Android Tablets and Aligning Stars – From a UMPC Perspective

Posted on 02 July 2012 by



nexus 7

Since the decline of the ultra mobile PC  market there have been very very few handheld computing choices that have offered the same flexibility.  Yes, UMPCs never had fantastic mobile battery life and were relatively big and ultimately failed but there’s still a big requirement for mobile, productive and flexible computing that’s not solved by ARM-based mobile computing solutions. IOS is off-limits to many people looking for UMPC-like flexibility and Android simply doesn’t have the quality software. The Google Nexus 7 could, however, change the economics and finally give ISVs a good reason to invest in high quality mobile productivity software packages for Android. Google in investing heavily into the OS, the cloud services and the applications and the important 3.x+ user base (Fragments-capable end devices) is growing fast. With the growing 4-7” ecosystem that Android is doing so well in comes more requirement and confidence in bringing new and niche designs to the market. The stars are aligning for handheld PC fans.

It’s been interesting to watch the progress of Windows 8, an operating system that provides a huge range of usage scenarios from mobile casual to productive desktop, but it’s clear that there are two problems that will prevent it being the perfect ultra mobile PC OS.  On the X86 side of things it’s still what you call a 10W TDP solution and that means, very simply, designs that would be too large for two-hands or jacket pockets. The silicon is moving in the right direction and I believe we’ll see always-on, always connected (AOAC / connected standby) ‘ultraslates’ by end of 2013 but they’ll be 10” tablets or 13.3” ultrabooks. Getting down below that 10W TDP figure is going to be near impossible. On the ARM side of things, Windows RT will have the well-known problem of app availability. No-one knows how many Windows RT devices will sell in the first 12 months so no-one is going to be putting a big team together to port high-end software into Metro-land.  I’m sorry to say that Windows 8 won’t have any impact for handheld computing fans for at least another 18 months.

Back to IOS for a second, it’s simply out of the ultra-mobile PC picture. It’s meant for another world where flexibility of connectivity and configuration is not a major requirement.

Android has the best chance at maturing into a flexible, productive OS and we’ve believed that for a while. Testing the Compaq Airlife 100 over 2 years ago, we learned a lot…

…there’s a lot of potential in the ‘smart’ platforms. Long battery life (due to extremely low idle drain) and always-on/connected are features that, once you’ve experienced them, are hard to let go of. Android has potential too but there are 2 key things that need to be done. 1) The browser needs to be improved. The Airlife 100 is not up to doing any web-application work. 2) The marketplace needs to be put into place so that developers have a channel for productive and large-screen apps.  Once these two issues are fixed though, it’s only a matter of time before productive mobile computing moves to ‘smart’ platforms with advanced mobile operating systems. [Source]

Since then the processing capability has improved, the Android Chrome Browser is almost production-grade and the marketplace is generally available to all device manufacturers. Unfortunately that only happened in the last year so ISVs still haven’t started writing because the sales numbers weren’t there. That could change with the Nexus 7 and it’s probably the reason Google have done it. It’s the loss-leader that changes the economics for developers and will help to fill the last gap – applications.

Samsung have done a lot for the Android tablet market, companies like Archos and a bunch of lesser known low-cost manufacturers too but there’s never been a single shining star that developers could use as a reference point for growth and sales numbers. At $199 with and exciting feature set and easy availability in the US and UK, the Google Nexus should hit newsworthy sales numbers in a very short time. Expect the availability to widen quickly too.

So how many units of the Nexus 7 will Google have to shift to change the economics?

The iPad is still selling huge numbers and clearly remains the #1 choice for ISVs looking at tablet platforms. ISVs had confidence in numbers and growth rates very early on in the life of the iPad  where a quick 10 million sales was enough to fire the developers up. The same growth rate and numbers could do the same for Android tablets although with around 10 million Android tablets already selling per quarter, there’s already an important user base out there. Recent additions to the user base will become even more valuable once they get upgraded to the last version of the OS. We must not forget the million Android smartphone users coming online every day too. Many of those will already be a source of interesting for ISVs and moving Fragment oriented apps from 4” to 7” isn’t a huge amount of work.

There’s another potential shining star our there too. The popular Amazon Kindle Fire could see an upgrade soon and if Amazon move to ICS as the base OS it becomes an important addition to the numbers. Porting software from Google’s ecosystem into Amazon’s should be very easy.

Finally, we must not forget that ICS is evolving too. A fluid UI mechanism in version 4.1 (Jelly Bean) and some great new apps and cloud services really help make the products more attractive and give developers confidence about the future.

