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.