Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tablets : roundup

The response of consumers clearly demonstrates that the iPad has a place in their lives as an entertainment device. It may be hard for other manufacturers to create a product that competes head-on with it. But they are launching a range of interesting devices in the tablet/e-book reader space that can do things the iPad cannot. And I for one, am definitely interested.

I went back to read this article on The History of Tablet PCs which is pretty interesting. It started off as something called 'pen computing', using input from a pen or stylus. This Huffington Post article shows a pictoral history of tablet PCs starting with the Rand GRAFACON  (1964) which sold for $18,000!

Pen computing never really took off although products were launched in the 1990s by companies like Microsoft, Toshiba, IBM and Samsung. In the past few years, tablets and slates have made a big comeback with varied applications, better software and touch interface, long battery life and prices that are competitive with netbooks (though they need not necessarily substitute a netbook). The most common usage for tablets is as an e-book reader (Nook, Kindle) though iPad has bucked this trend by providing a device which does so much more.

With a thin and light form factor, in my opinion, tablets function best as a book substitute - a book reader, or a digital notebook to doodle, draw, or even take notes. And the new spate of launches seem designed for these applications.

1) The ASUS Eee tablet featured on Engadget is a digital notebook cum e-book reader. The features that interest me on this device are not just the 2 megapixel camera, the 10 hour battery life and the SD Card slot. It is the sensitivity of the device to touch input which will apparently very closely approximate the feeling of writing on paper. The device is expected to retail at $199-299 and release in September. I am excited by the potential of this device to revive pen computing. And I would love to use one of these babies to take notes in a meeting or seminar instead of a notebook (I keep losing notebooks and pens, but I DO NOT lose gadgets. Ever.)

2) My cousin Prashanth drew my attention to the KNO tablet. Described as a 'digital textbook',it is primarily targeted at students; the company will partner with textbook publishers for digitisation of course content. The website reports that the KNO will let students scribble onto the digital pages of the textbook, drag internet content into their notes and view HD video, in addition to making audio recordings.

The most interesting feature of the KNO for me is the dual color 14 inch LCD screens and the ability to multitask. Built on the Linux platform, the device will also support Adobe Flash and HTML 5.








The sheer size of the device has produced some negative comments from consumers (at 5.5 pounds, it weighs as much as a laptop). Also the price which is reported as 'under $1000' may prove to be a deterrent. Preliminary comments from potential users across forums seem to suggest that while the concept is interesting, a smaller (10 inch) screen and a more portable form factor might make it more appealing.

There are a whole bunch of other new tablet launches out there, across brands like Acer, LG and HP, but many of them are still in the prototype stage. Hopefully, we should see some interesting stuff coming out. And those of us who did not spring for an iPad may see value in some of them.