Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tablet computing for seamless lifestyle

Way back in 2006 I blogged about meeting Dr. Neil Roodyn, and being introduced to Tablet computing.  I’m proud to say that 11-years later I’m still part of Tablet computing and still close mates with Neil. A lot has happened since then and there has certainly been a gap between my blogging. I’ve got three kids now, my Tablet business have grown from a simple garage operation at home, to business operations in Australia, Europe and North America. Dr. Neil has also established himself globally and in the process become a Microsoft Surface MVP; the world’s first actually.

I caught up with Neil in his office recently and share a chat about his latest software development and in particular “seamless computing” techniques [as seen on Engadget] called nSquared Presenter. I truly love the concept. Watching as users flick and send each other notes, images and deliver presentations from Surface Table, to iPhone to Tablet is amazing. As long as you are part of the Wi-Fi (or connect) network, i.e. same subnet mask, then the content will be seamlessly shared between yourself and your colleagues. It’s truly a step in the right direction and part of the manner in which 2012 will see effective use of the plethora of devices now ubiquitously carried by all.

About nSquared Presenter:

nsquared presenter allows you to collaboratively create and deliver presentations using all the devices you find in a meeting room. From your tablet to the projected screen on the wall and the iPads your colleagues have, nsquared presenter has it covered.
Your team can build a new presentation timeline of content including slides, spreadsheets, documents, images and movies brought together from different files. It can be done on the tablet, a table-top computer, an interactive touch screen, or all three! This timeline you create together becomes the new presentation and will synchronize with all of the other devices running nsquared presenter.
Watch this video also if you're interested in the future of seamless computing:

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