Windows’ mobile problem is well know. Apps. Will an alternative processor architecture help? It’s great to see ARM in the space, but it won’t fix the problem.
There are two mobile-related Windows problems. The first is the close-down of the Lumia brand. It was the first big indicator that the Universal Windows Program wasn’t attracting the developer hours that were so badly needed. They were needed to bring Windows, and not just Windows Mobile, to a point where Win32 / desktop apps could be ignored in favour of mobile apps. Under UWP I would argue that apps are more user-friendly, cheaper to develop, more secure and more efficient. Ultimately there would have been a mobile-first scenario similar to that which we see on IOS and Android in the IoT, personal mobility, remote control and social network sectors but with the introduction of an ARM platform, fitting into the 6-inch to 12 inch space, that supports legacy desktop apps, it’s now 100% clear that UWP failed to achieve its goals quickly enough. Intel pulled the plug on the space and, laughably, Qualcomm is stepping in with a top-end processor platform that won’t do anything to help. Microsoft needs millions of mobile devices out there running Windows 10. What on earth are they thinking? While Windows 10, Snapdragon 830 and a Surface Phone could be a match made in heaven, it WILL NOT HELP.
The cheapest way to build Windows 10 numbers in the mobile space would have been to subsidise the sale of Windows phones and tablets but with Intel and Lumia gone it seems Microsoft want to put a high-end mobile device in this vastly competitive and saturated space. A Surface Phone, a Surface Pad, a Surface UMPC isn’t going to help.
A Snapdragon 835 will not result in low-cost phones and ‘multimode’ doesn’t sell.
Snapdragon 835 is high-end. It is perfect for a Surface Phone at 6-inches that will lever integration skills and demonstrate, perfectly, the capabilities of Continuum and multimode dockable usage but expect that to be an $800 product. It will be as fast as a Core M and extremely interesting for ultra-mobile users. Tight integration will make a very smart-looking device but it will have to compete with the iPad Pro, iPhone, Pixel devices, Galaxy brand and a bunch of cheaper, but very good phablets. It will compete with some very good Intel-based Core M devices that can handle, without software emulation or binary translation, full HD videos editing, advanced photo editing, basic CAD and entry-level PC gaming. In short, it will end up being a desirable but niche and expensive product.
The second problem is that ‘multimode’ doesn’t sell devices.
We love them, as do the press but the Motorola Atrix (2011), Lumia 950 (2015) and other devices have proven that selling multimode is hard work. When was the last time you saw a mainstream user using Miracast and a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse?
Established electronics manufacturers don’t like them either. No one is going to build a multimode phone that potentially trashes the profitable sectors of laptops, tablets, 2-in-1s and desktops. The only manufacturers that have space to do this are the startups. Microsoft have space too. Consider the Surface Pro 4 at $1000 and the Surface Book at $2000. A Surface Phone (Surface Pad at 6 inches) would fit in at $599-$899 and it could replace the old Atom based Surface products nicely. Would Microsoft be stepping on the toes of its partners by doing this? It would shock the hell out of them.
Does a high-end device solve the app problem? Do Windows-based mobile devices become more interesting? No they don’t
The BBC micro:bit is the matchbook-sized computing device that’s going to be given free to every 11-12 year old in the UK. Trying to get hold of one outside that channel is going to be difficult but Element14, the company overseeing manufacturing, are putting 5 of them up for grabs. All you have to do is make a project proposal and you could get one.
With Windows 10 comes a potentially huge change in the way that the 5-10 inch consumer computing category will be addressed by manufacturers. As in the Windows 8 era, manufacturers can still choose between ARM and x86 options, desktop and no-desktop options but this time round there’s the possibility of crossover. If the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) is a success then why not allow Windows 10 Mobile tablets to compete with large Windows tablets and small laptops? The inclusion of ARM in this segment could increase competition and lower prices which is a bonus for Microsoft. It could also reduce the desire for a ‘desktop’ and puts consumer Windows devices at risk from competing post-desktop products.
