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Why There Isn’t an iPad Alternative

smartdevices Continued from Twitter for  @alsutton @beantin @mkearley2008 and others that were maybe a little surprised at my tweet this morning…

“My current stance on iPad alternatives – There are none. inch

I couldn’t answer the twitter responses in 140 chars so here’s a more detailed, and I hope, understandable explanation.

Consumer Internet device success continues to hinge on applications. It’s the reason that AppUp exists, that Nokia will invest 10m into developer incentives in the US, why Samsung is throwing money to Bada developers and why Chrome OS will have a web app store. It brings critical ‘value-add’ to a product for customers, incentivises (is that a word?)developers and provides revenue opportunities for operators. It really is a killer application and only one vendor has got it right in this space so far.

While the hardware and design for most consumer internet devices [as I write, this mostly means tablets] is the same and one could argue that there are, from a visual and usage-case perspective, many choices, only one device has the application ecosystem that gives it the ‘value-add’.’ There isn’t another stack of silicon, hardware, operating system and services that provides this and there won’t be until well into 2011.

Android is a fantastic alternative *opportunity* of course but having done more testing than most on large-format Android devices, (I cast a glance over to the Toshiba AC100) I can see that current applications are still focused on the small screen. There aren’t any compulsive large screen games, video creation, music creation or even productivity apps feeding through that consider the larger form factor, longer battery life and often, more powerful CPU and GPU of a consumer internet device. Why should there be? Android V2.x doesn’t provide the hooks for large-screen app development and Google limits the use of their Market to phones (and large phones.) I also think that AppUp is a good opportunity. There are now 1000 apps in the store that are written with a larger screen and CPU in mind. Most are monetised and there’s potential for much more to happen on MeeGo (not forgetting Ovi) during 2011 but right now, can anyone name me a ‘complete product’, from silicon, through design, operating system and applications ecosystem, that offers the same as the iPad?

We used to jokingly call the iPad a large iPhone but the application store has given it differentiation. In the Android world, that differentiation option hasn’t even been enabled yet. Android tablets with the application store really are large phones and until Android is enhanced and Google widens the doors to the market (and possibly creates a large-format application suite) the solution has a limited future and doesn’t offer an alternative to the iPad.

There’s one other point I want to make. If you’re looking for an alternative to the iPad, there isn’t one. If you’re looking for a different product that looks the same then there are some choices out there. Unfortunately, in this consumer internet device/tablet market, I don’t see many people defining their requirements before choosing a solution. I see the product desire growing through application desire (and style, of course) and not connectors and micro-sd card slots.

That’s just my opinion so feel free to ramble and rant below! We might give vendors something to think about in their next product planning meeting!

Update: I always encourage thought about personal requirements. This ‘chooser’ tool i’m working on (currently in Alpha) shows 4 leading tablet devices and allows you to set your requirements and see a ‘winner’ based on public ratings. It’s not a foolproof way to choose a device but it’s a good way to start thinking about requirements. Ipad, Galaxy Tab, Viewpad 7 and Dell Streak Chooser Tool.

Meet:Mobility Podcast 54 – Q4 Warm-Up

Meet:Mobility Podcast 54 is available.

In this show recorded on Friday 20th August 2010, Chippy, JKK and guest, Joanna Stern (Engadget) attempt to round-up 6 weeks of mobile computing news and talk about the netbooks and tablet possibilities for Q4 2010

Full show notes, listen and subscribe links over at Meet:Mobility.

You can also find the podcast on iTunes (Please, please help us by rating the show on iTunes.) You can also subscribe via RSS.

Meet:Mobility Podcast 50 – Big Steps for Android

Meet:Mobility Podcast 50 is now available.

In this show, number 50 on the 21st May 2010 we have a lot to talk about from Google IO in San Francisco to Computex in Taipei. Sasha and myself will be giving you feedback from our time with the iPad and we also talk about the netbook summit.

Full show notes, download and listen links at MeetMobility

You can also find the podcast on iTunes (Please rate the show on iTunes.) You can also subscribe via RSS.

Surprise! The Compaq Airlife 100 Android-based Social Netbook arrived.

