Tag Archive | "ipad"

The State of Android Tablets (2011): A Survey of Thoughts From Carrypad Staff

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At the beginning of the year, if you would have told me that, by the summer, there would be a dozen different Android tablets available for order from reliable, first tier manufacturers, I would have told you to get outta town. We were likely all desensitized to the constant stream of news that seemingly had the same message: “Company X announced the Y Tablet today. It features blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. No information was released on a launch date or pricing.” It had gotten to the point that I immediately went to the bottom of any announcement of a tablet-device, and if it had the standard blurb about no launch date or word on pricing, I did not read the article.

Flash-forward to the present. That standard blurb I mentioned above is something that we are seeing several times a day now. The difference is that with each instance of an announcement, there is a level of confidence that we are actually reading a press statement about a device that will be delivered to the market and will not just become vaporware. A year ago, this was not the case. I regarded almost every announcement of an Android tablet as a veritable Chupacabra that I would never actually see. Now, launch events for tablets and the equally interesting Android OS updates are major media events, commanding the undivided attention of the journalists in attendance, and the readers reading the live-blogs in real time or catching up on the ensuing hands-on later in the day. Keeping up with the state of the tablet market is now almost a hobby in and of itself.

As we head into the closing month of this watershed year in the tablet industry, with still more compelling Android tablets promised to hit retail before we turn the corner into 2012, I have been reflecting on the past year and pondering what is yet to come. I have a few ideas of what the recent past has meant, and what the future might hold. Not convinced that there is any way that I could possibly have all of the answers, I engaged my fellow editors and contributors from Carrypad in a dialogue on the topic. We each took a shot at answering three key questions that we felt were critical things to consider and might very well define the picture of the Android tablet market today. Each writer answered the questions in-the-blind, unaware of the answers from the others. Please join us in this dialogue and post your thoughts on our perspectives, as well as your own original thoughts on this subject in the comments below.

Many pundits talk about the belief that there is no tablet market, there is just an iPad market, and the other manufacturers are just flailing, trying to tread water in a marketplace that does not exist. Are they right? If not, what do Google and its hardware partners need to do in order to compete for consumer dollars and a place as the the second or third screen in users’ personal computing kits?

  • Ben: Apple definitely created an iPad market, not a tablet market. You can see this easily with many of the capacitive-only Windows slates that are trying to pull a “me too” move, but are absolutely failing when it comes to user adoption. Trying to shoe-horn a touch (finger only) keyboardless experience onto a Windows machine is just silly. That’s not to say that there isn’t room for Android, but at the moment, Google has a product for geeks, while Apple has a product for everyone (including geeks). I often look at it this way: iOS and Android are comparable, but Android needs heavy customization out of the box to be brought up to the level of iOS usability. Because of this, the iPad dominates the mainstream (probably more so in the US than other places). There’s also something to be said about app-quality and system stability. The competition between the iPad and Android tablets is absolutely healthy for consumers, and it’s great to see the wide range of computing-styles that are offered by Android devices. If the iPad was the only game in town, they’d stagnate (in some regards they have), but thanks to Android, Apple has to be ever vigilant, and vice-versa.
  • Damian: There has been a tablet market, although small, for many years before the iPad. Many of the readers of Carrypad will have had windows tablets since the old days of Windows XP Tablet Edition, which was officially released in 2001. The tablet market then was mostly a business or enterprise market and you’d have to credit the iPad with launching the mass scale consumer tablet market for an easy to use consumption device. The iPad dominates the consumer consumption market but Android tablets are gaining ground. Both still can’t quite make it as an enterprise device and the first one that cracks that will have an advantage. With rumours of Microsoft Office being developed for the consumer tablet OS’s this might be the tipping point. I think adding a stylus that works well changes the equation considerably and a well implemented, pen driven solution (ideally running Office) that allows users to create, in a common, accessible format, will boost the Android tablet market share.
  • Jerry: I don’t think these guys (the pundits) are right. There are some 6 million plus Android tablet devices in operation, and that constitutes a market to me. It took a long time for Android to gain traction in the smartphone market, with the G1 being just interesting, but things really started taking off with the arrival of the original Droid on Verizon. For Google and its partners to push more adoption, I am not sure if the saturation tactic that was has worked in the smartphone market is going to work for tablets. I think general consumers will be compelled by more content. Android has a great hook with its one-source approach to aggregating access to all content mediums via your single Google account. But they need a better library in Google books, a music source for procuring music (Blast it! I drafted this before the Google Music launch), and further integration with Google TV. It would be a huge plus if I could be watching an episode of a show on my tablet, and then have my stopping place synced with a GoogleTV device to continue watching the content from the same place… and for there to be worthwhile, current TV content.
  • Chippy: In terms of tablets there really is only an iPad market at the moment. Android tablets remain a niche, rather geeky option. The reason has nothing to do with hardware design or OS, it’s to do with the apps. There simply aren’t enough devices out there to justify any serious large-screen/fragments-enabled quality developement work. By my estimate there are between 10 and 15 million Android tablet devices out there. Some 5″, some 7″ and some 10″ devices, some running Android 2.x and some 3.x. The effort required to make a quality app across this fragmented product base is too big for the potential returns. For this to change, the number of fragments-enabled devices out there needs to grow considerably. ICS will help slowly during 2012 but for Android to stimulate major development work, soon, it needs a breakthrough product. The Kindle Fire could have been that product but with its 2.x OS it won’t stimulate the important use of fragments. 2012 looks like another difficult year for Android tablet apps.

The pundits also say that fragmentation of the Android OS is a key detractor from the product category gaining ground, not only in the tablet market but across smartphones as well. How do you define fragmentation, or do you feel it does not really exist? There is also a discussion of ecosystems and its criticality in the mobile market. How do you define a mobile ecosystem, or do you think this factor does not exist, or is not as relevant as some suggest.

