Tag Archives: tablet

Tablets will be bigger than PCs. Are you ready?

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook spoke at the Goldman Sachs Technology Conference yesterday; Macrumors has what looks like a full transcript. Do not expect hot news; there is little or nothing in the way of announcements. It is interesting though as a recap of how Apple sees its future: iPad, iPhone, iCloud, Apple TV, maybe some future huge acquisition financed by its cash pile.

This is what stands out for me:

From the first day it shipped, we thought that the tablet market would become larger than the PC market and it was just a matter of the time it took for that to occur. I feel that stronger today than I did then.

I agree. The reasons are similar to those that caused laptops to outpace desktops. Mobility and convenience trump the better computing value you get in a desktop PC. Note: we still use desktops, and both desktops and laptops will continue to sell, but in smaller quantity.

Although you can list numerous reasons why tablets are not good enough – no keyboard, small storage capacity, underpowered for cutting-edge gaming, not really expandable, favourite apps not yet available, and more – none of these is sufficient to prevent the tablet taking over in the majority of cases.

You can have a keyboard if you want; build it into the case. Storage is increasing all the time, and we have the cloud. Graphics power is increasing all the time. Most people are happy to sacrifice expandability for the simplicity and reliability of a tablet. If your favourite app is not yet available, it soon will be; or else an equivalent will appear that replaces it.

Tablet benefits? Cost, no flappy screen, light and small, designed for ease of use, reliability of an appliance versus a computer for starters.

In itself, the move from one type of computing device to another is no big deal. The reason this one is such a deep change is because of other factors. I will list three:

  • The lock down

    Pioneered by Apple, this is the idea that users should not have full access to the operating system on their device in almost any circumstances. The lock down is a cost and a benefit. The benefit: resilience against malware, greater reliability. The cost: loss of control, loss of freedom, handing over even more power to those who do have full access, primarily the operating system vendor. Where UEFI secure boot is enabled, it is not even possible to boot to an alternative operating system.

  • The store

    Hand in hand with the lock down is the store, the notion that apps can only be installed through the operating system vendor’s store. This is not a universal tablet feature. Apple’s iPad has it, Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows 8 on ARM has it, Android devices generally let you enable “unknown sources” in order to install apps via a downloaded package, though sometimes this option is missing. Further, both Apple and Microsoft have schemes whereby corporates can install private apps. Still, the consequence of the lock down is that the ability to install apps freely is something which can be tuned either way. Since store owners take a cut of all the business, they have have a strong incentive to drive business their way.

    I have never believed Apple’s line that the iTunes store is intended as a break-even project for the convenience of its hardware customers.

  • The operating system

    I am at risk of stating the obvious, but the fact that most tablets are iPads and most non-Apple tablets are Android is a monumental shift from the Windows-dominated world of a few years back. Can Microsoft get back in this game? I am impressed with what I have seen of Windows 8 and it would probably be my tablet of choice if it were available now. The smooth transition it offers between the old PC desktop world and the new tablet world is compelling.

    That said, this cannot be taken for granted. I watched someone set up a new Android tablet recently, and was interested to see how the user was driven to sign up for a variety of services from Google and HTC (it was an HTC Flyer). Devices will be replaced, but accounts and identities are sticky. Users who switch devices may face having to move documents to a different cloud provider if they know how, re-purchase apps, figure out how to move music they have purchased, re-buy DRM content. A big ask, which is why Microsoft’s late start is so costly. At best, it will be a significant player (I think it will be) but not dominant as in the past.

    Late start? Did not Bill Gates wave a slate around and predict that it would be the future of the PC back in 2001:

    "So next year a lot of people in the audience, I hope, will be taking their notes with those Tablet PCs … it’s a PC that is virtually without limits and within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America."

    Right idea, wrong execution. Microsoft tried again with Origami, the ultra mobile PC, a device that was so obviously flawed that everyone knew it would fail. My belief is that Microsoft, helped by Apple’s example, has a tablet concept that works this time round, but nevertheless the history is discouraging.

    One reason for the relative failure of the Tablet PC and the complete failure of Origami was price. Microsoft’s business model depends on selling software licenses, whereas Apple mostly bundles this cost into that of the hardware, and Android is free. Price of the first Windows 8 tablets is unknown, but could again prove to be a problem.

    Interesting to debate; but however it shakes out, Windows-only is not coming back .

