Windows 8 Tablet Success: It’s the Ecosystem, Stupid!

Windows Logo

A lot of the details around Windows on ARM (WOA) architecture were revealed via a recent blog post by Steven Sinofsky, the President of Windows and Windows Live Division at Microsoft. Once WOA details were out, the discussion then turned to whether WOA tablets would truly compete with the iPad or not. Would the presence of the Desktop environment, albeit in a restricted fashion, make it clunky? Is it truly no-compromise, considering that today’s software will not work on those tablets? The arguments go on.

What should be recognized though, is that unlike Apple, Microsoft does not really build the WOA tablets, so it relies on its partners to build them. It can be debated whether Microsoft *should* build a tablet themselves or not, but it is clear that they alone do not control their destiny.

So, what will ultimately determine the success (or failure) of WOA tablets? The ecosystem, of course! Microsoft has done its part in building a touch-friendly OS, bringing a touch-first mentality to building apps, creating a development environment which will let apps work on “all Windows devices”, and built a marketplace which will help developers reap the benefits of being in front of hundreds of millions of customers all over the world.

I discuss three aspects of this ecosystem reliance which will determine how well WOA (and more generally, Windows) tablets do.

Windows 8 on Kal El tablet

OEM designs

The iPad has been a phenomenal success for a variety of reasons. One of them is the design and the build itself. When you pick up the iPad you can feel that a lot of thought was put into the shape and the dimensions of the tablet. Many Android tablets come off feeling cheap, but the iPad feels exactly the opposite.

What the Windows OEM partners will have to do is go beyond just the iPad. They will need to think hard about the design and come up with something that does not look like a cheap knock off of the iPad, and no, that does not mean just adding a microSD card reader and USB ports. Having those connectivity options is a nice advantage, but the tablet itself should feel good to look at and hold in the hands. These tablets will have to manage sturdiness and long battery life with lightness.

Finally, just because they can, OEMs should refrain from making tablets in all kinds of sizes (yes, I am looking at you, Samsung). There is an advantage in offering a choice of sizes, but there is also a practical limit to what should be done in reality. Don’t confuse the customers with too much choice!

Samsung’s Beastly Exynos 5250 SoC To Enter Into Mass Production In Q2 Of 2012

During their Q4 2011 earnings call, Samsung also took some time to announce to that its Exynos 5250 SoC will enter into mass production from the second quarter of this year. The SoC is already under sampling from Sammy. This beast of a SoC will first be used in Samsung’s tablets, and later on in its smartphones.

exynos-5250

For the less informed, the Exynos 5250 is one heck of a powerful SoC. It is a dual-core SoC (System-On-Chip) based on Cortex-A15 and both the cores are clocked at a whopping 2GHz. Samsung did not mention as to what GPU the Exynos 5250 uses. It did however state that the GPU on the Exynos 5250 SoC is up to by four-times more powerful compared to the current gen SoCs.

Personally, I would love to see the Galaxy S III being powered by the Exynos 5250 SoC. However, with the handset due for announcement next month, the chances definitely look bleak. If not the Exynos 5250, the Galaxy S III will be powered by the rumoured Exynos 4412 SoC, which contains four-cores based on Cortex-A9 architecture. It will also be interesting to see how the Exynos 5250 SoC will stack up against the quad-core Cortex-A9 based SoCs.

(Source)

Sony Showcases Intriguing Concept Tablets at CES 2012

Sony’s first attempt at creating bold new tablet devices elicited mixed responses, as the S1 and S2 ended up prioritizing x-factor over plain old usability. However, that hasn’t stopped the Japanese electronics giant from thinking out of the box again.

At this year’s CES, Sony is showcasing two new tablet concepts – the Slate and the Hybrid. The Slate is a sleek tablet with a unique oval design and a beautiful silver back. However, once again, Sony’s penchant for uniqueness means that the tablet is not without its flaws. The bezel is unnecessarily thick, and the rear has oddly placed buttons that might be prone to accidental presses.