  • Ben: “Fragmentation” is not an issue inherent to Adroid, but rather a desire of Android device manufacturers. Apple only markets one line of phones and one line of tablets, and at any given time, there is only one model that is considered the flagship device. For Android, any number of phone/tablet makers may have comparable devices, so how can they ‘differenatiate’ (aka fragment) their devices to appeal to customers over their competitor’s devices? The answer often comes in adding custom skins, pre-baking in selected applications and services (some of which may be unique to a given device). This means that the specific experience between tablets is somewhat different. Depending upon the hardware, you might not be able to see the same applications in the Android Market because not all applications are supported on all Android tablet hardware. If a non-techie user buys an Android tablet and enjoys using a specific application that comes with it, they may be surprised to find that when they get a new tablet, that application is not available for it. The only way to avoid this issue is for the user to understand the way this ecosystem works, but that can’t be expected of non-techie users. When it comes to the iPad, you can expect the latest iPad to be capable of running every iPad app (and iPhone app for that matter) that’s ever been made. Furthermore, because all apps are made with the top-end hardware in mind, you can expect any app available to run well if you have the current generation of iPad or iPhone.
  • Damian: I think fragmentation, which I define as multiple hardware manufacturers making different spec’d devices and different implementations of the same OS, is a major factor in consumer uptake of Android tablets, not smartphones. The Android phones need to act as a phone first, then web consumption device, then app using, game playing devices. They usually don’t tend to be used as a consumer of complex media or producer of enterprise content. The phones have different hardware for sure but the manufacturers seem  to be doing a good job of making sure their hardware works in most scenarios, i.e. plays all the media formats it needs to, opens pdf’s and documents when attached to email, renders different websites, etc. The tablet space is more complex and the fragmentation hurts it more. Some devices have full sized USB, some devices have SD card slots, some devices have docks, some devices play all of the video formats and some don’t. This is where the split of the manufacturers seems to hurt most. It’s frustrating when one video plays well on your android phone but not on your tablet. Aren’t they both Android? A website looks great on your Android tablet but when you send the link to anther Android tablet it breaks. Sure you can download a new browser which is one of Android’s strengths but it’s also a hassle. If you see something on one iPad it will work on another iPad – that’s the advantage of controlling the whole ecosystem, both hardware and software.
  • Jerry: I do not think fragmentation exists in the way that I hear a lot of other journalists discuss it. I do not agree that that skinning Android is a form of fragmentation, and the discussion about any difference from the baseline version of Android being fragmentation seems to be a very conservative view. I do not think these perspectives are so close to the reality, and I do not classify mods like HTC Sense or skins like TouchWiz as examples of fragmentation. Where we were as recent as a year ago, there were many new phones being sold that were already whole baselines behind. In other words, tablets and phones were being released with Android 1.6 when Froyo was already out:  that’s an example of fragmentation. More so when those devices were immediately abandoned and never saw updates to a 2.x version of Android, that was also an example of fragmentation. It is the analog to Windows XP laptops being sold when Windows 7 was already out, and then those laptops not supporting  a path forward to Windows 7.  Android is open source, and variety in deployments should be expected, just the same as we expect it with LINUX. Yes, ecosystems are important.  I define ecosystems as a collection of hardware, connectivity, and services, without which, the hardware as a standalone device would offer very little value.  They are obviously important for smartphones, and they are perhaps even more important for tablets. The tablet by itself represents very little functionality. It is only in combination with its network connection, app store or market, and back-end cloud services (email, contacts management, plug-ins to social networks, content availability, and online profiles) that a tablet becomes useful. Amazon’s Kindle Fire has a better fighting chance of being a viable competitor than the Nook Tablet because it brings a kitchen sink of content availability via  its ecosystem and consolidation of that content in one repository channel. The Nook Tablet will have to be configured with several accounts to have access to the same volume of content, and then the content will be available via a spread across multiple channels.
  • Chippy: Fragmentation is a real issue when it comes to developing apps which, in turn, affect the value of the whole Android product range. ICS is the right step, almost a first step, in removing some of the fragmentation but we must not forget that screen sizes, processing capabilities, and sensors all cost development and testing time and are part of the fragmentation problem. ICS development will remain focused on handsets first until the numbers rise significantly. The screen-size/platform fragmentation will remain in the Android ecosystem so Google has to make it as easy as possible to develop. That means fast, quality dev tools and emulators.

What are your current Android devices of choice (tablets and smartphones)? What is your projected next Android acquisition and why? What are your thoughts on Android Tablets as media consumption devices versus their utility for productivity?