It follows that as tablet use continues to grow, both business and consumer computing are transforming into something different from what we have become used to. Considering this fact, it would be interesting to analyse affected businesses in terms of how ready they are for this change. It would be fascinating to see companies ordered by some kind of tablet readiness index, and my guess is that those towards the bottom of that hypothetical list are in for a nasty shock.


Why there are no tablets running Windows Phone 7

Once again people are asking why Microsoft has not allowed OEMs to build tablets running Windows Phone 7. Matthew Baxter-Reynolds says it is to do with income from OEM licenses:

Now, Microsoft charges OEMs far less for Windows Phone licenses (about $15 per unit) than for full-on Windows licenses (on average, working out to about $56 per unit) …  But for Ballmer and the team, this is the bad news scenario. Only $15 per licence? And even less in profit? Compared to $37 in profit? It’s a money-loser, people.

While I agree that Microsoft has a problem with its business model in the new world of mobile devices, I do not follow this reasoning. There is nothing to stop Microsoft charging more for Windows Phone OS on tablets than on phones if it could get away with it. Nor is it necessarily true that Microsoft will succeed in charging as much for Windows 8 on tablets as it does for Windows 8 on PCs. In fact, that is unlikely to be be true; they will be cheaper, especially on ARM.

If it is not this then, that still leaves the question of why Microsoft has not licensed the Windows Phone 7 OS for tablets.

Microsoft has undoubtedly fumbled tablet computing and this was a costly mistake. Nevertheless, it is a company capable of strategic thinking. I think it goes something like this, in no particular order.

First, I reckon Microsoft is thinking beyond the initial OEM license income for its profits from Windows 8 tablets. It is all about the apps – 30% of the income from every app sold on the locked-down ARM edition of Windows 8. Apps tend to be cheap, and there is cost in running the store, but there is potential for ongoing income that will exceed the initial license sale. Especially if, like Apple, Microsoft insists on a cut of subscription income, in-app advertising income, and so on.

Second, Microsoft is also betting on cloud computing. Windows Phone 7 is marketed mainly as a consumer device, but Microsoft is going to play the “this is the device for professionals” card at some point. You can bet that Windows 8 tablets, and their successors, will be promoted as the ideal client for Office 365, as well as for on-premise Exchange, SharePoint and Lync. Sell a tablet, buy a customer for Office 365. Lock customers into Office 365, and sell them other cloud applications and services. Plenty of opportunity for profit.

Third, my guess is that the Windows team at Microsoft does not consider the Windows Phone 7 OS good enough to be the foundation of its future mobile platform. They respect it enough to borrow its Metro design language, along with many aspects of the development model, but in the end Sinofsky and his team were not willing to hand over the future of Windows on devices to Windows CE and Silverlight.

What we are getting with the forthcoming Windows Runtime is a more deeply thought-through new platform in which .NET, native C++ code, and HTML 5 are equally well supported, and in which developers are forced to use asynchronous APIs that keep the user interface responsive. It will be a better app platform than the current Windows Phone OS; in fact, I fully expect Windows Runtime to migrate to the phone in some future version.

If Microsoft had allowed Windows Phone 7 onto tablets, it would have the difficult task of explaining to its customers how Windows 8 tablets differ from Windows Phone OS tablets as well as from those old Windows tablets from Bill Gates days.

Therefore Microsoft took the decision to wait until Windows 8 was ready. That was a bold decision, and it may be too late, but the reasoning is plausible.


Asus Transformer Prime looks great – but I would rather have it with Windows 8

Asus has announced the Transformer Prime, a quad-core tablet which comes with a mobile dock. The tablet looks like this:


but it docks with a keyboard to become more like a laptop:


The dock includes a keyboard, USB port, SD card slot, and an additional battery. Asus claim a battery life of 18 hours for the tablet when docked, or 12 hours for the tablet alone.

Specs for the Transformer Prime include 32GB storage, 1GB RAM, micro HDMI port, front and rear facing cameras (the rear camera can take full 1080p HD video), light sensor and gyroscope, GPS, combined audio and mic-in jack, and of course wi-fi and Bluetooth.

The real star of the Transformer Prime though is NVIDIA’s new Tegra 3 SoC (System on a Chip).


Tegra 3 includes a quad-core ARM Cortex A9 CPU and a 12-core GeForce GPU, compared to its predecessor the dual-core Tegra 2 with its 8 core GPU. It also supports double the amount of RAM: 2GB rather than 1GB. Anand Lal Shimpi has a great overview here.

The Transformer Prime is set to arrive in the UK in early January with a recommended price of £499 inc VAT. It will run Android Ice Cream Sandwich.