I’ve been tracking ‘smartbooks’ for a few years now. I’ve tested the Android-based Compaq Airlife 100 and owned the Toshiba AC100. I also have a couple of Android tablets here in my life, one of which I use daily for work. I have tried many times to integrate them into my work processes but only the Galaxy Tab 7” has made any impact because it fits nicely as a microblogging and social networking tool. There are some good music, radio and podcast apps that I use too. The problem with the ‘laptop’ style devices is that although they are light, fun and have good battery life (8hrs out of the 800gm Toshiba AC100 was great!) the quality of apps doesn’t match the scenarios where you use the product – on the desk.
This is the seventh report on sizing trends in PCs below 12â€ screen size (and above 5â€) appearing in the German market through the popular price comparison engine, Geizhals.at (*1) The last one was done in Feb 2011. Once again we’ve seen a big jump in overall numbers. The 7″ segment and 10″ segment have grown while the 11″ segment has shrunk. The 10″ market dominates more in this report than it did in the report of Feb 2011 although there is a clear trendÂ occurringÂ in the 7″ space where growth in products hasÂ occurredÂ in all of the last 4 reports.
Number of SKUs in the market
The number of choices in the mobile screen space (above smartphones) has grown over 2x from approx 240 SKUs to over 630 SKUs.
Screen size distribution
The big jump in numbers is clear to see from the top graph. Total numbers jumped by 115 with most of that growth coming from the tablet form factor and the 10″ netbook/notebook sector. Big increases in the 7″ tablet sector (now the biggest number so far) and a reduction in the numbers of 11″ devices mean that Â percentage distribution has changed a lot. The iPad2 introduction caused the growth in the 9″ segment.
In the 10″ netbook space which accounts for 75% of the 10″ category there are now 18 AMD C-Series SKUs and 315 Atom SKUs. 64 of the Atom-based devices (20%) use the high-end N570 version.
In interesting statistic is that 1 in 5 devices on the market in the 5-11″ segment are from ASUS.
Across all categories, ARM-based CPU designs account for Â 23% of all devices, almost exclusively in the tablet sector. It will be interesting to see how that changes over the next 2 years with the introduction of Windows for the ARM processor.
In terms ofÂ weight, the tablets mean that the average weight of a device has gone down. Â 28% of the devices weigh under 1KG.
Meego appears for the first time along with the cheapest and lightest netbook ever launched. The ASUS Eee PC X101.
Chromebooks did not enter the sub 12″ screen space yet. (Acer 700 not available in Germany)
Sandy Bridge (2nd Generation Intel Core CPUs) enters the sector with 14 SKUs from 5 devices.
Total number of tablet form-factor devices: Â 193 (30% of total)
X86/Windows Laptop â€“ Eee PCR101D at 199 Euros. (Was: Samsung N145 at 228 Euro)
Non-Windows Laptop (X86-CPU) – Â Eee PC X101 (Meego) at 169 Euros
ARM Tablet â€“ Debitel One Pad Â (Android 1.5) at 59 Euro
In terms of netbook trends, the search and news volumes seem to be steady after their large drop in Q1 (see Google Trends.) Numbers of devices in the market have increased and obviously the introduction of Cedar Trail in Q4 will create news, products and searches in the netbook category. The trend for netbook products, news and search is going to be level-to-rising for Q4 That may, or may not, relate to sales numbers.
In terms of handheld PCs, our focus here at UMPCPortal, it’s a sad story. The online market is now almost totally clear of 5-9″ X86-based Windows devices. It will be interesting to see how the Windows 8 market affects this in 2012.
Warning: Please remember that this is a single data-source analysis of what is happenning today, in the German market. This is not a complete market analysis report. You may use the data and images but please also reference this article which includes this warning.
*1 Based on SKUs, not model families. Data taken fromÂ Geizhals Â An English language (and UK market) version of Geizhals is available at Skinflint.
If you measure the power used by a netbook PC when it’s in standby, a frozen unusable state, it uses around 500mW of power.Â Leaving a netbook on with WiFi connected in an idle state with the screen blanked, maybe with an email program polling occasionally, you’ll see about 10 times the power usage. In PC terms, 5W is impressive but if you go to the smartphone world and take a look at the figures there, there’s a huge huge gap that needs to be tackled. As smartphones become tablets, become smartbooks, there’s a threat that ‘always-on’ becomes ‘must-have’ and that X86-based devices will struggle to compete in casual computing scenarios.