  • Ben: I haven’t yet found an Android smartphone or tablet that has quite cut it for me, but I also feel like I have no need for a tablet at the moment, it is too redundant between my smartphone and laptop. It’s quite possible to get done work on tablets, regardless of the platform, but it really comes down to the applications and how well they run on the hardware.
  • Damian: The Asus Eee Pad Transformer with keyboard dock is my current tablet but I am in the market to pick up for an Asus Eee Pad Slider. I don’t need the extra battery life the keyboard dock gives me and I don’t want the extra weight either but I love having the ability to use a full keyboard. What I’d like is a touch screen with a full keyboard when I need it without having to carry around a dock or external keyboard and this is what the Slider gives me. I’m also relatively happy with the build quality and Android implementation that Asus did. The Slider has a full sized USB port – killer feature on a tablet. If you want to provide a level of productivity capability at any volume and have a chance in the enterprise market, manufacturers need to make tablets with a keyboard and possibly a stylus – there I’ve said it start the flames :). I run a Motorola Atrix 4G for business and personal use and it is the best phone I have had to date. I sold an iPhone for the Nokia N900 and the Nokia for the Atrix and I have never looked back. Fantastic hardware coupled with a great implementation of Android and cool, very functional accessories make this a very productive and useful phone. I have yet to defeat the phone with any media format or file type and I credit Motorola with doing a great job of implementing Android and a fantastic out of the box Android experience.
  • Jerry: My current kit includes an HTC Evo 3D as my primary smartphone and a Samsung Nexus S 4G as my secondary, both on Sprint. My tablet kit consists of the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet 16GB, the Acer Iconia Tab A500 16GB, and the Motorola Xoom 3G. The two phones break even as far as the one of choice. I like the stock Android load on the Nexus, and I prefer the display over the one on the Evo 3D. But I like the Evo for its faster processor and speed, and the availability of the 3D camera. Amongst the tablets, while I like them all, my ThinkPad is the device I carry with me every day and I love the utility of digital inking on it over using a capacitive stylus with the Xoom or Iconia. When I originally drafted this, I thought my next acquisition was going to be a Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9. I mainly wanted it to replace my iPad, which recently died, with  a smaller form-factor option for increased portability. Instead I grabbed a Kindle Fire. It is a lot easier to grab and carry than some of my 10″ devices. I have access to the right amount of my cloud services and content that it makes sense for me to grab it as I head out the door probably about 50% of the time. My initial hour after waking in the AM is spent using the Kindle Fire to read content, communicate with friends, colleagues, and co-workers, and plan out events for the day.
  • Chippy: 15 minutes before writing this sentence I was given an iPad 2. Let’s see what happens in the following weeks but I’m currently writing this text on the Galaxy Tab 7 and I suspect that my mobile productivity will remain in this 7″ space due to size and ease of thumb-typing. Currently that means an Android-based solution. I don’t use an Android phone because of short battery life and poor cameras. Yes, I was locked-in by a test of a Nokia N8 which I still think is a fantastic cam/phone. I’m currently looking at the Galaxy Tab 7 Plus and Galaxy Tab 7.7 as a future upgrade possibility but I may wait for proven Ice Cream Sandwich products first as, to be honest, the Galaxy Tab 7 is still working well for me as a productivity, media consumption, reading and social networking device, despite still running a 2.x build of Android.

Minecraft Pocket Edition for iOS Now Available on iPhone and iPad

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Minecraft Pocket Edition was released officially for Android a few weeks back, but Mojang, the company behind the popular indie game, had been ever silent about the iOS version. All we really knew was that they were working on it. Well it seems that Mojang was planning on launching the iOS version at the Minecon event that’s being held today and tomorrow, but they put Minecraft Pocket Edition for iOS up on the App Store ahead of time to ensure that it would be readily available at the time of the announcement. They should have known that their ravenous Minecraft fans would spot it in an instant!

Minecon is an event being held in Las Vegas by Mojang this weekend to celebrate the launch of the desktop version of Minecraft. “Launch?”, I hear you say, “but I thought Minecraft already sold over 4 million copies?” And thus the popularity of Minecraft becomes clear. Mojang has indeed sold in excess of 4 million copies of Minecraft prior to the game’s official launch. The game has been in a beta state for many months, seeing slow and continues updates from Mojang, and now what they’re calling the ‘launch’ version of the game is being released at Minecon, today, in fact.

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After numerous knockoffs, copy-cats, and fakes that have reached the App Store, the real Minecraft Pocket Edition for iOS is now available for download. You can download it right here for $6.99 as a universal app that works on the iPad and iPhone. On Android, Minecraft Pocket Edition has a free demo, and I expect to see a similar demo come to iOS in due time.

Both versions of Minecraft Pocket Edition for Android and iOS are still in the beta stage,  much like the desktop version once was. Mojang plans to regularly update these versions until they reach a level that they deem worthy of calling the launch version. At the moment, Minecraft Pocket edition doesn’t support the exact same gameplay, and is certainly harder to control through a touchscreen than with a mouse and keyboard, but the charm certainly remains.

If you haven’t played Minecraft before, I would recommend trying the desktop version of the game first. Minecraft Pocket Edition seems, to me, to be more of a ‘you can play it on the go if you can’t get enough of it’ sort of app, rather than an app that works flawlessly on a touchscreen. Not to say it doesn’t run well, but let’s face it, the game was designed to be played with a mouse and keyboard, and that’s how it plays best.

Limited multiplayer support exists in Minecraft Pocket Edition and is thankfully cross-compatible between iOS and Android, but unfortunately the Pocket Editions won’t work with the desktop version. In order to build and explore in the same world with friends, you must be on the same WiFi network.

Don’t know what Minecraft is? Well, it’s tough to explain because it’s a lot of different things for a lot of different people. For some, it’s like a virtual lego builder. For others, it’s an unlimited and randomly generated world for exploring. If any video could, this one seems to capture it well:


I remember when I first started playing Minecraft. I was thankful that there was no iOS version, because I knew I’d get no work done if I could play Minecraft on my phone. Unfortunately, I’ve no longer got any place to hide.

Powerocks Stone 3 Full-Speed USB Power-Pack for iPad and Galaxy Tab

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The Powerocks Stone 3 portable power pack for iPad and Galaxy Tab solves a problem. It’s all very well having a common interface for charging but when people break the specs it becomes less useful. The iPad and Galaxy Tab charge using very high currents through a USB port that excedes the capability of the USB port you’ll find on nearly all laptops and PCs which means you generally have to carry the mains charger around with you. I found a portable power pack at IFA that supplies the correct current to allow full-speed charing on the go and it works. At least with the Galaxy Tab I tested with it.

There’s no European distributor for the Stone 3 yet so you’ll have to keep your eyes open for availability. Alternatively, wait a while because I’ve got a unit coming from Znex. The Power-Pack IP is said to do the same so i’m looking forward to testing one that’s available right now.

Here’s a video and you’ll find some images below that.

What Mobile Operating Systems Can’t Do

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I’ve been trying to use mobile operating systems for productive and full-computing scenarios for years and although things are getting better by the day, there are still major issues to be solved. Even the latest tailored hardware and software solutions are littered with unexpected restrictions, bugs, showstoppers and even costs. As I continue to test devices like the Acer Iconia Tab A500 and iPad I am making a list of functions that I can perform on a desktop operating system but not on a consumer or mobile operating system that you might find in a tablet. You’ll find an early ‘issues’ list here.  I’m largely talking about Android or IOS here.