This is fantastic. The Compaq Airlife 100 is sitting on my desk right now. I’m excited.

It’s one of the first true smart-books / social netbooks (*1)  and a device I believe will show us exactly how touch, always-on, always connected and social networking will play a role in netbooks of the future. It will be available soon in Spain through Telefonica’s Movistar service provider.


Here’s the plan. Although this is unlikely to be a device with final retail packaging, and possibly without a final software build, I’ll work on an an unboxing and overview video now and should go up on my YouTube channel in about 2 hours.

Update: The 20-minute unboxing and demo video is now available.

Then, I have to take a break for my mother-in-law’s birthday party. Great timing! On the way back from that I’ll grab a six-pack and then get down to the studio for a LIVE video and chat session. Lets say, 2200 CEST (check the time at your location) at  See you there for a few hours testing of one of the first ever social netbooks. (*1) Some parts of the session, not all, will be recorded. Tomorrow I’ll write my first impressions here on Carrypad.

Update 2: The Open Review session is over. Recordings are available here on the Meet:Mobility ustream channel.

Here’s my 10-minute hands-on from Mobile World Congress. Thanks to HP, Spain for sorting this out for us.

[*1 Smartbook is a trademark of  Smartbook A.G. in Germany where my company is based. They sell netbooks and laptops. To avoid legal issues, Carrypad uses the term ‘social netbook’ to describe an always-on, always connected netbook running on a mobile focused OS and hardware platform.]

Things to Consider when Designing or Buying a Tablet-Style Device

I’m somewhat frustrated by all the Apple tablet talk. Number 1, nobody has a clue what’s going on and 2, there are so many design issues with ‘tablets’ that people need to be very careful about what they get excited about. I wrote these notes a few months ago but it makes sense to post them now so that you can make assessments about WHAT YOU NEED before any wave of marketing hits you. (*1)

In addition to the notes, I’ve added a couple of diagrams that I’ve previously used in posts and presentations and I also want to point out that this article is mainly focused on hardware. Software is a critical part of the equation.

Finally, I’m not saying that this is a set of rules. This is just my perception of what’s going on. I’m excited to hear what you think and ready to learn more from you comments.

Usage Scenarios

Firstly, here’s a diagram of internet-connected usage scenarios that lie between Laptops and Smartphones. There might be a few other niche categories like digital photo frames and video conferencing but the ‘ring’ below covers the primary sectors.

Usage by screen size.

Secondly, here’s a diagram that highlights functions that sit comfortably in certain screen sizes. There are 4 screen size ranges and I’ve positioned tasks in the smallest possible category. Example: Try doing advanced photo editing on a 5 inch screen!

Click to enlarge.

Design/Usage Notes.

In no particular order, here’s a brain dump of design and usage considerations for tablet PCs.

