CES wrap: let the battle of the tablets commence
Post-netbook era looking suspiciously like pre-netbook age
CES 2011 Consumers themselves may not yet be willing to commit themselves en masse to the media tablet and set aside the netbook, but manufacturers certainly appear ready to do so.
This year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held in Las Vegas, was the launching point for uncounted Android tablets.
But while Acer launched a new netbook, almost no one else did. The few vendors who were showing the little laptops - Toshiba, HP and Lenovo, for example - were all displaying old models, as was Intel.
The netbook may not be dead, but it's clear that vendors expect punters to show far more interest in tablets during 2011.
To be fair, netbook launches tend to piggy back on the arrival of new processors, in particular Intel's Atom CPU, which was revamped as recently as September 2010 when the dual-core N550 was launched. At CES, Intel wanted to focus on its second-gen Core i processors, aka 'Sandy Bridge', not Atom.
Acer's new Aspire One 522 is notable for using an AMD CPU, the 1GHz, 9W C-50, one of the company's Fusion line, so it has some novelty value.
But the array of upcoming machines and new launches made at previous CES events were absent this time round.
Not that tablets makers will have an easy ride. As the plethora of models on display show, for every Samsung Galaxy Tab, Motorola Xoom, RIM BlackBerry PlayBook, Dell Streak 7 and Asus Eee Pad Slider, there are countless no-name offerings. Of these a fair few are poor, some good, but all run the same operating system with the same UI, sport the same ports, and have the same basic look.
Sure, some have more on-board storage than others, while some have resistive screens and others have capacitive, but these are all by-the-numbers offerings made by Chinese and Taiwanese OEMs, and it's almost impossible to tell them apart.
The better known names have their established brands, but it's telling that even here there's little to choose between them.
Next page: History repeats... brrp
What's happened to the HP/Palm OS tablet? That's the other potential minority play. I had a Palm Pre for a couple of months and it was a very usable OS (let down by cheap feeling hardware with a poor battery life).
The lists of 'missing features' or 'old technology' always miss the point. Sure some of us geeks care about it but the mass market doesn't - it's the overall user experience that matters and that's what Apple are still getting 'righter'. The iPhone camera is still low spec but it takes great pictures.
* Full multimedia support for codecs and containers - full H264, VC1, MP4 ASP, MKV etc. (who cares? If you're playing legit content via iTunes you're fine. Flash remains a (big) temporary issue but when the BBC sort out iPlayer most people will be happy enough in the UK
* Outputs such as HDMI, USB (Apple docks provide this)
* Memory expansion slots (majority of users never expand memory on their device)
* Other peripherals not found in an iPad, e.g. slide out keyboard (increases the size - BT keyboards available)
* Removable battery (lack of this gives a stronger, more solid feeling device. How many owners ACTUALLY own a second battery for their phones? I bought second batteries for a couple of my cellphones over the years but never actually used them. A Phillips Power to Go now does for the once or twice a year I know I'm going to be away from a charge port for too long and works for more than one device)
* Different form factors (there will almost certainly be a 'right' size for tablets and it's looking like 10")
* Different price points (Apple is still looking best value)
Your apologetics are as ridiculous as someone claiming that since a Mini is quite a nice car that nobody should have any reason whatsoever to want a car with features or functions that a Mini lacks.
In response to your frankly silly excuses:
* Media support. Many people have media in a variety of formats and want to be able to watch it without caring too much what format it's in. Just because YOU always buy your movies from the Apple store doesn't mean others have. e.g. some people might have purchased DIVX / Amazon movies or ripped their own or transferred movies from a PVR or downloaded them. Regardless, a device which has better media support and an open media framework to support new formats or services is better than one which doesn't for many people.
* HDMI, USB support. What? The $29 Apple dock supports VGA output and USB purely for charging and syncing with a PC. The VGA output also requires another adapter costing another $29. And of course cables for splitting the audio. All of which gets you precisely nowhere close to the quality or convenience of playing movies through HDMI if a device just had a built in port.