The issues fall into 3 categories.

  • Issues that are a result of hardware. This varies between platforms and is also sometimes dependant on drivers and software. E.g. Bluetooth support. Many of these issues are dropping away as ARM platforms evolve, some of these issues are because of the design requirements (battery, size, heat)
  • Issues that are a result of operating restrictions. Operating systems will evolve but each evolution is taking 6 months to 1 year.
  • Issues that are there simply because the third party software may not have been written yet.

The latter category is one we can ignore. If tablets or other devices based on mobile operating systems are successful, the software will come. Lets look at the other two categories though.

Hardware Issues

  • Video editing software and hardware. While software may exist, the CPU, hardware encoders and possible GPU acceleration may not be in place. The only exception is the ipad2, iphone4 and Ios which use the capabilities of the A4 chip very well. It may be quite a while before generic cross-platform solutions appear.
  • USB host support. In some cases the platform only supports USB client. This affect many devices people commonly use like webcams, printers, video capture cards and many other device you’ll find in the high-street PC store.
  • Keyboards on tablets. Arguable that this isn’t neccesary if you’ve already chosen a tablet but we’ll leave it in the list for discussions sake.
  • High-capacity storage. 100+GB support is often required by those dealing with media.
  • Other interfaces such as serial (often used for control and data collection) pci-express. USB based solutions can solve this if the drivers are built into the operating system.
  • Extendable GPUs through docking stations or modules
  • General processing power (CPU)

Operating system issues

  • Extended languages and keyboard support
  • External screen capability. This includes extended desktop and multiple interface support. Also needed in the OS
  • Drag and drop (of selected text, audio, image, file, video.)
  • Bluetooth stack. Software is generally the issue here and it’s usually an operating system issue.
  • Full web experience including mouse-over support. Some third party software may fix this is mouse or other pointer support is provided by the OS.
  • Multi-user support with associated security mechanisms. Generally a core operating system issue.
  • Extending device support through installable, pluggable drivers.
  • Extended IP stack to support routing, multiple.interfaces and other IP features like file sharing protocols. This can be implemented in third party software.
  • Multiple sound module support for live audio performances with pre-fade. This is also a hardware issue.

3rd party software

For discussions sake, i’ve included a few software issues here.

  • Offline blogging tools. A third party software issue that will get solved in time. (I’m impressed with the progress of Blogsy on the iPad)
  • Office suites. Third party issue although core format support, encryption, media handling, drag and drop / copy paste, synchronization support can be due to operating system. Again, IOS is probably leading the way here.
  • Full feature browsers. (Mouse-over support in the OS could be needed here too)
  • Software development tools. 3rd party issue that also requires keyboard, mouse and often, external / extended screen support too.


Having listed a bunch of items above, we have to now ask ourselves whether they are important and if they are, are they likely to be fixed. Certainly the web browser issues are serious, the CPU power issues are too where the operating system runs on an ARM design and you have to think carefully about multi-user and expansion through third party devices on USB. That’s a big market! Issues like IP stack, multiple audio modules and extended screen are less important. Third party software issues will solve themselves as devices move into different markets and the customer-based there becomes big enough to support the creation and support of the software. As for the hardware issues, don’t expect 500GB storage soon but do look for alternative storage solutions via local or remote wireless connections.

What about that keyboard though? Is it still an issue? For many operations, it’s a barrier. Tablets are popular now but is there still a desire for a keyboard. I’m sitting in front of a tablet writing this post now only because it’s got a full keyboard attached.

My gaps

I want a mobile video editing system with blogging client and full browser capabilities. The video encoding hardware on the iPad has shown breakthrough capabilities in iMovie for the price and size . Keyboard input is important though so I would want a robust keyboard solution. Offline blogging tools are required. Full browser too. The ipad2 + keyboard is getting very close to a usable solution for me but it still has showstoppers. Cabled internet for high-speed video upload, full browser with flash, mouse-over, side-by-side windows for drag and drop, external screen, ability to edit non-iPhone videos in iMovie. I’m still a huge proponent of the smartbook and hope that we see more work going into these because that’s where I see most of the gaps being filled for me. Windows 8 could be the stepping stone to an interesting smartbook / convertible / slider design. Like the TX100 perhaps!

Your Gaps

What are the ‘gaps’ that you see between a full computing solution and a consumer mobile OS solution.

A Look at the Tablet Spectrum with Shanzai.com

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shanzaitabs I like these guys, and not just because they’ve got a load of cool tech to play with! Shanzai.com appear to have some good contacts in the trade and a lot of experience with the market over there in the East. I’m almost in agreement with them on the ideal tablet size too. You may have a different opinion but check their article and video below before you make a decision.

iPad vs Galaxy Tab and Dumb Ratings

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I’ve got a set of 17 criteria that I’m developing for use when I review devices and I thought it would be an interesting exercise to put the iPad and the Galaxy Tab together to see which one wins on this set of criteria.

As you can see, the Galaxy Tab is the winner. End of story.

Or is it?

The totally dumb thing about this result and most other static ‘ratings’ systems is that every user approaches a device from a different angle. No-one wants every feature in equal measure and the simple reason the Tab is (only just) the winner is because it shines in the mobility and phone/video category. Some users just don’t care about that so if you take those ratings away, the iPad is the winner. The winner shown above is with ‘all things equal’ and won’t help anyone choose a device.

With that in mind I’ve created an interactive tool (hat-tip to  Bryan Cryer for the javascript and Steve Litchfield for the inspiration) that puts your desires first and allows you to ‘weight’ my scores in each category.. If you aren’t interested in gaming, give it a low weighting and the scores will adjust giving you a different result. Try it…it’s fun!

Product chooser – Apple iPad vs Galaxy Tab

For average viewer ratings and a chance to put your own scores in, you can use this version of the tool.

Note: The tool is still being developed and I reserve the right to refine my scores for devices.

