January 13, 2011
By itself, the Atrix was but one of the dozen or so large-screened Android smartphones that invaded CES 2011, but what really set it apart was its lapdock accessory. This clamshell combination of a full-sized keyboard, screen and battery allow the Atrix to function more like a Linux smartbook.
Extending the processing and connectivity of a smartphone to notebook proportions is, of course, not a new idea. The pre-Elevation Palm sort of tried it with the Foleo, which was a mostly independent device and in some ways a closer ancestor to the BlackBerry Playbook. Celio implemented it with the Redfly, although that product was tied to the unpopular Windows Mobile OS and later BlackBerry, where it was poorly integrated. Rather than a dock, both solutions were able to use bandwidth-constrained Bluetooth to pair the input and output enhancement to the phone. In the case of the Redfly, a cable could also be used.
The Atrix 4G lapdock solution seems like it will work better than those approaches, but in the excitement over a smartphone that can apparently transform into a laptop, I think we’ve been too quick to overlook the lapdock’s strange design, in which the Atrix is docked behind the screen. This allows for easy connection and disconnection of the smartphone, but it doesn’t allow for use of both screens simultaneously. More importantly, it doesn’t allow you to easily transport the docked Atrix within the lapdock. I’d be surprised if a competitor taking a crack at this didn’t make it so that the phone is inserted securely inside the clamshell, allowing for sufficient ventilation, of course.
Tags: Android, Atrix 4G, celio, CES 2011, Foleo, lapdock, Motorola Mobility, netbooks, Palm, Redfly, smartbook, smartphone
September 12, 2010
Long before the launch of the iPad or the introduction of the smartbook concept, a client asked me what I thought about the idea of netbooks that didn’t run Windows. Versions of the ASUS Eee and HP Mini had been available with Linux distributions, but were ultimately cancelled in the face of consumers’ overwhelming preference for Windows on those devices. If it walks like a mouse being used on Windows, consumers expect to use it with a mouse being used with Windows. Now, SlashGear notes that Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs says that the iPad has delivered the concept of “always-on, all–day devices” that smartbooks had originally promised.
I read that comment as potential validation, but SlashGear frames it as a concession. If Jacobs has indeed taken up the white flag from Shantanu Narayen, It’s oddly timed given the barrage of ARM-powered Android tablets that are in the works. Archos, for example, just announced a whole family of Internet tablets (if you can call a device with a 3.2” screen a tablet as they do) and Samsung has announced the highest-profile iPad competitor to date in the Galaxy Tab (more on that name later).
So perhaps the term smartbook, like netbook, implies a keyboard – something that wasn’t the case in concept videos shown early on by Qualcomm. The Lenovo Skylight (pictured) was shelved, but promised to return one day running Android. Challenges abound. Not only is Android is not optimized for larger screens, but it needs a staple of applications to fill in the gaps with Windows (something Linux actually had for productivity in OpenOffice). Furthermore, channel, task and usage scenario overlap with Windows becomes more pronounced.
Over time, though, consumers may be more accepting of a keyboard-equipped smartbook. As the SlashGear post notes, HP and Toshiba have dabbled in the market. The paradox is that consumers need more successful non-Windows tablets like the iPad to understand such a device with a keyboard. Apple probably won’t produce one, but has opened the door to accessory makers to create an equivalent, and others will. The key for these vendors is to show consumers that even keyboard-enabled smartbooks are not neutered netbooks, but supersized smartphones.
Samsung appears to recognize that in using the “Galaxy” brand across its smartphones and the Tab, but it is both a new brand and one that has been subdued (at least in the U.S.) under the monikers that various carriers have given it. In any case, consumers have of course accepted physical keyboards on smartphones (with at least one successful clamshell feature phone that may be Android-bound).
Tags: Apple, Archos, ClamCase, Internet tablets, iPad, keyboards, netbooks, Qualcomm, SlashGear, smartbooks, tablets, touch, Windows
April 2, 2010
The iPhone was really something of a talking dog. It was so amazing that Apple had brought such functionality to something that was so omnipresent that it was relatively easy to forgive the cramped interface and incessant swiping that sometimes seemed required to get things done. In a form of geek noblesse oblige, advanced users accepted these limitations understanding that it was part of the platform’s overall gestalt that brought new users into the smartphone ecosystem.
But you’ll find less of that feeling of compromise with the iPad. Yes, technically the iPad is very similar to a large iPod touch. But it is also an unbound iPod touch – unbound by the constraints of screen size, limited battery life, cramped keyboard, and a user interface that lacks some of the efficiencly boosters Apple has now implemented.