Perhaps I have spent too much time with the Windows 8 preview over the last month, but I cannot help thinking that this would make an excellent Windows 8 tablet. I like the idea of the keyboard/dock which also forms protection for the tablet screen; with Windows and Office this might be the only device I need when travelling.

If the laptop had been invented after the tablet …

I attended a press briefing for a new kind of portable computing device which its inventors are calling a “laptop” and have been trying out a review sample.


Unlike today’s one-piece slate form factor, the laptop has a hinged top which when open forms the screen. The lower piece, called the keyboard, has physical buttons representing the letters of the alphabet, numbers, and other useful inputs, more or less matching the on-screen input panel we are used to.

The makers claim that a keyboard is faster to use than an input panel, but I am not convinced. One of the problems is that you are either looking at the screen, or the keyboard, and it takes a lot of practice to type without looking at the keyboard and missing what is appearing on the screen.

The real benefit is that without an input panel, there is more space on the screen for the application. Still, bearing in mind that the input panel disappears when not in use, this is not really such a big deal.

The downside of the laptop is that the two-piece design makes it bulkier and potentially more delicate than a conventional tablet. I also found that while it works fine on a desk, in a constrained space such as in an aeroplane seat the hinge design is awkward to use, and on several occasions I gave in to the frustration and used my normal tablet instead.

If you are standing up, the laptop is horrible to use, whereas a tablet works fine: you can hold it in one hand and control it with the other.

Laptops will be more expensive than tablets because of the more complex design, though we were shown a cheaper variant that has a passive screen which does not respond to touch.

This is odd to use; at first you find yourself constantly stabbing at the screen by mistake, but eventually you can train yourself to do everything with the keyboard. Just make sure you do not ever switch back to a tablet, otherwise when you come back to the laptop you will find yourself stabbing the screen again!

In order to mitigate the lack of touch control on these low-end devices, the designers have added an on-screen pointer which you can think of as a virtual finger. A small area in the centre of the keyboard is touch-sensitive, and moving your finger there moves the on-screen “finger”. You can then tap or click a button to simulate a finger tap.

It is a clever idea, though operating at one remove from the screen itself takes some getting used to. In the end though, it feels like a step backwards and for most users the extra cost of the normal touch screen is well worth it.

My view: for certain specialist tasks the laptop may catch on, but I cannot see it succeeding in the mass market.

Inspired by Ten failings that will check the tablet’s rise

HP discontinues WebOS, considers PC spin-off. Should have stuck with Microsoft

Oh yes, and buys Autonomy, a fast-growing specialist in enterprise knowledge management.

Here’s the news from HP’s announcement:

As part of the transformation, HP announced that its board of directors has authorized the exploration of strategic alternatives for the company’s Personal Systems Group. HP will consider a broad range of options that may include, among others, a full or partial separation of PSG from HP through a spin-off or other transaction. (See accompanying press release.)

HP will discontinue operations for webOS devices, specifically the TouchPad and webOS phones. The devices have not met internal milestones and financial targets. HP will continue to explore options to optimize the value of webOS software going forward.

In addition, HP announced the terms of a recommended transaction for all of the outstanding shares of Autonomy Corporation plc for £25.50 ($42.11) per share in cash.

A few quick comments. First, the failure of webOS does not surprise me. There is not much wrong with webOS as such; in pure technical terms it deserves better. Its focus on adapting web technologies for local mobile applications is far-sighted; it is a more interesting operating system than Android and in some ways it is surprising that it went to HP and not to Google, which is a web technology specialist.

The problem is that HP, despite its size, is not big enough to make a success of webOS on its own. This was my comment from just over a year ago:

Mobile platforms stand (or fall) on several pillars: hardware, software, mobile operator partners, and apps. Apple is powering ahead with all of these. Google Android is as well, and has become the obvious choice for vendors (other than HP) who want to ride the wave of a successful platform. Windows Phone 7 faces obvious challenges, but at least in theory Microsoft can make it work though integration with Windows and by offering developers a familiar set of tools, as I’ve noted here.

It is obvious that not all these platforms can succeed. If we accept that Apple and Android will occupy the top two rungs of the ladder when it comes to attracting app developers, that means HP webOS cannot do better than third; and I’d speculate that it will be some way lower down than that.