To summarize, we’re going to see important growth in numbers of 7” Android tablets thanks to the Google Nexus 7. Those numbers will make ISVs interested in creating and porting important software which fills one of the last holes in the Android ecosystem. As that ecosystems grows there will be less risk for manufacturers making different form factor devices. In fact, if Google and Android dominate the 7” tablet segment, it encourages manufacturers to explore different designs and features. With the iPad seriously dominating the large-screen tablet sector, it leaves Android, for the moment, free to be the king of the handheld market and the ecosystem that starts to re-approach the smartbook and ultra mobile PC sector.

Categorized | Opinion

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10 Comments For This Post

  1. digi_owl says:

    On the topic of flexibility i think the Nexus 7 falls short.

    1. No full size USB port.

    2. No storage expansion.

    3. you mention Fragments, yet all the demoes of JB(4.1) from Google IO was of portrait phone UIs. No demoing of Gmail or any other app with a Fragments like sidebars.

    To me the Nexus 7 is not about turning Android productive. It is about cutting Amazon off at the pass.

    As for productivity, there is now offline editing (again) in Google Docs. And Google also recently grabbed Quickoffice.

    Btw, Google seems split down the middle. They are in a protracted war with Apple in the mobile space. But during the Chrome(OS) keynote, Apple products cameo-ed again and again.

  2. Yu says:

    Please also consider, that Nexus 7 availability outside the US is far from sure right now. Being essentially subsidized, it will probably not be available anywhere, where Google cannot yet offer the full range of content. Seeing how long it took Amazon to move the Kindle to good old Germany, I fear, many countries will be left out for a while, reducing the impact of both ecosystems for the interest of globally acting ISVs.

    Then again, increasing the user base in one country might spark the interest, which again might spark the costumer interest in non-subsidized devices available to those other markets.

    I hope though, that there will in time be some official 10″-google tablet available in Austria, as I plan to use tablets for getting rid of that stack of printed scientific papers. Quickly browsing through an A4 pdf in 10pt or less font size to find a useful position or judge it’s usefulness for my work, requires a readable full-page view, which requires a 10″ screen (as a compromise between eye-strain and weight) and a good IPS display (bright and good viewing angles) with a high resolution. 1280×800 sadly is really pushing the limit in terms of shorter-side pixels even with good anti-aliasing and somehow I don’t want to end up with an iPad 3, which right now seems the only device fitting my use-case.

  3. Sarig says:

    Intel has finally started producing phones based on x86, running Android. It seemed to match ARM on power-consumption. Now, besides being x86, I don’t know a whole lot about it, but I thought it sounded promising?

    zeo Reply:

    Yes, but it’ll take Intel another year or two to really ramp up their product line to really compete with ARM.

    Medfield is just the first successful step into the mobile world for them but it’s still based on their old technology and only really compares to the older Cortex A9 dual core ARM SoCs. So they need to seriously update it for it to be a real contender.

    Merrifield will be the next version coming out next year but even that is still playing catch up to where ARM is right now.

    However, Intel is going to start advancing at a very fast rate after next year and what comes in 2014 may be the game changer they need but if nothing else it’s going to be a interesting 2 years.

    One correction to the Article though, Intel ATOMs are going below 10W TDP. So not all Windows 8 on x86 will be 10W and higher.

    Many Clover Trail Windows 8 tablets for example may be closer to 2W or at least below 5W.

  4. Ervin Barrio says:

    Looking for leak of 4.1. Anyone have it?

  5. John Land says:

    This seems like a really cool thing. I’m going to read the reviews on this model.

  6. Claudia says:

    The main problem with the Kindle Fire — and the Nook Tablet, which I much prefer — is that it’s not sold outside the US. The Nexus 7 has a real edge there, since it’s going to be available internationally.

    I have to admit I’m very tempted by the Nexus 7. It offers a lot of bang for the buck. I’m not happy about the lack of card support, but early reports indicate that it’s possible to use an OTG cable to access a card/flash drive.

    That said, what I really want is a 7″ Windows 8 tablet — here’s hoping some will hit the market soon!

  7. evozero says:

    for me, i just need a device with hardware QWERTY, 3G, and full desktop browser (e.g. chrome, firefox, or opera) for content creation, preferably usable while standing (e.g. in the subway)

    as it stands, even posting a url on facebook using android remains frustrating. using the “share” function does not allow you to edit the preview photo, headline, or sub-headline.

    using dolphin hd in desktop mode (copy and paste url in facebook status box) is a little better, but the preview text does not always appear.

    don’t get me started on blogger. accessing http://www.blogger.com is buggy most of the time (i think it’s due to AJAX or javascript). the blogger app’s functions are too basic.

    i remember reading sometime ago that ubuntu was being installed in some android devices. is it stable enough to use now?