I realise that my categorisations aren’t flawless and that my scores could also be in error so for that, I ask for your trust that I’ve refined the categories well and know my stuff when if comes to evaluating a device. If you don’t trust my reviewing skills, don’t use the tool! It would also be impractical and unworkable to break out 20 or 30 categories for each and every feature. Your suggestions during this Alpha phase are welcome though.

Here’s some more detail about the categories.

  • Battery life – Working battery life, standby, always-on. Relative to size and best in class.
  • Connectivity - Hard, radio connectivity. USB, BT, ports, wifi, 3g, removable storage.
  • Screen quality – DPI, brightness, reflectivity, colour considered here.
  • Portability - How light/small is this to carry, hand-hold. pocket.
  • Storage - Based on a combination of speed and size
  • Internet Experience – From WAP to desktop quality. Speed, quality, usability considered. (Connectivity is a separate consideration)
  • Touch User Interface – Quality, speed, flexibility
  • Processing power – Including co-processors. Compared to best of breed (at time of rating.)
  • Text Input – Quality relative to size. Covers keyboard quality, size, engineering, features, flexibility, options
  • Social Networking – Considers the tendency for the device to be getting the best/widest/newest selection of social networking apps
  • Productivity – Includes PIM, sync, remote working and standard office apps.
  • Ruggedness – Suitability for mobile work
  • Application availability – How easy is it to find quality apps? Rates store, freeware, ease of finding and installing
  • A/V/P experience – Combination of video playback, video connectivity, audio components, cam, webcam. A/V/P=audio, video, photo
  • Gaming and entertainment – Considers 3D graphics support, CPU speed, games availability, controls, content availability, flexibility.
  • Phone and Video Comms – Considers GSM voice, SMS, to multi-video video conferencing
  • Location services – GPS hardware, maps, social and navigation software, apps, always on.

The Question Marks That Remain over Q4 Tablets.

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smartdevices Bob Morris, head of the mobile computing division at ARM, is telling us that the Dell Streak is just the first in a line of more tablets that will arrive from various vendors in time for Christmas. I guess if anyone should have the inside info on this it’s Bob so it’s a good sign.

We’re clearly looking at Android as the de-facto Q4/Q1 2011 operating system solution for most of these tablets and although Froyo with Flash 10.1 is a great starting point, there’s still a significant number of big question marks that keep me sceptical. I know Nvidia, ARM and others have talked about waiting for Flash and ‘fall’ but there’s more to it than that.

How about Google Market? This is becoming more secretive than Adsense or Google’s Search algorithm and one wonders just how much money Google are now making from it. The Dell Streak got Market by being a large well-branded company that effectively designed a Android smartphone but what about the others? Every device that didn’t have marketplace/Gmail/contacts/maps so far has been highlighted as an incomplete Android product. Sideloading and 3rd party app stores aren’t the fix either. The second problem is that there needs to be a new suite of >=WVGA, large screen (mdpi-large in Android speak) apps before the first reviews start otherwise the whole Android tablet ecosystem will be tainted with poor early reviews. Bad news never seems to fade from search engine results so Google needs to re-build their app suite for mdpi-large (or even mdpi-maxi as ‘large’ only goes to 5.8” screens.) If Android is to have a chance at getting more productive applications in the store (as Apple have already done) Google also need to give developers a chance to prepare new versions of their apps. That can only happen if Google stimulates the developers by announcing Android 3.0 or a new phase of tablet-focused work. Give us a sign Google. Apple gave some devs a three-month head start before the product was launched. Although this was a restricted program, it was instrumental in creating a good day-1, week-1 buzz.

Link: Overview of tablets available, announced and expected

If I was an Android Tablet OEM right now I’d be considering waiting for even more than the above.

  • Cheaper Cortex A9 platforms and proven Android hardware builds. Cortex A8 is still good enough but to make a serious marketing splash, dual-core A9 is now needed.
  • Clarification on what the hell is going on with Chrome OS (touchscreen support looks likely)
  • Concrete information about Android 3.0 (Apps suite, developer take-up, information about ARM-optimised kernels)
  • IDF (Sept) and MeeGo 1.1 (Oct) (To asses competing product timescales)

Racing to get a product out for Christmas sales could be too risky and the whole ‘smart’ tablet market could suffer if a big name gets it wrong. Like you, I want products NOW but i have the feeling that the iPad will be a year old before we see any serious competitors.

Lightweight and Mobile-Focused 3G Netbooks (And Alternatives.)

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Long-gone are the days where netbooks were available at the 1KG mark. The Asus 901, Acer A150. Classic 1KG, 8.9” netbooks that worked well as mobile-focused PCs for getting things done almost anywhere. The EeePC 901GO was arguably one of the best mobile bargains around at the time, at least in Europe. No hard drive, sub 1KG, 3G and a great price. Oh how things have changed. All we seem to see now are 10-12” devices at 1.2KG or more with moving hard drives. The 800gm-1KG mark is now a specialist segment.

If you take a long hard look though and are prepared to relax your requirements a little there are a few gems hidden in there that would work well for ultra-mobile fans so I’ve taken a long look at the netbook segment, spoken to a few people (thanks Avram and Sascha) and come up with a shortlist for you. I’ve also taken a look above and below the netbook segment to give you a few alternative options.


Ultra Mobile devices need to be feature-rich, rugged and connected. They are the Swiss army knives of PCs that need to be ready for anything. Getting the best productivity out of any situation is important. 12” devices give great comfortable real-estate. 10” devices can be good value. 7” devices get right under the 1KG mark. Here are some other important features.

  • No Hard Drive. Ideally you don’t want any moving parts at all in a mobile PC. Hard drives and fans can fail or get damaged and even rotating screen hinges need to be thought about very carefully. If an SSD doesn’t come as standard, I’ve looked at the upgrade possibilities.
  • Bright screen. Matt finish. 10 – 12” for comfortable productivity. 7-10” for lighter weight.
  • 3G, Wi-Fi-N and BT 2.x (but not self-upgrade unless the antenna is pre-installed)
  • Long battery life (6+hrs)
  • Lightweight PSU, Car Kit
  • Other useful options – GPS, memory upgrades. Case
  • Latest CPU technology.
  • Weight – 1KG or less. (I’ve looked at devices up to about 1.2KG here.)