Sony-Viao-Slate

Paired with the Slate is an equally stunning wireless keyboard. The remarkable design of the keyboard manages to transform a mundane accessory into something drool worthy.

Sony-Wireless-Keyboard

Sony-Wireless-Keyboard-Thickness

The most noteworthy concept on display was the Hybrid, which is a cross between traditional laptops and tablets. It is essentially a tablet that docks with a keyboard with embedded speakers. Once again, the design is simply stunning. Interestingly enough, the Hybrid also features a blast from the past in the form of a stylus that fits in beneath the keyboard.

Sony-Viao-Hybrid

Even though both of these devices carry the old Vaio tag, they represent intriguing attempts by Sony to redefine what we expect from a tablet. Absolutely nothing is known about the technical specifications of the Hybrid and the Slate, which were tucked inside a glass case to fend off the inquisitive journalists. In fact, we don’t even know if Sony plans on manufacturing them.

Firefox for Honeycomb Tablets Design Revealed

Mozilla has been very keen on entering the tablet market with their browser and just like for mobile, the browser will provide a unique experience for tablets.

Firefox Honeycomb Browser

Today, one of the design team members at Firefox; Ian Barlow, revealed some new designs for Firefox that will run on Honeycomb based tablets. Most of the design has evolved from the mobile version of Firefox, however, it has been modified to take advantage of the larger screen sizes of tablets.

Firefox Honeycomb Tablets Awesomebar

The Awesomebar on Firefox for Tablets will continue to use tabbed menu to allow for quick access to bookmarks, history and synced desktop activity on the tablet.

Firefox Honeycomb Tablets Tabs

Additionally, Firefox for tablets will display more UI elements on the screen rather than hiding it like they did it on the mobile version of the browser. This will allow you to quickly perform tasks like opening new tabs or scrolling through them.

Overall the design for the tablet version of Firefox looks pretty good and I would definitely like to try it out. However, there is no date on when the tablet version will be released and it might only be compatible with Honeycomb and higher versions of the tablet. Ian has also posted some more mockups of the design of Firefox for tablets on his account, which can be viewed by visiting this link.

So what do you think of the design mockups of Firefox for tablets? Do you like it? Do you think you would prefer it over the Android browser? do drop in  your thoughts through your comments.

Who can compete with the iPad?

The iPad is the king of tablets

Apple’s iPad has dominated tablet sales so far. Android tablets have started making some dents, but none of them are really gaining steam as a product (vs. Android tablets gaining some share as a collection). Harry McCracken at Technologizer asked the simple question every tablet maker should be asking at the time of creating their products: Why should someone buy this instead of an iPad?.

Not just the hardware

The iPad and iPad2 are exceptional products by themselves. Great design (although, I could do with a non-glossy/non-reflective screen), light enough to be really portable, GREAT battery life, and to me, a good size for a screen which would be used for media consumption like movies and TV shows via Netflix, hulu and the like.

The key to their success though, besides the hardware itself and the beauty of the operating system, is the ecosystem. The apps, music, movies, podcasts, iTunes U, and the sometimes overlooked accessory industry. Apple has made slow and steady progress in putting these pieces together and has a seemingly invincible position, but in the world of technology today, it could be very short-lived.

Of course, the starting price of $500, thought by many at the time of the iPad launch to be too high, seems like another killer feature of the iPad.

Ecosystem providers, real competition

Who can really compete with the iPad? Not just the tablet, but the entire package of the tablet, the ecosystem, and the price? Remember, it may be ok to just meet the iPad, but in order to create a serious dent, the competition has to have a pretty big advantage on almost all of the aspects. So, let’s see who is competing:

