

Friday, January 07, 2011

The First Day of CES

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas officially started today, so as you can imagine there is a lot of news to sort through. There are a few things that are more interesting than others, though, so here are some highlights as of this morning:

Google’s Android 3.0 Reveal

Not actually at CES, but probably related nonetheless due to the announcement of so many Honeycomb tablets today and over the weekend, Android 3.0 is in fact Honeycomb and as rumoured has been built completely for tablet devices, not smartphones. That means we’re going to get completely dedicated tablet features in the next few months on a slew of new tablets.

What we’re seeing now is as completely overhauled user interface, new keyboard for tablets, and blown up versions of apps that have been, to date, a little unwieldy due to their smartphone roots.

Android 3.0 Tablets

On the subject of the Android 3.0 unveil, there are a number of new tablets being announced as we speak. The Motorola Xoom became official today, featuring the previously rumoured dual core processor (Tegra), 4G, HD video recording, and Honeycomb OS. LG has also announced a new tablet in the form of the G-Slate – details are limited as of right now, but we’ll probably see a lot more very soon. Oh, and Android 3.0 will have video chat through Google Talk.

More 4G Devices

It will be interesting to see if Apple jumps on board with the 4G train too because it looks like there will be at least three or four solid 4G tablets available by the end of Q2 in 2011. The Motorola Xoom was the biggest profile to be announced thus far, but RIM has confirmed 4G capabilities on its new tablet (running on Sprint WiMax for now, possibly more), and T Mobile’s G Slate will also feature 4G. That’s three big time manufacturers with big time iPad competitors coming out in the next few months all featuring 4G connectivity.

Convertible Tablets

Dell already hit us with the Inspiron Duo a few weeks ago, but there are a lot of new convertible tablet/netbook hybrids being announced as we speak. Asus has a new one coming in the form of an Eee tablet and HP has announced their own convertible tablet/netbook option likely to be released very soon.

More to Come

This is only the start of course. I’ll be back in the next couple days with more news out of CES and what it will mean for the tablet computing market. I am still excited to see more hands on time with the Notion Ink Adam, which I personally want to be a fan of (but have been reserving judgment on thus far). Exciting times ahead – stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Wait for Honeycomb

One thing has always remained constant in the tablet marketplace – we’re waiting. For years we waited for tablets to hit the mass market, and then we waited for a competitor to arrive that would do the format justice (beyond the watered down experience offered by the iPad). It appears that 2011 will be the year that we finally stop waiting and finally get the avalanche of tablet products that push the industry forward at a breakneck speed.

And probably the biggest wait right now for both us and a large number of manufacturers out there is the one for Honeycomb – Google’s long awaited tablet-ready Android iteration. Yes, there are Android tablets on the market, but in a market struggling to catch up to the 7 figure head start of Apple, a true tablet-focused option is necessary. With some tweaks, both Froyo and Gingerbread can get the job done, but Honeycomb is poised to be the OS of choice for many soon to be released tablets.

Far from being a secret, Honeycomb is simply on hold with an as-of-yet unannounced release date. We do know, however, that there are a handful of new devices on the slate for the next 6 months that will show off the new OS. The biggest profile of these is set to be the Motorola Xoom (as trademark applications recently revealed the name to be), and possibly a second device from the electronics giant to follow shortly after. However, it is not the only device we’re waiting on. Toshiba has announced its own Honeycomb tablet (yet unnamed) powered by the Tegra 2 and apparently only waiting for the Honeycomb release from Google.

Right now, we don’t really know how these devices will turn out (though Motorola’s recent Droid successes point toward a solid entry into the field and many are still leery of Toshiba’s failure in the catastrophic Folio tablet release). However, with CES only a few days away, the odds are that we’ll see significantly more devices hitting the rounds as manufacturers announce a huge number of devices waiting on Google’s newest OS.

But, for this to truly be the year of the tablet, we need to see other companies step up big as well. Already, we’re waiting carefully for Microsoft’s big announcement in their CES keynote. Last year’s lacklustre tablet showing was disappointing, but Ballmer and co. are promising a new line-up of Windows 7 options, and some people are hoping for a little more beyond that. Then there are the newcomers including a handful of new Meego tablets propagating the industry, RIM’s Playbook, and dozens of technical advancements including Intel’s new SSD solutions, the new APU processor from AMD and our first looks at Pixel Qi displays. And while we won’t see it at CES, we can’t forget the elephant in the room – the iPad 2, likely to be shown off at the end of the month in an Apple only event in California.

The next four weeks look to be a huge boon for an industry segment that finally got off the ground in 2010. So, while we’ve been waiting for a while, it looks like we’re finally about to see something truly impressive. Stay tuned in the days to come for my thoughts on all the news out of CES in Las Vegas.