The Netbook Shortlist

Based around the 10” form factor, these are the gems that I’ve managed to dig out. Of the 400+ devices that I’ve searched through, these match the requirements the best. Quite amazing that there are really only this many that I would class as truly mobile devices. Note, these devices may not appear in your local market (and there may be others in your local market that I haven’t seen – please lets us know if you find one.)

Summer Breaks, Products Wait. Round-Up and Outlook Q3/Q4 2010. (Pt. 1 of 2)

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Don’t panic! As I return from my summer holiday (where I went with my car and returned without it – another story) I feel the need to catch up quickly on what’s really been happening during the second-half of July. Again, don’t panic because if you’re on holiday yourself, it’s a quiet period and the marketing and sales teams won’t ramp-up activities until mid August. After sifting through a ton of iPhone 4 antenna stories (which resulted in some of the most boring podcast segments I have ever listened to in my life!) I’ve managed to pull a few interesting tidbits out for you. Lets go over those stories briefly and then start thinking about Q4 and the events and trade-shows that will lead up to it. This Autumn could be the busiest ever for UMPCPortal and Carrypad.

Overall it seems that everything is on hold right now. On the last MeetMobility podcast we talked about a frozen netbook market as the new dual-core and DDR3 netbook platforms filter in. One wonders whether that really means the end of the basic netbook as cpu-core and graphics specifications turn that simple market into a race for cheap, blinged-up notebooks. The same freeze is in progress with the MID, tablet and UMPC market too. The Dell Streak is going to look rather out-dated in the next round as dual-core ARM CPUs start to filter-in and if Android 3.0 launches and opens the door to new markets, different form factors and productivity applications we’ll finally see some smart and productive products. In the UMPC space the Oaktrail and Moorestown platforms have made ‘Menlow’ look rather dated. In the X86 operating system world, Android and MeeGo are still months, if not years from being mature and as we look from every angle; from the netbook market, the UMPC market, the MID market and tablet market we see the product that scares the living daylights out of every OED, the iPad. The momentum there has been simply stunning and there’s no logical way to analyze it. It’s hype, marketing, magic and fan-base that have punched through any amount of negativity to create something that people simply want. Stunning.

Huawei S7 (3) One of the products that I’m quite interested in is the Huawei S7. It’s a modern and possibly winning take on the 7” Slate space with battery life, applications, social and fun right at its heart. OK it hasn’t got the super-slick look of the iPad but it’s one of the most complete 7” Android tablets i’ve seen so far. How disappointing it was to see the availability date slip right out into September. That’s a big slip and one wonders what Huawei are doing there. Did they give exclusivity to a carrier? Are they re-building the OS (Android 2.2 would be nice) or did they decide to swap out the resistive screen for capacitive? That would make sense. Unfortunately I think it’s none of the above and we’re just seeing the realities of launching a complete device into the market.

A product the might look similar to the S7 but could bring a productivity slant  is the RIM Blackpad. This is RIMs rumored 9.7” Blackberry companion tablet. The rumor sources say it will be launched in November but I’d ignore an iPad-like or iPad-killer references. This is likely to build on RIMs core competence of secure delivery of email and messaging and I’d expect to see it with some form of keyboard to tie in with the productivity theme.

The third piece of tablet hardware news I want to mention is something we haven’t really covered much on the sites. It’s Samsungs tablet which now looks like it will be consumer focused, running Android and will be built around a 7” screen. Samsung are the source of the news and they’re also talking about Q3, which is now! Samsung have made some great mobile computing products in the past and I highly rate their electronic engineering skills. They have the ability to build around their own ARM-based CPU too so everything is likely to be very efficient and small. Maybe I’ll drop my Huawei order in favor of this one. It will be fun to compare it to their 2006, 7” UMPC, the Q1. I’m expecting it to launch at IFA in September in Berlin. I’ll be there!

Android is turning out to be the easy option when it comes to tablet operating systems now. In fact, you could almost call it the de-facto solution for anyone that doesn’t own their own mobile OS. Despite Windows 7 being a superb, stable, feature-rich and productivity-focused OS, it just doesn’t work for the consumer handheld market. The UI is plain boring and I’m sure there are plenty of people like myself that now do as much as they can on their mobile phone to avoid having to go to the desk and wake the Windows beast. Of course, a desktop-style OS is still needed for productivity but there has to be a way to combine the two for a more enjoyable working experience. As a minimum, a user interface tidy-up is badly needed to enable Windows 7 to appeal to a more consumer, social and entertainment focused customer base but unless it’s done properly, it could make things worse. Witness early Windows Mobile overlay software that leaked the original user interface once you’d got past the home screen. The same was true of Origami Experience;  the software that tried to tidy-up Windows XP for tablet users.  I wonder if UI Centric can do any better with their Macallan product? There’s little that can be gleened from the short video and press release they sent out describing a purpose-built tablet UI. The problem is, the look and feel might be nice but if the included applications fall short on capability, you’ll end up starting your favorite applications just as you did before and you’ll have the same old problem of tiny windows control elements and scroll-bar, double-tap and press-and-hold controls. My feeling is that no-one will be able to hide Windows 7 until the apps are re-written. (Which means never!)

In part 2 (available here) I talk about why I can legally call a device a Smartbook product when I live just 20km from the Smartbook HQ that has exclusive rights to the name in Germany, a few Mifi competitors and even more tablets. I’ll also highlight the very exciting month of September. IFA, IDF and other events will prepare us for everything that’s going to happen in Q4.

All the stories highlighted in this article appear in the center column on UMPCPortal and in our weekly update article.