Smartphones are designed from the ground-up around the concept of ‘always-on. From the moment a smartphone is conceived, every element of the design has to be checked for power consumption which is why a smartphone can sit connected to the GSM telephone network drawing power consumption levels lower than 50mw. That’s 1/10th of the power consumption taken by a good netbook when it’s in a frozen state. Impressive.
But what happens when you connect a smartphone to the internet ? You can use cellular data services to achieve a good rate of connectivity by switching on UMTS for example. Switching to WiFi on a typical smartphone brings faster connectivity and, in a lot of cases, lower power that can be done on cellular networks. A smartphone can run a multitasking operating system and remain connected to internet and voice networks in well under 500mw of power, the same as it takes a netbook to sleep.Â In fact, the best smartphones are running in this configuration for over 24hrs on a 5Wh battery which is an amazing 100mw of power usage. Turn on some background internet activities and it will jump to an average 200mw!
What happens if you take an ARM platform that’s in the same processing power category as a low-end netbook. Put it in a 10â€ screen form factor and do the same test? Actually, it’s the same as a smartphone. The only difference between a high-end smartphone and a smartbook with a 10â€ screenand a huge battery is the screen itself and when that is off, there’s practically no difference at all.
To prove this, I took one of the most powerful mobile computing platforms in a large 10â€ form factor device with 32GB of storage, 1GB of RAM and integrated WiFi. The device has a 23wh battery (about half that of ‘6-cell’ netbooks. The device is the Acer Iconia Tab A500 Android tablet which runs honeycomb. I connected to the Wifi (at 54mbps) and left the device connected with the screen off while it did it’s stuff in the background. Marketplace checks, email checks, Twitter checks and even some GPS usage by Google Maps. A weather service was running, the volume was set to silent and Bluetooth was turned off.
Over a 48Â hour period with a few screen-on moments for checking progress (and a 10 minute in-use period as my daughter grabbed it to use a paint program)Â I measured 46% fall in battery usage of which 5% was due to screen-on time. Take away the screen-on figure and you have 209mw of power usage.Â The Acer Iconia Tab is nothing more than a smartphone inside!
‘Always-on, Always Connected’ will be a ‘Must-have.’
Always-on tests are interesting because it’s a hands-off test that people think only applies to idle smartphones.Â In fact, it applies to many computing scenarios. With location, polling, sync, presence, alarms, push updates and of course, cellular voice and messaging becoming the norm in the hand, they will also have appeal on the desk. Not having to wait 5 seconds for a machine to start-up, another 5 seconds for a Wi-Fi connection and another 10 seconds for tweets, emails and other features to catch up is annoying.Â There’s also a bunch of other screen-off, connected activities that are interesting. Servers for example. By that, I mean computers and gadgets that serve information to the Internet. This doesn’t just cover web servers. Think about internet-connected weather stations and web cameras, in-car data storage and notification systems. Then there are the devices that just don’t need big screens; Connected musical instruments. Digital cameras with 3G. Internet Radios. Low-power internet connectivity is important for these devices.
The point here is not to highlight that ARM is better than X86, it’s to highlight the gap. This gap is currently a huge advantage for ARM-based platform designers.
The first point is, if manufacturers using X86/PC architecture don’t get products to market with active standby soon, with the help of Intel (the only X86 player trying to tackle this problem) customers will have a chance to experience, and may not turn back from, ARM-based always-on products.
The second point is that this is a screen-off gap. Current screen technology is killing ARMs advantage in the ‘in-use’ scenario where screens are larger than 7â€. It reduces the ARM advantage from 20x in idle to about 4x with a 10â€ screen being backlit. When the devices CPU is being actively used, the advantage drops even lower to around 2x. [Acer Iconia Tab â€“ 4W. Samsung NC210 â€“ 8W)
Finally, the Acer Iconia Tab A500 is a good example of low-power internet connectivity. It’s likely that other devices in this ARM tablet segment hit the same figures.