As I noted in a recent Laptop Magazine article, I put the iPad closer to a notebook on the smartphone-notebook continuum in terms of functionality and usage scenarios. And yet, the iPad is not a netbook, nor do I think it aspires to be one even though at least some of the tasks — most notably, e-mail and Web access — can be managed pretty well on it. But a BlackBerry handles e-mail pretty well, too. Furthermore, I think it would be the wrong path for Apple to try to make the iPad more netbook-like; this would work to the detriment of the device experience and would of course risk cannibalizing Apple’s Mac business. So far, the lack of multitasking is even less of an issue on the iPad than on the iPhone as you’re far more likely to be engaged with the device as you use it, and there is less need to have geolocation apps running in the background. Lack of Flash is being addressed by video providers — perhaps even Hulu — working on their own iPad apps.
Tags: Apple, iPad, iPhone, netbooks
May 29, 2009
Earlier this month, I wrote a Switched On column for Engadget that discussed how Windows 7 Starter Edition’s three-app limit left Microsoft wide open for jibes from Apple and detractors. Today, the company announced that it is lifting the three-app limit. Instead, it will rely on features such as personalization and streaming music support to distinguish the Starter Edition from Windows 7 Home Premium, which will be the default edition for developed economies.
Removing the three-app limit, which was arbitrary in this day of Web applications that Google Wave has so aptly demonstrated, will remove potential frustrations that consumers of value-targeted PCs would have experienced while still providing enough of an incentive to induce consumers to upgrade. The losers here are Apple’s commercial writers, who will now have to dig a little harder to find something to ding Windows 7 on, and Linux, which, as I’ve noted, has increasingly had trouble justifying its presence in netbooks. But the potential of other “gaptop” devices such as Qualcomm’s SmartBook initiative, may offer new hope, It’s starting to look, though, that the opportunity is more around the smaller screen size than a lower price point.
Tags: Linux, netbooks, nettops, Windows 7 Starter Edition
May 1, 2009
Technologizer notes that the Foleo may be reincarnated running webOS, Palm’s new operating system. Like Harry McCracken, I was sympathetic to the idea of Foleo when it was announced and before the netbook craze hit full-force. However, the requirement to have a cell phone tethered to what was otherwise a functional client resulted in a split personality. In contrast, Celio Corp.’s REDFLY takes a better approach by turning the “laptop” into a thin client, and completely relying on the snartphone’s operating system and connectivity, but the applications are not there yet for it to be a consumer product.)
A webOS-powered Foleo could have many of the characteristics that I ascribed to a potential iPhone OS-based clamshell without some of the iPhone’s limitations. Palm, of course, does not have the issue with smaller keyboards that Apple seems to, and webOS merrily supports multitasking in a way that is more visually akin to a PC user interface.. webOS is even slated to get support for desktop Flash nest year. And Palm has no fear about cannibalizing more expensive notebook PC sales (although it must be cognizant of netbook pricing, an issue that blindsided the initial Foleo).
Still, if the Foleo returns, it probably won’t be for a while. There is just too much opportunity for Palm in the smartphone space and the competition is thick. But it’s certainly an opportunity once the company has covered its international bases with webOS smartphones. Until then, feel free to go back to obsessing over Android-based netbooks.
Tags: Foleo, iPhone OS, netbooks, Palm, webOS
December 4, 2008
- Lifting a quote about Coby from a New York Times story I was interviewed for two years ago
- Quoting Robert Gee, whom I understand left Coby Electronics months ago
- Including a picture of the device that looks like an Everex Cloudbook
- Citing “insiders” intermingled with company representatives
- The strange fixation on Moore’s Law in the story
- Use of the name “PoqetMate.” Poqet Corporation was a manufacturer of small MS-DOS PCs that was acquired by Fujitsu.
In addition, I’ve never seen a tech story broken by the Arkansas IndyMedia before in my career. Why would Coby approach them with an apparent exclusive? And why would it be in the “Local News” section unless perhaps Walmart was going to be the exclusive distributor? Update: The site seems to be a community content site where anyone can upload any article they create without oversight.
So I contacted Coby this morning and, sure enough, its PR representative told me that “this story, or any announcement regarding a netbook, was not (emphasis theirs) initiated, condoned or approved by Coby Electronics” and referred to the information in the story as “erroneous.”
It looks like someone has been engaging in a different kind of fabrication than that which would have produced the Midget PC’s Longsoon processor.
Tags: coby, midget pc, netbooks, PoqetMate, shenanigans
The $100 laptop concept has attracted attention from the likes of high-minded philanthropists, microprocessor giants, Handheld PC revivalists and even an eBay-scavenging Engadget columnist. But it may finally hit US shores this spring courtesy the unassuming and generally publicity-shy drug store shelf spelunkers at Coby — a race to the bottom indeed, even if the vendor of portable cassette boomboxes has been stepping up its digital design game of late. If reports are true (and I have reason to believe they may not be), the $100 Midget PC will run Linux and come with a 7″ screen but will be smaller than the original Eee PC that already tested the limits of keyboard usability.