New FULL RSS FEED! I’ve found a way to give you a full RSS feed. Donate to UMPCPortal and you receive a private URL which gives you access to a full, no advertising RSS feed from UMPCPortal. You’ll also get an (optional) link on the front page and a free copy of the soon-to-be-released Mobile Computing ebook written by Chippy. To donate and receive your full RSS feed, visit this page.

Forums are getting busy. Join-up and meet a great bunch of people who are also interested in mobile computing products. UMPCPortal Forums.

MeetMobility Podcast will resume in about 2 weeks time when we’re all back from summer vacation. Expect a live round-table event with JKK, Sascha and a few special guests. Stay tuned to @meetmobility on Twitter for latest announcements.

Reader Post: The Disturbing Course of Mobile Technology

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One of the best things about the iPad is that it is seeding great discussions, thought and experimentation. Dr. Juan Luis Chulilla Cano, Director www.onlineandoffline.net [personal blog] , Spain, sent us this article which I’m sure is going to start another good discussion. Thanks Juan.


I am not surprised at all by of the extraordinary reception given to the iPad. The exaggerated and raptured descriptions are explainable keeping in mind the huge expectations that media groups have about the iPad: if the iPad is the wonder-device which can make pay-per-content solutions acceptable for the first time in the Internet Age, then Media is forced to bomb the population with out of control hype. What I cannot totally understand is how and why the disappointment of late January, when we met the real characteristics of the device and all its shortcomings, has been magically transformed into renewed infatuation and fascination for a lot of tech bloggers, as if this disappointment has gone through a process of double-thinking.

Of course, a good number of bloggers have maintained their critical approach about iPad and what it means for the public. Indeed, the first wave of hype and uber-criticism has calmed down, and it has no sense to repeat the main criticism. Instead of it, I would rather prefer to focus on two linked topics: format variety and PC software model.

I am still amazed about how many people are, well, raptured by the SAME device. Technologically speaking, it is as if one day I get up, get out of my house and I find that most of the people I meet on the street are wearing the Mao suit. Actually, distinction is one of the most important engines of consumption, whether we talk about clothes or cars and people need to buy and use different formats of computers and Internet browsing devices, MID and the like, because they have different requirements and usage environments.

iPad nowadays is very efficient in helping their users to feel themselves different, comparing with the sheer majority of have-nots. BUT all of them are happy with ALL its characteristics and size? I just cannot accept that on the long term.

The second topic (which disturbs me a lot) is the PC software model. The astronomical PC revolution wouldn’t have been possible if all the main vendors would not accept an OS which has no limitations on what can be installed on it besides the development of the application. For sure, Windows is far from perfect (mainly because of its vulnerabilities against malware), but its unlimited software paradigm has been essential for the PC revolution. Linux shares this model, but Apple not totally: although MacOS X has no limits on what you can install on it, you cannot legally install that OS on a non-produced Apple PC. That was not bad as apple sales have been anecdotal in the last fifteen years

I do believe that all this freedom of operation has been essential for the PC revolution. A PC is much more that a browsing and text processing device, and the lack of software limitations have made possible the adaptation of the PC to a huge variety of environments and user requirements.

There, my main concern about the iPad is its tyrannical and obsessive control about what the customer may or may not do with the product they purchased, its theoretical property. As it is well known, the only legal software source for the iPad is the AppleStore, and Apple has full powers to decide what is permissible or not. Besides, recently Apple has reduced drastically the programming languages and environments that can be used for iPad development.

Some people say that this is a clear benefit for the users, because users need just “devices that work” carefree. This is connected with the prior topic (different formats for different requirements): maybe “mums” can be satisfied with such a lack of options (Cory Doctorow has a smart insight about it in his post Why I won’t buy an iPad), but a lot of users cannot be satisfied with such a proposal. The comparison with Meego is very illustrative: you can install an application in a Meego-powered device (ANY compatible device) from their future “market” (repository is an old-fashioned term these days), or from any other source. It is not going to be any restriction of language or programming environment within the capabilities of a Meego-powered device.

The amazing success of iPhone has affected Apple in a wrong and harmful way. I also find insulting that it is acceptable to treat people as minors with their rights stripped away. PCs have had a fundamental role in the process of Internet adoption for the population, with all its revolutionary consequences. But don’t forget that PC were successful before Internet adoption, and its success is totally linked with their software model.

Nowadays PCs are not the only way of accessing Internet anymore, and they aren’t going to be the main way to do that for much longer. Mobile devices are the protagonist of the next evolutionary wave of Internet, since they link Online and Offline reality in a double way; allowing Internet access anywhere, anytime, and being the basis for generating augmented reality experiences. However, if PC software model is abandoned, if we happily give up the control of our devices to the vendors, it will have negative consequences to the evolution of Internet


Thanks again Juan. Over to you, readers.

The iPad and My European Family

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IMG_3256 I’ve always imagined the Apple iPad to be one of the easiest purchases a Dad could make. It looks good (no more ugly laptops on the coffee table,) it can be used for multi-player games (something to bring the family together) and it can be used around the house (no more being stuck in the broom-cupboard with the family desktop.) Naturally the price can also be justified (have you seen how expensive those new coffee machines are and a BluRay player, PS3 or Wii isn’t ‘that much’ cheaper. Even smartphones are more expensive over 2 years.) With its relatively large-format text and screen, simple user interface, loungey two-handed usage and access to music, books and films from the device itself,  it’s difficult to imagine the device selling to anywhere else other than the living room. Apart from the tech bloggers, apple fans, the rich, early adopters, journalists, developers,  and businesspeople who also had a reason to get in early of course.

Thanks to TouchMeMobile who kindly did a short-term swap on this iPad for a Viliv S10 we’ve been testing at UMPCPortal. You’ll find the Viliv S10 articles here. (German)

I’ve had the iPad for a little over a week and have been experimenting. I compared it with an Archos 5 to see where it overlaps and testing different usage scenarios. In between, the iPad has been where it is likely to live for most people, in the living space near the TV and remote controls and among what I regard to be an average European family.