Keep an eye on high-end ARM-based platforms over the next year or two. Honeycomb and iOS are leading the way into the professional space with their software and application ecoystems and you might find that this always-on advantage starts to lock people in soon.
Intel have dominated my mobile device choices for nearly 5 years but all that has changed in the last 4 months. Today, my ultra mobile PC retires and my netbook gets an upgrade.
For the last two, years my main computers have been a Quad-Core desktop that I use for hosting live sessions, podcasts and some video editing, and two mobile devices. The Gigabyte Touchnote Convertible Netbook has been my laptop and a Fujitsu U820 (actually a Japanese version U/B50N) ultra mobile PC has been used as my hot-desktop (as shown in this article.)
Today, the two mobile PCs drop away and are replaced with an AMD-based netbook solution and an ARM-based tablet. The Acer Aspire One 522 and Galaxy Tab have become my mobile device choices which means there is no longer a ultra mobile PC in my life.
The Fujitsu U820 had previously been my ultra mobile computer for expo’s and conferences and I remember using it successfully at SXSW in 2009. Over the last 5 months though its usefulness has waned because the Galaxy Tab has taken over. It fits *my* usage patterns a lot better. I sacrificed some ‘Full Internet Experience’ for weight, battery life, location, social networking apps, built-in camera, always-on and 3G. I talked about this ‘changeover’ last year. It’s now happened.
The Touchnote was still working well and I had no problems with it. After 2 years it’s proved to be rugged and capable but when the Acer Aspire One 522 came along last week it gave me so much more, in less weight and cost. Now that the Tab has taken over ultra-mobile duties to an acceptable level, there’s also no need for the U820.
I’ll miss the touchscreen on the Touchnote but I’m getting better battery life, more processing power,Â way better HD and graphics acceleration and my 4GB RAM, SSD and Home Premium upgrade are adding to the experience i’m getting from the Acer Aspire.
The Acer Aspire One 522 is now my daytime desktop as well as my lightweight notebook.
What happens next?
As 7â€ tablets get better and better with improved software, faster processing engines and higher quality connectivity there’s more and more that can be done on them. I’m already creating articles, emails, Tweets, IM and images but I see improved video and camera hardware and software coming too. I see accessories that could help the tablet become a unit that everything could be done on if needed. I would have no problem whatsoever using a solution like this for a week if weight and energy restrictions demanded it. The need for an ultra-light netbook is reducing for me. Having said that, the requirement for a PC with a keyboard doesnt drop away completely.
7â€ screens aren’t comfortable for rich content generation and editing so I still see the need for a netbook or notebook for ‘bum-on-seat’ activities. What I see happening is that my netbook will get taken up a notch into a 11.6 or 12.1â€ territory that allows me to improve my video work. It’s a project I’ve already started. That could happen very soon as the Asus Eee PC 1215b nears availability.
Smartphone load drops.
As for the pocketable device in my life, I’m finding I use a smartphone less and less now. Dropping back to a 3.5â€ or even 4â€ experience for Internet and social networking activitiesÂ is painful and I’d rather take the Tab with me than have a large smartphone. My smartphone is now a voice, sms, MP3, USB storage and emergency internet device. The N8 fits in so well here because it also has a stunning camera that allows me to photoblog with ease.
Because of my tablet use, I don’t expect to be putting much load on my smartphone any more and the list of requirements changes totally.
Intel’s next netbook move.
I confess that I didn’t have a lot of faith in AMD’s Brazos solution but they did it. They’ve made a classic disruptive move which will change the face of the netbook forever and, unless Intel repond quickly, take share away from Intel in the low-cost computing market. Well-known features/keywords like ‘HDMI’ and ‘1080p’ that are recognizable to the man on the street will differentiate AMD from Intel and where the price is the same, there’s little to think about. Games are also possible on AMD netbooks and it leaves little room for Intel to play in when it comes to Cedar-Trail.Â They’ll have to increase the CPU power (1.66ghz dual-core is a nice figure that looks better, and performs better than the AMD 1.0Ghz solution) and add their thermal monitoring to allow overclocking on a core-by-core basis. 2.0Ghz ‘Turbo’ will be worth seeing. They’ll also have to add the 1080p capability from their Menlow and Moorestown platforms. To beat AMD they will need Wireless Display and hardware-accelerated H.264 and WMV encoding features to help with video format conversion. Longer battery life is a must and this is something Intel is highly likely to deliver with amazingly low quiescent states and very tightly-coupled wireless solutions. Given the likelihood that they will have a lower platform TDP and enable a smaller motherboard size, Intel solutions are likely to be thinner and lighter.