  8. Alan in Florida says:

    Okay, call me a dinosaur and have a good laugh, but I’ll go ahead anyway. I think that Raon, OQO, and Viliv had the right idea as far as portable devices and UMPC. Given enough time they may have developed the perfect solution, but of course they were on a financial road headed toward disaster. I still use my Raon Everun(s) with XP, Viliv S5, and Viliv N5 both with W7. I find them to be fine for my particular needs, though they are no match for new tech. But slipping one of them in my pocket on the way out the door had been with me for at least 6-7 years now with few problems and much use. I also still find myself using my Archos PMA430 now and then, too. It’s really too bad that the UMPC market never took hold, though I’m sure there are still some folks out there like me that still find a place in their hearts for these devices like old friends. I do recall that Chippy used an Everun for his Avatar!

    evozero: your needs sound like you could use a good old fashioned Viliv N5! Full keyboard, 3G, usable standing though one handed is tough.

  9. a-non-e-mouse says:

    Speaking of UMPC’s with Windows, has anyone looked at the Tainell U-Touch 500 yet? Based on the specs, it’s essentially the successor to the viliv S5 in every way – more memory, speed, and storage (and higher price). It even resembles the S5, with the joystick on the left, and 3 buttons on the right.

    evozero Reply:

    Specs look reasonable, although top spec pricing is expensive.

    Have to see some proper reviews before we can really consider.

  10. gadget freak says:

    I am a frequent viewer and poster of forum (in the past, under diff. pseudo-name). I own lots of gadgets: from Win CE based to Windows based, and others of course. As far as MID and UMPC goes, now w/ Android and iOS, I am slowly giving up on Windows for touch, regardless what my other friends said. I will be selling my BenQ S6 and my Samsung Q1 very soon as well (although not likely to get much for them).

    The BenQ S6 is almost impossible to get the right mouse key emulated by holding on the stylus down on the sensor. I have to use a special keyboard that has that mapped to do it. This is an ultimate big flaw because my oldest Win CE devices do not have that problem.

    The Samsung Q1 can barely get 2 hours (S6 worse) even on a new battery (worse w/ old battery), as it is older technology. It was sold for $1500. at the time. Basically outdated technology.

    Modern day, my friend owns (and have tried) various newer models: Acer W500, UMID, Viliv, HP etc. I don’t care.

    Your article stresses on productivity. You see, the word can mean many things. Sure Windows will give you the most “productivity” because you can run many “productivity suites” on it, while they are not available for Android or iOS (not yet). However, how realistic is it to be truly PRODUCTIVE if you have tiny screen, tiny keyboard, and unresponsive touch screen, and short battery life? Why bother? Can you write 5000 lines of code on it? Can you edit and write 5000 words essays on it? Can you edit good high res on Photoshop on it? Sure you can, but would you do so, and do so regularly?

    I don’t dismiss the cool factor and the warm and fuzzy feeling whenever I visit this site and I have said all the good things about the blog / forum / community here. Sure a great bunch of people. But I also think it is wishful thinking that you can squeeze Windows down to a pack of cigarette size and still be truly productive. Let’s not kid ourselves here! (And if you really are that crazy, 90% of the case you can run remote control on tablet OS).

    To me, a 9″ or 10″ netbook is a minimum to run Windows. I can’t stand smaller and I can’t stand a touch interface especially on XP but even 7 is not that much better. I will wait and see how 8 will become but in the mean time it’s not my cup of tea.

    There will also be niche users, and there will always be underdog supporters. I have been there (Amiga) and got the T-shirt. I commend the comradeship.

    Windows Mobile has been so ineffective and inefficient (and buggy) that it was a failure. I had tweaked and tweaked my HTC Advantage and it has never been satisfactory on the $1,000. purchase. Windows is just not much for touch, especially the apps aren’t.

    So the problem is not always just the hardware manufacturer. I know I will be a little more satisfied if I bought Viliv or UMID (before they closed down) instead of BenQ, but still the platform is still same.

    And over time, more and more apps are available on iOS and Android which I needed on Windows. The absolutely needed apps are no longer as much an issue anymore. I no longer have to have Windows.

    I still own 3 netbooks and getting a fourth. I like them as they are cheap and productive (really!). But I am disappointed about the expensive MID and UMPC. They shouldn’t have been that expensive to start with and lately they should only get cheaper but they didn’t. W500 is still $500. locally as the cheapest found price (new).

    You see, the TDP is going to be an on going issue. Windows is just too big and they need a lot of processing power to feel smooth. There is no other way around it. There is improvement on CPUs but it doesn’t come that fast on the efficiency. If it is not a problem then why would Microsoft develop the RT version? They know they don’t have a choice.

    iOS and Android are limited but already so powerful that it does 90% of what I need. I don’t need it to do 100%.

    That’s why I disagree with some of the comments here. But still, there are Android tablets w/ USB Host Mode (if that’s what you mean USB Full Size Port), like the Toshiba Thrive and the Acer A500 series (and the Gateway branded same thing). What more things do you need? SD sockets, again, most do, only Nexus doesn’t so give it a break. Again, many have HDMI output as well. But now you will argue that they don’t have a ethernet port, I am sure. Basically all you want is a PC in a tablet case, but then you come back to complain about short battery life and weight.