  • Android at the low end: Cheap Android tablets are everywhere but they may not have Google’s blessing and as a result be cut off from the first-class Android experience, including the Android Market. So they have the price advantage but nothing else.
  • Android at the top end: Motorola XOOM and Galaxy Tab started off as 3G devices sold by the carriers. They required a data contract or ended up costing more without data contract, than an iPad. They suffered from the data contract/price issue to start with, but more importantly, there are hardly any apps for Android in the tablet form factor. An ecosystem though, is not just about the apps, it should also provide a good collection of music, movies and TV shows, which Android seems to lack today.
  • HP TouchPad with webOS: HP recently launched the TouchPad and the sales as well as reviews are not encouraging. HP has a problem similar to Android tablets in terms of getting quality apps available for the customers. It does not have to be hundreds of thousands of apps like the iPad apps, but when you start from zero, it is really an uphill climb. HP does not have a marketplace for music, videos and TV either, but it is big enough to cut some deals and get something going. The point right now though, is that there is nothing on offer, making it difficult to justify the purchase for consumer use.
  • RIM Playbook and Windows 7 slates: I won’t go into too much detail because it is clear that RIM released this thing too soon. It is an unfinished product and has been a flop so far. It is hard to imagine a product from the maker of Blackberry devices that does not have native email and calendar. Native email and calendar are supposed to be coming this summer, but until then it is an incomplete product.   I am similarly ignoring Windows 7 tablets like the the Asus slate, because Windows 7 Touch seems like touch was slapped on Windows 7 rather than it being built for touch-first use. While it works much like a PC, thereby providing a healthy ecosystem to rely on, it is not really an iPad competitor because it is not as light, and is way more expensive.

Windows 8, Amazon tablet Two legitimate competitors

We know very little about Windows 8 and almost nothing about the Amazon tablet. In fact, we don’t even know if any such product is going to come from Amazon, but here is why I think either of these, or both, are going to be viable competitors to iPad (and also lay out conditions for their success).

Windows 8 (especially ARM version): ARM is known for its power efficiency, and we can assume that it will enable small form factor Windows 8 devices with a long battery life. Combine this with the public announcement by Steven Sinofsky that Windows 8 system requirements are going to be same or lesser than Windows 7, and we have a good chance of seeing Windows 8 tablets/slates in the iPad form factor with similar battery life. Windows has a great ecosystem which it supports on the XBOX and Windows Phone, in the form of the Zune Marketplace. It provides a huge collection of music, movies and TV shows. Windows of course, has the most extensive applications catalog (although the current Windows applications will not automatically work on ARM, but will do on Intel architecture as-is). Windows Phone has rapidly grown its app catalog, starting from zero in October/November of 2010 to about 25,000 this June. Since we don’t know what Windows 8 application development will be like outside of HTML/Javascript, let’s just assume that the app ecosystem will be rich enough to start with. This assumption is generally for Windows 8 with full support for legacyWindows applications. We cannot discuss ARM applications until we know more, supposedly at the //build/ conference in September this year.

One concern I have is that Microsoft seems to be fixated on the fact that tabletsare full PC’s, just in a different form factor. Maybe they consider slatesto be the lightweight PC with a similar form factor. I hope that one way or the other, that they understand that there is a product category which is not necessarily a full PC, but serves the purpose of casual computing much like the iPad does today.

Amazon tablet: Of all Android tablet makers, Amazon surprisingly is poised to be the best equipped in terms of an ecosystem it supports music, movies, TV shows, instant streaming, subscription, cloud storage, cloud music player, digital goods, and very recently, even its own curated Android market for apps! It has already shown manufacturing prowess with the highly successful Kindle, although I understand components for a tablet are different from those used in making the Kindle. Amazon also has a great retail shelf spaceto sell their tablet, and that is their home page, visited by millions of people every day.

If they can pull off a 9- or a 10-inch tablet built on Android with their own marketplace for apps, movies, music and TV shows, they would immediately be a competitor.

It is strange that I feel most optimistic about something that we may not see for one more year, and something that does not even exist as a product today. Such is the state of iPad competition (or lack thereof) today, that we are left to place our bets on almost-unicorns and unicorns.

I sure hope there is some real competition for the iPad though, because that can only be good for us, the consumers. Right?