Frankly, if HP did not want to do Android, it should have stuck with Microsoft. But this is where the webOS news ties in with the announcement about he Personal Systems Group. HP fell out with Microsoft last year, as I noted in my 2010 retrospective. I said the two companies should make up; but it looks as if HP is more inclined to give up on PCs and pursue other lines that have better margins – like enterprise software.

I am puzzled though by the PSG announcement. It is always curious when a company announces that it might or might not do something, and the fact that HP says it is considering a spin-off of its PC division will be enough to makes its customers uncertain about the long-term future of HP PCs and some of them will buy elsewhere as a result. It would have paid HP either to say nothing, or to be more definite and aim for a speedy transition.

All this, on the eve of Microsoft’s detailed unveiling of Windows 8. What are the implications? More than I can put into a single post; but like Gartner’s reports of dramatically declining PC sales in Western Europe presented earlier this week, this is a sign of structural change in the industry.

Microsoft will be glad of one thing: it no longer has this major partner promoting a rival mobile and tablet operating system. Note that HP still is a major partner: even if it sells the Personal Systems Group, its server and services business will still be deeply entwined with Windows.

Reports of 19% decline in Western European PC market show structural change

As if we needed telling, a new Gartner report shows a steep decline in the PC market in Western Europe. A “PC” in this context includes Macs but excludes smartphones and what Gartner called “media tablets”, mostly Apple iPads. A few figures comparing shipments in the second quarter 2011 with the same period in 2010:

  • Total PC sales down 18.9%
  • Netbook sales down 53%
  • Desktop PCs down 15.4%
  • Apple up 0.5%
  • Consumer PC market down 27%

What interests me here is not so much the normal ebbing and flowing of the PC market, but structural change indicating a switch away from PCs and laptops to more lightweight mobile devices. I believe this is evidence of that, though the economy is weak and extending the life of existing PCs is an obvious saving both for businesses and consumers.

Still, the dramatic decline in netbook sales suggests that consumers really are buying the more expensive iPad in preference. If you believe that consumers are to some extent ahead of business in their technology choices, then we can expect more of the same in the corporate market too.

No doubt alarm bells have been ringing in Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters for some time. The company is betting on Windows 8 to rescue its operating system from permanent decline, which is why next month’s BUILD conference is so critical. Nevertheless, it will be a year or so before we get new-style tablets running Windows 8, so will it be too late? I tend to think not, just because of the strength of Microsoft in the business world and the importance of Windows for existing applications, but it is interesting to speculate.

One factor which you can argue either way, in terms of Microsoft’s prospects, is that non-iPad tablets seem to be struggling. HP’s TouchPad and RIM’s PlayBook seem to be selling poorly. Google Android looks more hopeful though overshadowed by legal concerns from multiple sources. In Australia and parts of Europe Apple has successfully barred or delayed sales of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1, though the latest news is that the ban has been lifted outside Germany.

See also: Fumbling tablet computing – Microsoft’s biggest mistake?

Asus announces combined smartphone and tablet – the Padfone

Asus has announced the Padfone, a combined tablet and smartphone running Google Android. The phone docks inside the tablet, which means you get an internet-connected tablet without having to pay for an additional SIM card and contract. It is a similar concept to Motorola’s Atrix, which combines smartphone and netbook. I like the concept and its efficiency, though I am not sure that this is quite the right approach.




Asus is also having another at at Linux on a netbook. The Eee PC X101 will run MeeGo, the Linux-based operating system which was once a joint Intel-Nokia project, but ditched by Nokia in favour of Windows Phone. MeeGo enables Asus to offer the X101 at a lower price than would be the case with Windows, as well as offering snappier performance; however there will also be a Windows 7 option so I guess the market will decide.

Viewsonic ViewPad 10 Pro does Windows and Android – but Windows first

Viewsonic has announced the ViewPad 10 Pro, a 10” tablet that runs both Microsoft Windows 7 and Google Android 2.2.


I saw the ViewPad 10 Pro briefly this morning here at Mobile World Congress. Specs include Intel Oak Trail chipset, 2GB RAM, 32GB storage, and front-facing camera for conferencing.

The big appeal of the ViewPad 10 Pro, successor to the ViewPad 10, is that it runs Android as well as Windows. Just tap a button, and Android appears in place of Windows.

Sounds good; but as Viewsonic explained how this works I became doubtful. Apparently Android runs in a virtual machine on top of Windows. I have nothing against virtualization; but this approach does suggest some compromises in terms of Android performance and efficiency. No matter how clever Viewsonic has been in its implementation, some resources will still be devoted to Windows during an Android session and battery life will be less good than it might be.

