The tablet wars are imminent, with Microsoft, Google and Apple breaking out their big guns. Here’s what you will be doing with yours later this year:
- Internet browser of course: think iPhone experience with a bigger screen. It will be super-fast with 802.11n in your home, and somewhat slower when you are out and about, tethering to your cell phone for wide-area connectivity. You don’t need a cellular connection in the Internet Tablet itself, though the cellcos wish you would.
- TV accessory: treat it as a personal picture-in-picture display. View the program guide without disturbing the other people watching the main screen. Use it for voting on shows like American Idol. Use it as a remote to change channels and set up recordings.
- TV replacement: a 10 inch screen at two feet is the same relative size as a 50 inch screen at ten feet. Use it with Hulu and the other streaming video services.
- Video iPod, but with a much nicer screen. Say goodbye to portable DVD players.
- VideoPhone: some Internet Tablets will have hi-res user-facing cameras and high definition microphones and speakers: the perfect Skype phone to keep on your coffee table. How about on your fridge door for an always-on video connection to the grandparents? Or in a suitable charging base, a replacement office desk phone.
- Electronic picture frame: sure it’s overkill for such a trivial application, but when it’s not doing anything else, why not?
- eBook reader: maybe not in 2010, but as screen and power technology evolve the notion of a special-function eBook reader will become as quaint as a Wang word processor. (Never heard of a Wang word processor? I rest my case.)
- Home remote: take a look at AMX. This kind of top-of-the-line home control will be available to the masses. Set the thermostat, set the burglar alarm, look at the front door webcam when the doorbell rings…
- Game console: look at all the games for the iPhone. Many of them will work on Apple’s iSlate from day one. And you can bet there will be plenty of cool games for Android, and even Windows-based Internet Tablets.
- PND display: Google Maps on the iPhone is miraculously good, but it’s not perfect. The display is way too small for effective in-car navigation. It’s possible that some Internet Tablets will have GPS chips in them (GPS only adds a few dollars to the bill of materials), but for this application there’s no need. Tether it to your cell phone for the Internet connectivity and the GPS, and use the tablet for display and input only.
2010 will be the year of the Internet Tablet. The industry has pretty much converged on the form factor: ten-inch-plus screen, touch interface, Wi-Fi connectivity. What’s a little more up in the air are minor details that will provide differentiation, like cellular connectivity, cameras, speakers and microphones. Apple will jump-start the category, but there will quickly be a slew of contenders at sub-$200 price points.
Several technology advances have converged to make now the right time. Low-cost, low energy ARM processors like the Qualcomm Snapdragon have enough processing muscle to drive PC-scale applications, and their pricing piggy-backs on the manufacturing scale of phones. 802.11n is fast enough for responsive web-based applications and HD video streaming. LCD screens continue to get cheaper. Personal Wi-Fi networks enable tethering and wireless keyboards for when you need them.
This also the perfect form factor for grade school kids. Once the screen resolutions get high enough books will disappear almost overnight. No more backs bent under packs laden with schoolbooks. Just this.