  • One handed use: weight needs to be under 400gm for one-handed (finger-touch) use.
  • One-handed use: Width of device needs to rest comfortably in the hand in portrait mode (7 inch max)
  • Two-handed (only) operation not possible unless frame, corner or rear controls are implemented.
  • Current screen backlighting technology will add between 0.5W (for a 5 inch screen) to 2.5W (for a high-brightness 10 inch screen) Idle power drain tends to 200mw for well-designed screen-off, idle networking scenarios.
  • Minimum power envelope for an operating, connected device is about 2W (5 inch) or 3W (10 inch) (Only latest RISC CPU’s on best silicon processes can achieve this – expensive.)
  • Max drain can reach +2W over operating power envelope.
  • Battery capacity required for a 5 inch smart device – 10Wh. For a 10 inch device = 15WhTo achieve 4hrs always-on, dynamic and multitasking environment such as web and internet apps.
  • Battery weighs about 8gm per watt/hour (without control / feedback electronics – add 50gm for that)
  • Min battery (removable) and power electronics weight for a 7 inch smart device = 100gm
  • Screen backlights are ALWAYS needed for low-light operation.
  • Backlight average in-use power ranges from 0.5w (3-5 inch screen) to 2W or more (10 inch screen)
  • Capacitive touchscreens can’t be used with gloves or basic stylus.
  • Capacitive screens can’t be used for natural handwriting input, annotations, graphic creation/painting.
  • Keyboards need to split/position correctly when in portrait and landscape modes.
  • Tethering keyboards / headphones / data modems via Bluetooth is a long-winded process and requires batteries in end devices.
  • Pixel density should be between 180 and 250 pixels per inch for standard web pages unless intelligent reflowing /zooming is used. An 800-wide webpage would require about 4-inch width (about 6 inch diameter screen in portrait mode.)
  • Resistive touchscreens are not rugged.
  • Book reading does not require two-pages per view.
  • Hard drives are not rugged, are noisy and generate heat and vibration. Not to be used in tablets.
  • An integrated folding stand needs to be incorporated for PMP functions.
  • Wifi/Bt/3G/FM/GPS antenna separation is needed.
  • Mouse pointers allow selection with minimal hand movement.
  • Removing buttons helps aesthetics and ruggedness, reduces shortcuts for two-handed operation.
  • Moving buttons to ‘on screen’ reduces physical feedback, reduces usable screen area.
  • Buttons need to be backlit for night=time use
  • Screen brightness needs to be extremely low for night-time use.
  • Indicator lights distract and annoy when reading.
  • Good quality speakers allow for multi-person viewing.
  • Wifi needs to remain connected at all times (standby disconnection results in awkward delays on start-up.)
  • Web pages need to load in a 10-second average time. (with text and scrolling being available in 50-75% of that time)
  • Access to 100% of the internet requires Adobe Flash support (and, to a lesser extent, Silverlight and other run-time apps.)
  • Text selection for web applications is critical. (cut and paste.)
  • Zooming a web-page must re-flow the text to avoid left-right panning.
  • Auto screen rotate from landscape to portrait must not reset previous text selections
  • Using 3G when moving in car / train can drastically increase power drain from 3G components. (3G can take up to 1.5W in these scenarios – huge % of power drain.)
  • Docking stations help to keep a device charged and located.
  • Removable battery gives customer confidence about life-span of product.
  • Glossy screens can be filtered. Matt screens can not be made glossy with third party products.
  • Bigger screens are expected to be faster by the customer (and therefore highlight slow performance)
  • The concept of ‘idle’ is only for the lab.
  • Slider keyboards increase cost and size. decrease style.
  • Nothing over 4 inch screen is truly pocketable for most people.
  • Flash running on multiple tabs can easily take 100% of CPU on a ARM-based device.
  • A frameless device is impossible. 10mm frame is a tough design challenge.
  • For productivity users, a new operating system is a new learning curve.
  • Third party applications decrease stability and security.
  • Multi-tasking decreases battery life.
  • Fingerprint readers can drastically improve security while decreasing key presses.
  • A 7 inch screen device can be too big for a car dashboard.
  • Ebook readers are useless to the average consumer without commercial content being available through the device.
  • Cloud-based usage model is currently a home-zone possibility. (Not mobile) i.e. local storage and sync is still needed.
  • Larger designs permit higher pricing.
  • Larger designs need to deliver a faster experience (to satisfy user expectations.)
  • Notebook / clamshell designs are recognized as computers.
  • Sub 5 inch designs can be mistaken for smartphones.
  • New business models dictate that consumer tablets must be low-cost point of sale devices. (Marketplace for apps, content, accessories)
  • There are undiscovered usage scenarios.
  • There are huge numbers of new technologies and inventions that I don’t know about!

Example scenarios and solutions.

Ebook reading. 200 PPI screen with 300gm or less. Daylight (ambient light support) and backlight support needed. Content must be easy to access. Color screens important for education market (and advertising.)  See also this article.

PMP. 5 inch screen gives a comfortable 60-80cm experience. HD playback on small-screens is required because that’s what many users create and many websites deliver. You have no choice! 7 inch give HD (720p) experience and 1 meter. 5-7 inch screen in 300gm allows for only a 10-15wh battery. 5hrs online use. 7hrs video use.

