February 5, 2010

apple_ipad_keyboard_dockFew people know that I had a cameo appearance in one of the live reports covering the launch of the iPad. The reporter sitting next to me recorded my loud cheer when Apple showed off the keyboard dock. I have been calling for dock and Bluetooth input support for the iPhone and iPod touch for years. It certainly makes sense to introduce this functionality on a larger device, particularly one for which Apple is developing a version of iWork, and hopefully it will trickle down to Apple’s handhelds.

Now that we’ve seen the first Apple accessories for the iPad, here are some third-party products that would complement Apple’s slate in descending order of practicality and potential:

  1. Headrest strap. One of the iPad’s less obvious opportunities is in the vehicle, particularly as a rear-seat video system that could serve as a 21st Century successor to the portable DVD player that has seen so much use in vehicles.This accessory could function similarly to those portable DVD cases that can wrap around a headrest – simple, inexpensive and functional.
  2. Clamshell enclosure. This one is the most fascinating to me. Essentially, such a product would turn the iPad into the equivalent of the detachable tablet that is part of the Lenovo U10, which was certainly the product that received the most buzz at CES among computing devices, if not all devices. The Always Innovating TouchBook has a clamshell keyboard add-on for $100, and it adds battery life to boot. It would also be great if this product provided a way to swivel the iPad from landscape to portrait mode, but that could be challenging.
  3. Refrigerator mount/dock. How many concept and high-tech refrigerators have you seen with LCDs that don’t do much beyond serving as a digital picture frame. This idea is also inspired by the Always innovating Touch Book, which has a magnetic back for affixing to kitchen appliances. But it also draws from the Audiovox audio and video message boards that included a 7” digital picture frame and a long wire intended to go over the top and behind the refrigerator to an outlet that can power and charge the screen. The iPad could do a better job at providing all the great functionality of the iPod touch in the kitchen.

So, what do you say, Griffin? Logitech? Belkin? Kensington? Audiovox?

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February 1, 2010

Over at Technologizer, Harry McCracken has a great post comparing some of the early skepticism around the iPad to that of the iPhone; it was a topic that came up in the TUAW Talkcast that I participated in last night. Personally, while I certainly remember some skepticism regarding the lack of a physical keyboard or 3G (the latter ultimately addressed) in the original iPhone, I remember the overall reaction as far more positive than that for the iPad. Most people were impressed by the iPhone, but turned off by its pricing whereas the iPad pricing has been perceived as quite reasonable or perhaps even aggressive.

But is it? Over at The NPD Group Blog, I’ve provided my take on its value versus standalone electronics, but let’s look at more directly competitive products. The answer is yes if you compare it to Tablet PCs or Apple’s notebooks, maybe if you compare it to netbooks, and not so much when you compare it to some of the other large tablets introduced by startups in the past year, at least on the face value of hardware.

Take, for example, the embattled Joojoo by Fusion Garage, which also intends to debut at $499. It has a 12” capacitive touchscreen as opposed to the iPad’s 9.7” screen, and it can handle Flash and Hulu, albeit with only half the battery life of the iPad. Then there’s Always Innovating’s Touch Pad with an 8.9” touchscreen and a keyboard attachment that turns it into a functional, albeit non-Windows-based, netbook. Like the iPad, it boasts ten hours of battery life and costs just $299 or $399 with the keyboard.

Neither of these products blow away the iPad in terms of absolute pricing or value, but remember that they are from small startups with no brand and are producing limited volumes compared with the millions of units that the iPad will likely ship in 2010. The iPad’s price is a breakthrough judged against the fictional rumors that preceded it, rumors that may have been based on features and added cost it did not have. Not to take anything away from the engineering that went into offering the iPad at its price, but it’s pretty easy to hit a bullseye when the rest of the world is giving you the side of a barn on which to paint it.

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August 11, 2009

I welcome a tweeting representative at ViewSonic Corp. as one my most recent Twitter followers; I am following him or her as well.. ViewSonic has always been a progressive display company, which I suppose it has had to be as one of the few independent brands in the PC monitor marketplace. Seeing ViewSonic in my followers’ list got me thinking about the company’s various forays to market intelligent displays.

Back when Microsoft launched Smart Displays, tablet terminals that used Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol to access a PC from around the home, it positioned the devices as the future of the monitor. Smart Displays were contrasted against Tablet PCs, which were positioned as the future of the laptop. Clearly, the latter had greater longevity although neither initiative became the future of anything.

Still, I liked the Smart Display concept. If netbooks indicate that price was the main obstacle presenting consumers from buying ultraportables with 11” and smaller screens, perhaps a lower-cost tablet could vindicate the Smart Display form factor (if not its design goals). Certainly that’s what the CrunchPad is setting out to do. In any case, VviewSonic was the leading brand in the doomed category, offering AirPanel Smart Displays in both 10” (pictured) and 15” screen sizes with a USB keyboard.

More recently at this year’s CES, ViewSonic jumped on the netbook/nettop bandwagon, showing a number of PCs such as a backpack PC intended to affix to the back of a monitor, an all-in-one, and a netbook. The challenge, though, is that while the netbook market has raised Asus’ profile, consumers are increasingly thinking about netbooks as little Windows PCs, and in turn are looking to big Windows PC brands, On the other hand, maybe a big “PC” brand like Apple can open up the tablet category.

I don’t know if ViewSonic has it in them, so to speak, but if Archos as well as the CrunchPad and Touch Book teams were able to do it, I’m sure ViewSonic could as well. Maybe it could embed Android (which would probably be the way to go despite large-screen Android misgivings), or one of the “instant on” operating systems such as SplashTop or HyperSpace. In any case, ad at the risk of damning it with faint praise, the Web tablet is probably the best opportunity since Smart Display for a monitor manufacturer to really differentiate itself technologically.

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August 7, 2009

Since my last Switched On column postulating that the rumored Apple tablet could be more of an Apple TV successor than an iPod touch with a glandular problem, I’ve heard some fantastic unpublished rumors about the device from a pretty credible source — at least one of which I believe. It’s easy to say that at $599 or more that the Apple tablet is a nonstarter but let’s remember that the iPod started at $399 and the iPhone launched at $599. But the Apple tablet could be… could be…

…just a rumor. Of it could well exist in prototype form and for whatever reason Apple could decide not to ship it. It’s happened before.

The CrunchPad, which I predicted could not be sold for $200 and has now seen its predicted price swell to netbook range, had received a lot of attention as an Apple tablet alternative, but if you’re primarily interested in surfing the Web and are willing to shell out that much, it may be worth looking into Always innovating’s Touch Book, which I’ve written about previously.

Its screen is smaller than the CrunchPad’s. But with its add-on keyboard, open source operating system, and unorthodox hardware, it’s the Chumby of netbooks, and I like its “convertible” approach more than those of Tablet PCs where the screen twists and folds over the keyboard, leaving a fat tablet. Since it must house a battery in its screen for independent tablet operation, the Touch Book’s lid is a bit thick as well, but I think it could be the stronger niche offering if its software can carry the day.

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