As I’ve written, Linux-based ultraportables have a lot more potential as a true PC companion once they dip below $300. Consider that at $100, this product would be significantly below the price of most digital cameras and many MP3 players on the market. Still, consumers have higher expectations from devices they expect to achieve at least a modicum of productivity and this product still supposedly has the letters “PC” in its name. . I remember several lower-end competitors to Palm PDAs that never took off, for example, but they never had the draw of mobile Internet access.
So, assuming that the device has Wi-Fi (and if not, it’s a nonstarter or some kind of curiosity), the quality of the browser will be key. Here’s hoping Coby keeps a USB port for transferring some files to and from the device.although I’ll understand if it ditches an SD card reader or VGA out. More important variables are the previously-addressed keyboard and the critical screen. I briefly used a Coby hard drive-based portable video player last year with a low-resolution 7″ screen that was practically unwatchable. But they’ve done other niche products I’ve liked.
One other personally interesting aspect to this rumor is that I am quoted in this story, which seems to be the original source (though I couldn’t tell you what it has to do with Arkansas). However, I never spoke to the piece’s author. The quote is lifted from a New York Times story about Coby that I was interviewed for back in 2006. Also, the device pictured sure looks a lot like the Everex Couldbook. These and other anomalies in the article lead me to question its authenticity.
Tags: $100 laptop, coby, midget pc, netbooks
October 29, 2008
While I like the product category, I’ve written before about my disdain for the term “netbook.” Fortunately, Dell and HP have used the sexier term “mini” to describe their offerings in the space. And after seeing HP’s Mini 1000, the consumerizd version of its early entrant, the 2133, the company seems to have a winner on its hands.
In addition to disliking the term “netbook”, I’m also not a fan of positioning them for content consumption as opposed to content creation. That dichotomy has long existed for most users of existing PCs. A better approach is to make the case that this is the device to use when your smartphone isn’t going to cut it. And if Intel and friends are trying to reserve that messaging for MIDs, an alternative is to position the MID more for communication while the netbook is more for productivity. I don’t want to say this is starting to become a superficial academic segmentation, but even the angels are complaining about how crowded the head of this pin is getting.
And especially for HP, if netbooks are little more than a pretty screen, why focus so much on the keyboard? The Mini 1000 continues with the best-in-class custom keyboard that the 2133 offered. In contrast, the Sylvania netbook meso g that I’ve recently used has no right Shift key.
Despite maintaining that Linux has is place in portable computing and admiring how HP appears to have done the best job to date of building a superior Linux experience with MIE atop Ubunutu, I continue to be skeptical of the appeal of Linux on these products with only a $20 premium for Windows XP. Windows may be “a devil” compared to the streamlined MIE, but it is the devil that most people know, and has probably even endeared itself more to consumers with all the negativity surrounding Vista.
What’s missing from the Mini 1000? First, I hope the six-cell battery doesn’t protrude as much as the 2133′s did. Second, the true potential of netbooks won’t be realized until we have better wireless broadband options, but the removal of the ExpressCard slot is no deal breaker as Apple has long showed with the MacBook. The flanked trackpad buttons aren’t ideal, but they are a far better compromise than moving keys around the way Dell did on the Inspiron mini 9. Dell shouldn’t have to do that on its 12″ “netbook”, which may just wind up with the highest volumes in the category yet even if it cannibalizes other 12″ laptops.
Tags: Dell, HP, inspiron mini, mini, netbooks
September 4, 2008
You can continue to deride netbooks as underpowered toys if you like, and I agree with many of my fellow analysts that they will account for a niche in overall PC shipments this year, but there’s no doubt that netbooks are challenging the PC status quo in many ways — “retro” and alternative operating systems, newcomer brands such as Sylvania, and interesting distribution potential, such as via cellular operators.
Dell is definitely positioning these products in an advantageous way by offering its Inspiron Mini for $99 with purchase of a select other PC, reinforcing the message that this is a sort of computing peripheral. (Dell has offered similar promotions on monitors and printers in the past.) It’s also a fresh arrow for the company to tuck into in its challenged upsell quiver. Of course, I’ve argued previously that the lower-cost Linux configuration lives up to that designation better.
Tags: Dell, inspiron mini, netbooks
August 12, 2008
Speaking of proportions, according to OC Register, Averatec will enter the netbook market this fall with what looks like a pretty well-equipped netbook with a nice design as well, and available at retail for under $500 this holiday season.
I’ve had the opportunity to get hands-on with a number of these products and am coming to favor those with 10″ screens, at least aesthetically, for a few reasons. First, they simply look less toy-like, a complaint I’ve heard levied a number of times against other netbooks. Second, they address the problem of either having a cramped or compromised keyboard versus having an unusually large bezel around the screen, thus resulting in a better-proportioned look. I have some concern about 10.2″ models being a bit less portable than, the 8.9″ variety that has attracted much interest, but these should still be ideal airline tray companions.
Tags: averatec, netbooks, screen size