Newspapers. Large screen format 9-12 inch format is impressive and permits newspaper layout ‘standards.’ Requires significantly more battery power. Advertisers want color and animated advertising. Difficult to design for one-handed use. 12 inch awkward for mobile situations. 9-12 inch also required for one-page per view A4/Letter sizing. (PDFs)

Web. Minimum resolution 800×480 although 1024×600 more comfortable and allows better portrait mode. 1024×600 at standard web (readable at 100% zoom) font sizes requires 7 inch screen. Multi-tab Flash enabled web pages can kill battery life and hog CPU if uncontrolled.

Mail, IM, social networking.Two handed thumb keyboard can only be built around max 5 inch (landscape)  or 7 inch (portrait) screen dimensions without separate keyboard. Requires always-on scenario. See also: Perfect Microblogging Device article.

An example multi-use tablet: 7 inch 300gm with 12wh battery, Cortex A8 CPU (high-end), 3D GPU, Video decoder hardware. (Intel Moorestown also a contender here.) Stand. Highly advanced on-screen keyboard with haptic feedback. 3mb HQ camera. 1.3mp LQ camera. Capacitive touchscreen. GPS, accelerometers, ambient light sensor, 3G, Wifi, docking port, 3.5mm headphone jack, array mic, stereo speakers.

The ideal tablet hardware is worth nothing without the correct software, services and content.

(*1) over the last 3.5  years I’ve learnt a lot about tablets and mobile computing devices including a lot about what doesn’t work for the masses through our pro-mobility-focused  sister website, UMPCPortal.

SmartQ V5 with Android Now Available for $180


If you’re looking for a fun little internet-connected media player to hack around with the SmartQ V5 has always been one close to the top of the list. It’s not exactly leading-edge in terms of processing power but, like the SmartV7 that Coldsun has, it’s loaded with multiple OS’ and the SmartQ brand has quite a strong and active community following.

Pocketables are reporting that the V5 version is now available via Eletroworld for $180. Add customs and postage to that and you’re looking at about $220 (150 Euros) which makes it worth taking an even closer look at. (Note: We bought a SmartQ7 at Eletroworld earlier this year. The ordering process was a little convoluted but the device arrived without problems.)


  • Processor: 600MHz
  • Screen size: 4.3-inch,800 X480 pixels (Resistive Touch)
  • Memory: 256MB DDR2 RAM
  • Storage: 2GB Flash Memory
  • Operating System: Ubuntu Linux,WINCE 6.0 and Android
  • Language: Chinese/English
  • Memory card slot supporting up to 32GB microSD memory cards
  • Wireless: supports WiFi 802.11b/g, Bluetooth
  • Output: HDMI 1.3 (1080P)
  • Connectivity: 2.0 USB HOST supported to connect the high-speed EDGE, HSDPA network adapter or mobile phone
  • Warranty: One year

Compared to the original SmartQ 5 the differences include double the RAM, multiboot OS (Android, WinCE, Linux) and digital video out via HDMI.

We’ve yet to see any reviews on the SmartQ V5 but we’ll definitely be looking out for them as this looks like a good value little device for the tinkerers out there. People looking to dive into a fully consumer-ready Android MID should be aware that this isn’t a full Google-apps-enabled Android build. (No marketplace, no maps, no sync.) Fingers crossed for an ARM A8 version with full Google Android support in 2010.

All SmartQ V5 specifications and links now being tracked in the product database.

Via Pocketables.

Smart Q7 impresses as e-book reader.

Smart Q7

Originally uploaded by

Im impressed with FBReader on the Smart Q7. The buttons work perfectly. Web tablets and e-book readers could converge today were it not for the stranglehold that distributors have on the ebooks. Why should you have to pay $350 for a Kindle when this is $190 and includes a full we browser, media player and a ton of open source apps.

More images in my Flickr stream which you can find by clicking the image.

Q7 with keyboard

Q7 with keyboard, originally uploaded by

The Smart Devices Q7 has been distracting me today.

Theres a lot you cant do with it but there’s also an awesome amount you can do with it. If you’re into open gadgets then this is bargain of the year! 7″ touscreen, SD card reader, Wifi, headphone port, USB2 and all running Ubuntu on an ARM platform.

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