* Memory expansion. Pure bollocks. There are many reasons someone might wish to plug in an SD card, such as transferring pictures, music or other files around. e.g. I might wish to use a tablet to edit a photo on an SD card from my camera before plugging the SD into a photo processing machine. Perhaps you should suggest we should all buy a $29 camera kit to work around this artificial restriction?
* Keyboard or other built-in peripherals. Again you appear to think that just because you want to haul around a separate $69 keyboard (mutually incompatible with the $29 dock, and $29 camera kit which need the same port) that everyone does. Some people may prefer a keyboard which folds neatly and flat with the tablet.
* Removable battery. Your rationalizations are getting ludicrous. Virtually every non-Apple phone in existence manages to feature a removable battery. My HTC desire manages it by the mind crushing concept of pop clips in the back cover. Others do it through sliding backs. Some backs are made of plastic, others steel or whatever. Some people appreciate being able to replace one battery for another without invalidating their warranty or spending a small fortune sending their phone / tablet off and receiving a mystery replacement with none of their files or settings a week later.
* Form factors. So says you, other people can and do have different requirements. Some might appreciate a tablet with a different aspect ratio for multimedia playback, or a smaller size for traveling, or a few more hard buttons, or a rubberized back for easy grip, or a smaller bezel, or a built in stand, or a folding cover or the multitude of different features a tablet might offer. Claiming the iPad is perfect for everyone is absurd. People have different tastes and requirements.
* Different price points. Again, some people might question why they have to fork out $600+ for a device and then a small fortune for a carrier bag full of docks, cables and other accessories when one selling for half the price meets their requirements. And it's quite clear that there will be tablets selling for half the price. Some devices like the Archos 101 already do and as CES demonstrates there are going to be many, many tablets to suit all tastes and budgets in the next year.
What iPad has that the others don't
Lots are said about what the iPad lacks compared to the super hardware that others can put out, but little about possibly its most USP's compared to its competition, and it mostly has little to do with technology.
1. You can but an iPad right now, today. We see loads of iPad killers, but until one of the guys at work, a friend or a shop has one of these killers it remains very vaporous.
2. iPad 2 will be here before everything shown at CES. I would love to be proved wrong on this.
3. Apple Customer Service and Retail presence. You can play with an iPad all you like, with and around people that know how to use it, as opposed to some youth in PC World who does not know his 3G from his Micro SD.
4. The iPad is in danger of being the 'Hoover' of vacuum cleaners. Like the iPod if the Hoover of MP3 players and iPhones are the Hoovers of Smartphones. This sets a precedent in the minds of everyday (non tech blog readers) buyers.
5. 3rd Party Accessories. Cases, dongles, docks, Airplay Speakers, skins, training books, magazines and more.
All the above gives Apple a massive head start that I'm not so sure others will catch up with. Just two things might help the competition, Price and Availability. Get competitive with both price and availability and you might stand a chance.
"...but come march or april I suppose I'll have to fold and get an iPad 2, since I don't think anyone will have anything decent available ."
You could decide, like me and many other people, that an iPad is just a toy and you can manage without one - and spend five hundred notes or so on something useful?
Now this may all be fine and dandy...
But the bottom line is that the ipad has been around for 8 months, and the Samsung for three. But there is really nothing else.
Tegra 2 has also been around for several months, as have IPS screens and even Pixel Qi's, but no one has been able to put a decent tablet on a shelf in a store. Come to think of it, is there anyone other than NotionInk planning on using Qi screens ?
I don't really want to get sucked into Apples distortion field, and I've been putting off buying a tablet because of the lack of choice, but come march or april I suppose I'll have to fold and get an iPad 2, since I don't think anyone will have anything decent available .
Apple has been scathed many times for making overpriced gadgets, but they seem to be the only ones that are able to get any product to the market if they put there minds to it. Samsung, Sony, Acer, HP, Dell et all only seem to be able to put out press statements and pictures.
I think they really dropped the ball on this one.