Can Intel enter the always-on tablet space?
AMD appear to be a long way off from having a soft/hard stack that satisfies the requirements for an ultra mobile computing device but I still see big opportunities in the near, 1-2 year timescale for Intel. 2011 truly is just the start of a new era of multi-device computing and Intel have been working on developing solutions to hit all areas of the market for the last 3 years or more. Wi-Di (wireless display), hardware security, thermal monitoring, overclocking and Intel Insider are features that could really add something to a mobile platform and as we look towards higher processing platform capability (including faster busses and rich connectivity) Intel do have an advantage, especially where screen and wireless connectivity take the lions share of the battery drain. As for always-on, their Moorestown and Medfield hardware, coupled with their software solutions, appear to have that covered. Android for consumption; MeeGo for a cross-over Linux-based solution. Windows for a full, pro-computing solution. They have had serious problems getting a partner to make a compelling device but lets talk about this again after the MeeGo conference in May and the Nokia MeeGo product which could also air at that time.
And don’t think I haven’t forgotten about all the advantages that come with having a traditional mobile PC soft and hard architecture. USB host, multitasking user interface, mouse-over, business software, security, multi-user, extended display, remote desktop, upgrades and hacks, printing, ad-hoc Wi-Fi and a thousand other features that you forget about until you need them. If anything, my desire for high quality, flexible productive systems has gone up in the last months and this might sound strange but since the Japan disaster last week, I’ve been looking at mesh networking and emergency computing again and find that an X86 ultra mobile PC would be the best place to start. To that end, I’ll be loading up the U820 as my emergency computer.
We’ve got an Aigo AigoPad N700 here that has kindly been sent over by Think4Mobile in the UK. It’s a preview model and something that may, or may not, make it to European markets. Given the rough seas right now and the specs of the N700, we’re not sure it has the right stuff to succeed. See our article below and the video at the end for more information.
Android 2.1 on ARM11 with 800×480 and no Google Market/Apps is a surprisingly low-quality combination, especially compared to the build quality and looks of the AigoPad which say so much more. Capacative touch is there and it has a nice ruberised back that I’d love to see on the Galaxy Tab. A magnetic charging port and even 3G is included [The model we have is CDMA /EVDO for the U.S. market so we’re unable to test that bit.] but even if the OS was upgraded to 2.2 with Google Market, the 800×480 screen and ARM11 processor just wouldn’t cut it in the market today unless the price was amazingly low.
Admittedly, there aren’t any 3G-enabled low-cost tablets in the European market right now but given that Viewsonic will likely reduce its Viewpad 7 price very soon to give it breathing space from the Galaxy Tab, that niche might be filled very quickly. Even so, the ARM11 niche isn’t going to last long as features and applications on Android demand ARMv7 architecture and multi-core platforms date it even further.
The N700 appears to have one thing on its side…battery life. Aigo have dropped a 4250mah battery into this thing and I havent charged it for 4 days. Admittedly it was on standby (bluetooth and Wifi on) for 3 of those days but I was extremely surprised to see it still running – with 50% battery. After another day of testing (about 3hrs) we’re only down to 36% battery. This could be the most power-efficient tabelt i’ve ever tested so if you’re looking for that as a feature, here it is!
Mono loudspeaker is loud and good
Screen has some fading at angles
WVGA is noticeable on test having used the Galaxy Tab for 4 months!