I can see more sense in running Android first, for the sake of its speed and efficiency on low-power hardware, and Windows in virtualization for when you need to dip into Excel or some other Windows application.

The upside of this approach is that you can switch between the two without having to to do a hard reboot.

Viewsonic says you will be able to get one of these in your hands around May 2011.

RIM’s new BlackBerry tablet, WebWorks developer platform – but who wants small tablets?

Blackberry has announced its pitch for the emerging tablet market, the 7” screen PlayBook. It has a new OS base on QNX Neutrino, a webkit-based web browser, Adobe Flash and AIR – offline Flash applications – front and rear cameras for video conferencing as well as taking snaps, and includes a USB port and HDMI out. There is wi-fi and Bluetooth but no 3G in the first release; you can connect to the Internet via your Blackberry. Storage is not yet specified as far as I can tell. There is no physical keyboard, which is surprising in some ways as the keyboard is the reason I hear most often for users choosing a BlackBerry smartphone over Apple’s iPhone.


Alongside the PlayBook RIM has announced a new developer platform. WebWorks is an HTML5 platform extended with access to local APIs, and targets both the Tablet OS and BlackBerry smartphones:

BlackBerry WebWorks applications can tap into the always-on, notification-based, push-enabled, contextual and social attributes of the BlackBerry smartphone. These applications can also access hardware features and integrate with other apps, and are powerful Super Apps that are fully integrated into the BlackBerry Application Platform.

In order to access local resources you need to package your app as a Blackberry application. Java and native C applications are also supported.

A winner? Well, there is a widespread industry presumption that we all want tablets; for example NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang is planning on this basis, judging by what he said to the press last week. It is certainly a market in which every vendor wants a presence. There are a number of open questions though. The new tablet market is really defined by Apple’s iPad, and success for other operating systems and form factors is yet to be demonstrated. Personally I am not sure about the 7-inch screen, which is perhaps too large for a pocket and too small for the desktop-like web browsing you can do on an iPad. Here are the dimensions:

  • BlackBerry PlayBook:  7-inch 1024×600 screen,130mm x 193mm x 10mm
  • Apple iPad: 9.7-inch 1024×768 screen, 189.7mm x 242.8mm x 13.4mm

I doubt there will be much enthusiasm for carting around a phone, a small tablet, and a laptop, so in order to be viable as a portable device for work it has to be a laptop replacement. I do see this happening already with the iPad, though for me personally a netbook is both cheaper and more practical.

Apps are another key factor. It is smart of RIM to support Flash and AIR, which along with HTML 5 web applications are likely the best bet for supporting something like the PlayBook without a lot of device-specific work.

Apple iPad ascendant in business computing

Think Apple’s iPad is a consumer platform? Think again. I’m at the Cloudforce conference in London; and the level of iPad visibility has been striking. I’m not talking about attendees clutching the devices, though there are some. Rather, it’s the number of mentions and actual usage examples that are in the presentations. Before the keynote, Peter Coffee from Salesforce.com was using an iPad for interview notes, using it like a pad of paper. Next, we had demos of Salesforce.com’s new Chatter for mobile running on the iPad. Next, a representative from case study Bausch+Lomb mentioned that his company has just deployed 700 iPads to its sales force.


All business use cases, and all the more impressive given that they are incidental to the theme of the event.

Personally I have mixed feelings about this development. I’ve been a fan of the tablet format for years; here’s an article from 2003 (with apologies for the dated layout) in which I enthuse about an early Acer tablet. Some of the features for which the iPad is praised, like the ease of sharing what’s on the screen with others, are things I’ve long taken advantage of with Windows tablets.

The iPad is succeeding where Windows tablets mostly failed, thanks to its better design, lighter weight, longer battery life, and lower price. That’s welcome to me since I like the format, but the locked-in nature of the platform alarms me. Apple to be the single pipe for all public software deployments? No Flash, Silverlight, Java, or any runtime or other enabling software which Apple chooses not to approve?

This is merely an observation though – what counts is that users are adopting the device and enjoying what it offers them, in business as well as for personal use.

Now that Apple has shown how to make the tablet concept work, others are climbing on board, mostly with Android devices. The next point of interest is whether these also succeed; and even whether Microsoft can clamber back into the market either with a new wave of Windows devices, or more plausibly with the Windows Phone 7 OS (though the company claims not to be contemplating this).

For the moment though, broad reach deployment must include either an HTML version of your app, or native iOS.