Microsoft to Preview Windows 8 for Tablets Next Week?

Microsoft is apparently planning to preview Windows for tablets as soon as next week. According to a report by Bloomberg, Microsoft will be showcasing the new tablet OS at the All Things D conference as well as Computex. Steven Sinofsky, President, Windows division and Steve Guggenheimer, Vice President, OEM division are expected to do the honors.

Microsoft will be showcasing the new OS on hardware powered by the Nvidia Tegra chipset. The new version – Windows 8 – will be launched officially in 2012.

With the iPad 2 dominating the market, and Android expected to take a major share of the pie by the time Windows 8 launches, chances are that Microsoft may not be able to make even a dent in that space. It may be too late to the party.

The first Windows 8 tablet prototypes will be powered by ARM processors, not Intel. This is a huge step away from the Wintel partnership which has been prospering since decades.

Intel will also be launching tablets at Computex 2011, powered by Android, MeeGo and Windows.

Intel Launching More than 10 New Tablets at Computex 2011

With the explosion of the many new tablet platforms in the past year, there has been one clear winner – Apple. Even Google is expected to have a winner on its hands with Android 3.0 Honeycomb. RIM and HP are trying to get some piece of the tablet market as well, with the Playbook and webOS tablets.

If there has been a clear loser since the whole tablet revolution, it has been Intel. Well, Microsoft hasn’t done very well either, but with Windows 8, it plans to enter the tablet market in full force. Whether or not it will be too late to the party is something I would like to discuss in another post.

Coming back to Intel, it has been clearly hit hard by the recent smartphone and tablet disruption. Almost all smartphones and tablets use processors designed by ARM. While Intel has a monopoly in the X86 PC processor market, it doesn’t have any significant marketshare in the tablet arena.

With the world shifting to tablets and smartphones, and PC sales declining rapidly, Intel is trying very hard to gain a foothold in the tablet segment. According to a report by WSJ, It will be showcasing more than 10 new tablets at Computex 2011, which starts May 31.

More than 35 of Intel’s chip-based tablet models are on track to be shipped through the year, according to Intel’s general manager for Asia-Pacific, Navin Shenoy. Its new tablets will be powered by the Oak Trail platform which offers better power management, coupled with faster performance. It willl likely launch Android, MeeGo and Windows based tablets.

HCL Launches 3 New “Me” Android Tablets in India

HCL has launched three new Android tablets in India. The “Me” Android tablets are priced in the range of INR 14,990 to INR 32,990.

HCL Me AE7-A1HCL Me AE7-A1 Specifications

The HCL Me AE7-A1 is the cheapest of the three. It has a 7 inch resistive touchscreen display with a resolution of 800x 480 pixels. It comes with Android 2.2 Froyo.

It has an 800 MHz processor and comes with 256 MB RAM. It has 2 GB internal storage and supports microSD cards. It offers Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g and Bluetooth 2.0, and has a 0.3 MP camera. It also has a built in GPS receiver. It is powered by a 2400 mAh battery.

Though it is priced well, the specifications are not at all impressive.

HCL Me AM7-A1HCL Me AM7-A1 Specifications

The HCL Me AM7-A1 is the best one of the three. It is priced very close to the Galaxy Tab though, at INR 22,990. It has a 7 inch capacitive touchscreen display with a resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels. It has an 800 MHz Cortex A8 processor and 512 MB RAM. It has 8 GB internal storage with support for microSD cards.

It has Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g and comes with Bluetooth 2.1 and 3G. It also has GPS with A-GPS support and comes with a 1.3 MP camera. It comes with Android 2.2 Froyo too and supports full HD (1080p) video playback. It has a 4200 mAh battery.

HCL Me AP10-A1HCL Me AP10-A1 Specifications

The HCL Me AP10-A1 is the biggest and the most expensive of the lot. It has a 10 inch capacitive touchscreen and comes with a 1 GHz Cortex A9 processor and 1 GB RAM. It has 16 GB internal storage and supports microSD cards.