Button hardware: solid
No Wifi-N support
Browser fixed to landscape mode
GPS, accelerometer included
Sideloading of many apps works without problem
3mm longer than a Galaxy Tab (same width)
About 1mm thicker
Brightness – good range but nothing new
No docking port, no hdmi
Platform doesn’t support 720p decoding
Only supplied charger worked despite it being a USB cable.
No search button
Overall I’m impressed with what Aigo have done in terms of engineering but the total package misses the mark for developed countries in Q1 2011. We’ll definately keep an eye on Aigo though.
Update: Think4it Solutions tell us that they will be putting the N700 on the back-burner for the time being as Aigo have just revealed a 2.2, ARMv7 version (likely Cortex A8) with european 3G supportÂ that is planned for an April launch.We’ll stay in touch in because a low-cost Cortex-based device is exactly what’s needed. Fingers crossed for 1024×600!
I don’t have Honeycomb here and I don’t have the latest Atom platform here but in the video below I do have two devices that show the browsing speed differences between Tegra 2 and Atom. The Toshiba AC100 running the ‘old’ Android 2.1 build and the Gigabyte Touchnote running an ‘old’ Atom N270 are both mainstream builds and it’s worth taking a look at how the browsing speed compares.
My estimate, following these tests, is that Android/Tegra is just one iteration (either software or hardware) away from matching what a netbook can provide. And remember, we’re into the sub 10 second category here where 10% or 20% difference is not worth talking about. 1 second isn’t much, really.
Did I miss something? Perhaps we should be running 10 tabs and Flash, that’s true. The ‘built-for-multitasking’ X86 and Windows platform should pull ahead but consider this performance on a 7â€ screen where multitasking gets hidden by the one-pane user interface.
My final thought here is that ARM platforms are not only progressing as fast as the X86 platforms but also get a huge advantage from the massive, massive investment going into mobile software. Right now, the leading browser engines are on X86 but expect that to flip over in 2011 or 2012.
Jen-Hsun Huang, the CEO of Nvidia has recently announced a major Tegra 2 win (Honeycomb) and a new project â€œextending the performance range of the ARM instruction-set architecture, enabling the ARM architecture to cover a larger portion of the computing spaceâ€ so it’s no surprise that the CEO is positive when he talks about ARM.
I had the chance to watch him being interviewed by All Things D mobile correspondent Ina Fried last week at CES and with Galaxy Tab in hand I was put to the test in noting quote after quote of amazing pro-ARM comments from Jen-Hsun.Â How about some of these gems:
â€œ2011 is likely to go down like 1995. We will realise that the personal computing industry was redefinedâ€. Jen-Hsun is referring to Windows 95, the operating system that changed the way consumers interacted with personal computers.
â€œThe most important architecture going forward is likely to be ARM.â€
â€œWhatever expectation you haveâ€¦are going to be fully met by mobile computing devices within the next 3 to 4 years.â€
â€œ3D on phone is a foregone conclusion. This piece of glass is is likely the most accommodating piece of glass for 3Dâ€
In addition to Tegra 2, 3D and Honeycomb announcements, Nvidia have also taken a Cortex A15 license and have announced project Denver which appears to be looking to combine future ARM architecture (possibly Cortex A15, possibly a new license for ARMv7 or even ARMv8!) and running parallel with the Windows on ARM project. If Nvidia are chosen as the reference design for that, they are sitting pretty! An Nvidia blog post gives more info about Denver.
However, Nvidia talks about ARM like it’s the only low-power choice but we know that Intel are moving into this space too. In fact, as processing power requirements reach into the same 1W envelope, it’s the screens, radios, batteries and software need to be sorted out. An wild, uncontrolled third party app can negate a lot of potential hardware efficiencies.Â Also, if Windows 8 is supporting ARM, I expected it to also be supporting the new power features of the Intel platforms that bring it right alongside ARM. Don’t forget that Android is running on Intel too!
Nvidia appear to have an excellent leader, strategist and spokesperson in Jen-Hsun and it’s unlike any other company playing in this mobile game. The brand is looking good, products are looking good, strategy and partnerships are going well and given one or two more major wins, Nvidia will rise to the top very quickly.
Thanks to Ina Fried for (literally) last-minute access to All Things D at CES. Ina runs the Mobilized blog for All Things D and is on Twitter here.