Firstly, I should say that the iPad was exactly what I expected. It looks great but is relatively heavy (especially for a tablet that doesn’t have a stand.) It is built with stylish materials that aren’t ideal for hand-holding and it has a user interface that puts all others to shame. The app-store is exciting and the battery seems to last forever.  It’s clear that the touch user interface provides the main excitement though and this is where the ‘magic’ is. I liken the feeling to using an Air-Hockey game. Fluid, physical and somehow detached from the real world. It really connects the device to the user in a natural way.

IMG_3261 IMG_3266 IMG_3265

The iPad was used around my home for about a week and initially, everyone was keen to use it. The game Godfinger featured heavily as did web browsing which was as fast as almost any 700gm device I’ve tested. It was used for a small amount of ‘twittering’ and email too but in the end, that usage model, and anything else that involved my private data and accounts didn’t work in the family scenario. It turns out that multiple users aren’t really well catered-for on the iPad which really goes against the grain of how I see the iPad being used.

After a few days, in a family that has a number of netbooks lying around, the iPad usage faded away. My daughter, 9, uses the netbook once or twice a week to collect and print images of her favorite Disney stars and to browse videos in Clipfish or catch up on ‘Popstars’ via the TV station’s website – all flash-driven videos.  Clearly, printing and flash websites don’t work on an iPad. We’re not big electronic gamers (the Xbox is only used as a media player and DVD player and we’ve never had to tell our daughter to ‘leave that damn Nintendo alone for a minute’ ) and we don’t read e-books for hours on end (magazines, TV and books still feature heavily in our living room.) Short messaging and emails are generally done on phones (SMS still rules in Europe and there’s that personalisation issue to think about again) so I’m left wondering what the iPad would be used for. After a game of Jenga yesterday (try simulating that on the iPad!) while digital radio played in the background via our basic cable subscription, I realised that this family, despite its tech-journalist father, is just not aligned the way Steve Jobs would like and I’m imagining that the same scenario will occur right across Europe when the iPad launches leaving just the aforementioned early adopters buying.

I see where the ‘magic’ is coming from and I see that the iPad is a beautiful purchase. It’s an exciting experimental platform and connected entertainment device; I’d love to have one lying on the sofa or coffee table. Many will accuse me of not seeing the bigger picture too but, as so many people have written before, the iPad doesn’t have a unique usage case TODAY that can be used to lever a purchase TODAY. I can’t justify it.

You might think that a web site called ‘Carrypad’ is heavily pro-tablet but although we love choice, lightweight computing and sofa-surfing, we’re acutely aware of the issues of size, weight and software keyboards. Many tablets overcome the issues by being flexible in terms of connectivity or by being extremely mobile but the iPad doesn’t even do that so at 700gm / 1.5lb, I have to say that this time, Mr Jobs, you went too far in your quest for form over function and missed the mark for a general use media, web and entertainment tablet. You might have created enough marketing magic for the U.S. market and a number of ‘advanced’ European markets (UK, NL, Italy perhaps) but in the very weak Euro/Pound zone right now, where value and privacy are often concerns and where prices are very high compared to netbooks and where marketing doesn’t work as it does in the U.S, penetration isn’t going to be high.

Drop the size to 7” and the weight to sub 400gm, open up the connectivity so that we don’t have to treat the iPad as a PC accessory and lower the price by 200 Euro, add a docking station and I think a lot more people would be able to justify it but as it is, my EU sales predictions stay as they are. Touching the iPad didn’t really change my mind.

Notes made in first 5 minutes:

  • Beautiful
  • Pre-set up not needed (as this is a loan device that has been pre-configured)
  • Wife’s first comment ‘too big’ followed shortly after switch-on by ‘is that for us? I want one.’
  • First touch reminds me of a pinball machine.
  • Web, fast!
  • Email is nice
  • Weight too heavy
  • Slippery when dry
  • Initial pics taken on camera – SD card placed in netbook

Other thoughts.

  • Enjoyed browsing. At last sub 10-second browsing on an ARM-based device.
  • User interface – a joy.
  • Materials – high quality but not built for use.
  • Notifications system – Well implemented – apps need to catch up
  • Flexibility – Poor. Transferring files. Connectivity. Productivity. Hardly the Swiss Army Knife of tablets
  • Weight – poor.
  • Keyboard – very good technically. Few usage scenarios due to weight, lack of stand.
  • Price – Acceptable for a web/gaming device
  • Most interesting usage scenario – highly interactive musical instruments and musical experimentation.
  • Battery life good

Wife’s final comment: Good for eyes, not for the back. (Followed by joke about ‘eye-pad’)

Apple iPad and Archos 5 Android Tablets. Video Comparison

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IMG_3246 Is it fair to be comparing a $250 5” tablet with a $500 9” one? Yes because a) people have been asking about it b) comparing anything to a device that gets people thinking, talking and experimenting is worthwhile in my book.

Thanks to the German blog, TouchMeMobile I’ve got an iPad this week and although I don’t intend to do a full review, I am taking the chance to learn and compare as much as possible. This video is a detailed look at the differences and the overlap between two home-focused devices. Music, Video, Internet and E-Reading are at the heart of both the iPad and Archos 5 but each one delivers it in a different way. The Archos 5 is the very personal, lightweight 30cm experience with a lot of flexibility. The iPad is a 1-meter experience with a refined user interface but misses out on some connectivity and flexibility. One is easy to hold in one hand; the other needs two. One has an industry-leading application store; the other something rather disappointing. One can ‘play’ the web and 720p video out via HDMI, the other is limited to analogue video.

In the 25-minute (get yourself a cuppa!) video I discuss the form-factors, the weight, the video capabilities, the app store, communications and e-reading. The two devices do ‘internet entertainment’ in very different ways so I hope this video helps you refine your gadget ‘wanted’ list or buying decision. Feel free to feed back on YouTube or below. For the next week I’ll track it closely and try and answer queries ASAP.

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