    May be you should design one and sell it.

    a-non-e-mouse Reply:

    As one of the people who felt that a USB port was important, I just want to point out: having full-spec USB host mode is a big part of it, but it also has to support the things you attach to it. If it doesn’t go beyond memory sticks and standard portable drives, that’s fine. But what happens if it turns out it requires a driver that your Android device doesn’t have? If it was a Windows machine, you’d download the driver and install it and the necessary software, done (usually). You see, it’s not just software compatibility I’m looking for, it’s the wide range of hardware that’s supported as well. In my case, it was a portable microscope that I was able to plug into either my netbook, or my viliv S5. Would you be able to install drivers on an Android device? Would the device even allow you to upgrade Android?

    gadget freak Reply:

    @a-non-e-mouse . I think you have missed the point here. Would you be able to connect your microscope to your phone? Do you expect it to? I can even guess the answer, and the reasoning is basically the same as that of a tablet.

    Ok, let’s say you have connected your Viliv S5 to your portable microscope. I forgot what that resolution is, but my S6 BenQ is 800×480 on a 4.8″ LCD, with no external monitor connection. Are you satisfied with looking at a 4.8″ LCD for whatever you need for your portable microscope?

    And the 2nd point you missed. Did I ever suggest that you must have only ONE device on you for your life? You guys simply don’t get it. If you must count USB Host Mode, let me count my devices for you:

    Toshiba e740 PDA has USB Host Mode, this is a 10 year old PDA. I have bought the Expansion pack ($100. List, but I found one at $50. at a very obscured reseller in the US), which has both VGA and USB Host Mode. guess what? I rarely use it, and I don’t recall I ever use the USB Host Mode. Yes, many drivers were modified to work with it.

    Toshiba e830 and e805. Again, Both have USB Host Mode.

    BenQ S6 has USB Host Mode. Samsung Q1 has USB Host Mode. I rarely use them for anything other than mouse, keyboard and DVD-Writer or via a USB Hub.

    I own 3 netbooks now (but have owned over 6 in total): AOA110, 1000HE, Acer 722 w/ C50. All have USB Host Mode and I use them a lot for various things.

    Since I have so many devices to do USB Host Mode, why do I have to have that on a tablet? Granted, I just bought a eTransformer TF101 yesterday w/ the bundled keyboard dock so it has USB Host Mode provided I brought it w/ the tablet, (which I think I would), but I don’t really need it as I have that other device if I need to.

    Basically, your argument is like this. Why would you buy a sports car if it doesn’t have a truck bed? How can you go to Ikea without a truck bed if you need to? My point is that if I have a truck, then I don’t think I need to find a sports car with a truck bed before I will buy it. You, on the other hand, will insist looking for a sports car with a truck bed before you will buy it. But my point is that the end result is that it will be a terrible sports car. And indeed, those devices I bought w/ USB Host Mode, including the not mentioned HTC Advantage x7501, is a terrible device despite have USB Host Mode.

    I am not dismissing Host Mode is important. You missed my point. Host Mode is very important, just like truck bed is very important and just like SUV is very important, especially going to shopping at Ikea. But must I have truck beds on ALL MY CARS even if I am not limited to owning one car? That’s my point. I would rather have multiple devices and each is the best in its class. And not owning devices that attempt to do all and be all and end up being a sports car with a truck bed, which is doomed to be a failure.

    BTW, your netbook is likely missing the ExpressCard socket unless it is a Lenovo. Do you only buy Lenovo because you must have ExpressCard slot? Sure if that is what you must have, but do you have to have it on all your devices? It’s the same argument. There will be something that your desktop PC has (like internal expension or optical drive) that your netbook doesn’t. This is the same argument that some of my friends dislike laptops without optical drives in the past, but they no longer reject them today. Things do change.

    There is always a flip side. Your netbook can’t compete with a mobile OS in wake up time and WiFi connect delay either.

    I have pretty much owned so many devices on so many platforms that I have pretty much seen it all. I am not naive as to what can do which function or what is missing what. Just like I don’t miss not having IrDA on modern devices, despite that I still own the Fossil PDA watch (fx2002) which requires IrDA to sync and nothing else.

    BTW, besides Transformer w/ keyboard dock, Acer A500 series, Toshiba Thrive both have USB Host Mode on the tablet itself. Some Archos units also IIRC.

    And if I were to bring a portable microscope out to the field, may be to work or do research, I don’t even mind hauling a Panasonic Toughbook along might as well be the case. Use the tool that fits the scenario. Don’t expect your ONE TOOL TO FIT ALL circumstances.