We’ve just recorded Meet:Mobility Podcast 62. If you haven’t tuned in, please do because JKK, Sascha and myself spend a long time talking in detail about what happened in mobile computing at CES and give you a good overview of the significant products we got to understand while were in Las Vegas. For me, the show brought me the biggest signal yet that the X-over is happening. That’s X86 and ARM platforms crossing over in the mobile and personal computing space.
We’ve seen many indicators before now that ARM-derived processing platforms and operating systems were capable of personal computing tasks. I tested the Compaq Airlife almostÂ a year ago (Fully Reviewed in May) and the Tegra2-based Toshiba AC100 that I still have for testing is everything needed for a good smart-book / PC experience except the software build but there hasn’t been a time when so many top-tier manufacturers have shown the same confidence by bringing out multiple X-over products. In that respect, CES 2011 is a very important year and I do believe that we’ll look back and say, yes, that was the start of the crossover.
It will be a turbulent year or whirlwind activities. We’re rising out of a depression and there’s new confidence that risks can be taken. Many of the products we’re seeing won’t’ succeed either due to being too early or by being side-swiped by other disruptive products.
Tablets came-of-age at CES 2011. The rising quality of devices and the number of top tier brands shows that there’s a big enough level on investment now that the segment is unlikely to fail to produce multi-million sales. Estimates range up to 40m units for 2011 which will match netbook sales. I agree. 40m is achievable, especially as prices drop like a ton of bricks.
We’re not just talking about tablets though. There are a whole list of products we need to mention.
Motorola Atrix. Taking the prize for most-talked about device at CES is this dual-core Android phone with a big battery and lots of connectivity. The laptop ‘dock’ turned it into a desktop that made people stop and think. This idea of modular computing is exciting but there are lots of issues to consider. I have a Tegra 2 smart-book running Android and while it’s fun, it’s not productive. Processing power is short of what is needed and the apps are limited. Despite a full Firefox build being available on the Atrix, the limits I’ve experienced on the Toshiba AC100, will also apply to the Atrix until Honeycomb and a lot of ISV investment, solve the problem. I also imagine the cost of that set-up to be getting close to $800 or more. Who’s going to invest that much into a system that still won’t do 100% of personal computing activities? There’s also the issue of putting all your eggs in one basket. Smartphones have a tendency to get lost! The Atrix is a cool product and shows very clearly how desk-top computing will be possible with smartphone cores.
ASUS Eee Pad Transformer. Like the Atrix, this is a device aiming to be more than one computing solution. Unlike the Atrix, this one offers the tablet as the screen and computing core with a docking keyboard finishing off the ‘smart book’ look. The smartphone ‘core’ isn’t so obvious and this isn’t a device aiming to be totally convergent. In fact, it feels to me like it fits in with it’s target audience in a more comfortable way than the Atrix. A consumer, coffee-table tablet with an optional keyboard for ‘getting things done’ sounds perfect for the iPad generation. With Android offering great in-cloud synchronisation, a two-device Android strategy could work well, especially as this product will get the important Honeycomb operating system update. [More info on the ASUS products at CES available here]
Gemtek. Highlighting the progress that Intel are making with their non-Windows platforms is the Gemtek Zeus. While the product is targeted as a media phone, it’s worth stopping for a moment to look at exactly what’s happening here. This is Android version 2.2 on an Intel Moorestown platform. That’s an official Intel Android build (that is likely to become an official branch of Android) optimised for Intels always-on platform. The product is light, is said to have good battery life. It highlights just how close ARM and Intel products are in the mobile space â€“ and this is just Intels first attempt!
OLPC XO-1.75 â€“ One Laptop Per Child product was another win for ARM this week. Starting with an AMD CPU and then moving to VIA, another X86 CPU, they have now switched over to a Marvel ARMADA 610 ARMv7 core for the XO-1.75 which should go into production in mid 2011. The difference in battery life is likely to be very significant because in the past, they were using relatively old X86 CPUs. Always-on, screen-off standby is also now possible. It will be important to see the performance too. Compared to the very old AMD Geode CPU that was used in the original, there shouldn’t be any noticeable difference at all and yet the power envelope has been cut from 5W to 2W! There’s an interesting video available on this here. OLPC CTO Edward J. McNierney says in the video that the performance is now better!