It comes with Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g and comes with Bluetooth 2.1 and 3G. It also has GPS with A-GPS as well as a 1.3 MP camera. It also support 1080p video playback and comes with a 3650 mAh battery. It also runs Android 2.2 Froyo and is priced at INR 32,990.

You can buy these tablets at the HCL Store

Samsung Caught Fudging Testimonials, and Lying about Galaxy Tab’s Thickness

Last month, Apple received a fair amount of flak for fudging facts and misquoting rivals during the iPad 2 launch event. However, it seems that Apple is not the only one busy with distorting the truth. Samsung, which has been one of the primary targets of Apple’s reality distortion field, is now trying to return the favor.

Earlier in the week, Samsung unveiled a couple of new Galaxy Tab models at the CTIA the revised Galaxy Tab 10.1″, and a new Galaxy Tab 8.9″. One of the biggest wow factors of the new Galaxy Tab 10.1” is its sleek design. Omar Khan, Chief Strategy Officer and SVP of Products and Services at Samsung, heralded the new Tab as the slimmest tablet in the market. Samsung claimed that the Tab measures in at 8.6 mm, which is 0.2 mm less than Apple’s iPad. However, in reality, the Galaxy Tab is a tad thicker than the iPad 2. It’s still pretty slim, but not slimmer than the iPad. Have a look at the comparison pictures snapped by Information Week’s Fritz Nelson.

Galaxy-Tab-vs-iPad-2-Thickness

Unfortunately, misleading consumers about the Tab’s thickness wasn’t the biggest folly committed by Samsung. During the press event (embedded below), Samsung spent a fair amount of time on its Galaxy Tab Interview Project. The project purported to document how Galaxy Tab changed the life of busy, successful New Yorkers, who were given an opportunity to try the device. The New Yorkers interviewed included freelance travel writer Joan Hess, independent filmmaker Karl Shefelman, and leading real estate CEO Joseph Kolinksi.

The trouble is that these ordinary New Yorkers were gushing about products that aren’t even available in the stores, and they were showering the Tab with cheesy praises that only a PR guy can come up with. Harry McCracken of Technologizer did some digging around, and soon uncovered the real identities of Hess, Shefelman, and Kolinksi. Yes, all of these people exist, but they aren’t who they claimed to be. Joan Hess and Joseph Kolinksi are professional actors, while Karl Shefelman is a filmmaker who works for a NY production company that has done work for Samsung in the past.

It is immoral to fudge minor details here and there, but lying outright by faking testimonials is simply despicable. It’s the act of a company that is desperate. It’s the act of a company that thinks their customers are foolish. This incident demonstrates that Samsung is willing to do whatever it takes to lure customers, even if that means violating established ethical boundaries. Will you be willing to trust such a company with your hard-earned money?

HP to Launch webOS Netbooks and Tablets on February 9

It’s widely rumored that HP is going to unveil webOS tablets at its February 9 event. HP’s Todd Bradley let it slip at an interview on CNBC, that HP will be launching webOS tablets then, but apparently, it seems that HP plans to launch webOS netbooks as well.

Thanks to HP webOS Central, HP’s official training site for webOS device salesmen, we now know for sure that HP has a three pronged strategy for webOS – smartphones, tablets and netbooks. The site which has a series of videos for training salespeople about the pros and cons of webOS and its advantages over the iPad, has a video which confirms that HP will be launching webOS tablets as well as netbooks soon.

Apart from the video, there is also a quiz which asks “In the future you’ll find webOS on multiple devices like:” with the options – Phones, Slates, Netbooks and “All of the above”.

webOS was developed by Palm and was the main reason behind HP’s $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm. It has one of the best mobile user interfaces, which many believe is much better than iOS, both visually and in terms of multitasking. With a massive push from HP, it should become the third dominant mobile OS after Android and iOS.

Check out these pics of the HP webOS Central videos by Precentral:

HP webOS Netbook

HP webOS Netbook