Honeycomb â€“ Finally, the gun has been fired for a true large-screen version of Android. This is likely to be a branch of Android that will run parallel to version 2.x but the important thing is that it signals Googles commitment which, in turn, with give ISVs the confidence to invest in larger Android application projects. Serious productivity apps, video editing and ‘HD’ versions of existing applications. Motorola and Nvidia were the big winners as they have been chosen to provide the reference hardware and product. Soon after the Xoom launches you can expect to see more Honeycomb product announcements that will roll in the second half of 2011.Finally, we could see a productive ‘smart’ book although don’t forget that Intel will also be involved here. Honeycomb on i86 is announcement I expect to hear about soon.
Windows and Office on RISC SOCs. This was a huge announcement that gives ARM partners a reason to take a Cortex A15 license if they haven’t done so already. I’m not expecting to see a mobile product drop out of Microsoft onto ARM but again, it gives ISVs reason to create ARM versions of applications. That effort could spill over into Honeycomb-related work too. Interestingly, it puts Adobe in a great position as a runtime that will work across all of these platforms and operating systems. They could find themselves being used as an important bridge. Timescales for Windows, timescales for drivers, timescales for ported software are all in the 2-5 year timeframe although X86 emulation could speed that up? Developers could be given virtual ARM SDKs to aid development work which would explain why Microsoft took a full ARM license this year.
One of the interesting things about Windows on ARM is that, finally, it will give everyone the ability to benchmark ARM against X86 in like-for-like products. My money is on Intel having the processing power advantage and ARM offering battery life and price advantages. Differences, however, are likely to be minimal and it could all be decided on value-add features like security, wireless integration and application stores. OEDs are the ones that will make the decision here.
Angry Birds on AppUp. Angry Birds migrated from ARM to X86 this week as Intel announced that the popular phone game was available on their AppUp store. That makes it available to some 100 million netbook and notebook customers and will have driven a large number of installations of the AppUp store that doesn’t yet come pre-installed on netbooks. Clearly Intel have bought-in the app to drive adoption but even so, it’s great to see and it won’t take many more of these wins before AppUp starts to drive its own adoption. Video demo here.
I was surprised not to hear any news concerning Windows 7 Compact. Microsoft still don’t have a consumer internet device operating system for the 4-10â€ segment. What’s going on there?
Intel’s Oaktrail surprised me at CES. I saw a number of WIndows-based products that were significantly smaller than I expected and had logner battery life than I expected. At least the claims of battery life seem to be good anyway. Viliv, a company that has both an ARM/Android and Intel Oaktrail/Windows product in the same 7â€ screen casing proved that parity has almost been reached. The X70 Slate is some 35% lighter than the previous model and even increases the battery life from 6 to 6.5hrs. I can’t wait to see the performance on both Intel and ARM versions. The Samsung Gloria/PC7/TX100 was also an interesting product in terms of technology, size and battery life on Intel. Ocosmos are also working on an Oaktrail device. It’s tiny!
Nvidia announced project ‘Denver’ which aims to bring ARM to the desk-top. [More info] I suspect this is a Cortex A15 project and won’t see the light of day until 2013 but once again, there’s the confidence and investment in a crossover product. These are hugely expensive projects so the message is clear now â€“ the risks are low enough and potential gains are high enough to get these projects underway.
Finally, there was another signal that crossover is starting to happen. I used a Galaxy Tab A LOT at CES. Wifi and 3G internet was hard to come-by but as my PIM, note-taking device, map and Twitter device it worked perfectly and preserved my phone battery , a Nokia N8, for photos and those voice-type things some people do! SMS were also handled on the N8. The netbook was with me most of the time and, like now, there’s no easier way to get a lot of text in a blog and video edited and posted. For bum-on-seat activities, I still need Windows but I surprised myself just how much I used the tablet. You’ll see me use it a lot more at MWC next month.