This Week in Tablets: PC makers hedge their bets on touch with new Windows 8 tablets
Over the next three months, we're going to hear a lot of hot air spouting from technology guys about specs and speeds and feeds and form-factors for the upcoming crop of tablets--Windows, Google, iOS included.
Increasingly, however, the fourth quarter of 2012 and the success of companies like Toshiba, Lenovo, HP, ASUS, and Dell appears to be boiling down to one important question: Do consumers and/or businesses really truly want a keyboard with their tablet? Is this second wave of tablet purchasing regressive in its desires and attempts?
If so, the newest batch fo Windows 8 and Android tablets will succeed, perhaps even at the expense of Apple. If not, the status quo will be maintained.
Apple would argue that most of its 70+ million iPad owners don't think a keyboard is essential. Amazon and Google would probably argue the same.
At the same time, no one would deny that tablets remain imperfect entry devices for serious writing tasks and data entry. This week at IFA in Berlin, dozens of new tablet designs were unveiled intent upon addressing this problem, just as Microsoft aims to do with its Surface tablet. Many of these new devices were convertible tablets and included built-in keyboards. Particularly the Windows tablet category, where all the major manufacturers unveiled some kind of keyboard solution with each tablet announcement.
Toshiba talked up the U925. HP introduced a new Envy x2 device. Samsung announced its Ativ line of tablets. Lenovo demonstrated the ThinkPad 2. Acer announced two new Iconias, one with a keyboard and one with a dock.
Asus even announced a tablet hybrid named the Taichi that has a keyboard as well as a dual-sided display. (For a great rundown of all the major announcements at IFA--and there were many--check TabTimes' IFA 2012 round-up.)
Land of the convertibles
I understand the sentiment behind the convertible keyboard, even it feels like its undermining the inherent promise of a tablet. Here's the rub: If you have a convertible tablet with a detachable keyboard, will you ever detach the keyboard?
If the keyboard serves as a cover the answer is probably no.
And if you don't detach the keyboard, isn't it essentially an ultra book or laptop? Intel doesn't care what you call it, but Toshiba and Dell and Lenovo, along with Microsoft clearly see these products as tablets.
With literally millions of consumers diving into touch tablet experiences, it seems odd that PC manufacturers appear to be snubbing their noses at the notion of a touch-only experience.
I guess the other way to look at this development is that touch Android tablets didn't exactly work out that great for most of these guys in 2011 and earlier this year.
This week's winner: Apple
The giant continues to grow. And roar. Even if the iPad Mini feels like it's getting lumped into the over-arching discussion, the Apple-Samsung decision publicly confirmed what we already knew: All smartphones and tablets are essentially derivatives of Apple. Particularly Samsung, which is going to have to spend at least some of its time pulling a few phones off the market.
The bigger win here for Apple is that somehow, despite it all, Apple continues to stay in Samsung's good graces on the display manufacturing front.
This week's loser: Google
Tim Cook and Larry Page are both richer than many mid-sized American towns, but I'm still betting that Page was less-than-pleased during his rumored secret chat with Apple's CEO last week.
Can you imagine what this call went like? I'm betting something like this:
"So listen, Tim, neither one of us is going to win this so-called patent war. It's a distraction."
"So why don't we just call the whole thing off, Tim?"
"Okay, Tim, nice talking to you. We'll set another call up soon."
The big problem for Google is that Eric Schmidt sat on Apple's board while the company was building the iPhone. To his credit, he did exit the board once Google decided to enter the mobile market. But it does smell a little funny.
Funny enough that Google is probably wanting to get out front of things a bit.
On the horizon
On top of the major IFA announcements, the three big questions that remain unanswered are:
What is the iPad Mini? TabTimes international editor Doug Drinkwater delivered a nice piece earlier in the week about what we should expect from the iPad Mini. Amongst other things, all rumors point to a 7.85-inch display, making this an 8-inch tablet and continuing to uphold Steve Jobs declaration that seven tabs are a lousy form-factor. Barely.
The potential hitch is the iPad Mini's predicted display resolution. At 1024 x 768, that's 163 pixels per inch, which is the same PPI for the earlier generation of iPhones. It's not clear to me how Apple is going to peddle a device with an inferior display after making such a big deal out of the Retina Display. The only answer I can come up with is that one or both of these display rumors aren't true.
We may find out on September 12 when Apple holds a highly anticipated press conference. However, we may have to wait until October if Apple decides that a 8-inch tablet deserves its own thunder.
What combination of tablet and e-ink Kindles will Amazon announce next week? Amazon is keeping this info tight, although this week's declaration that the Kindle Fire is now sold out is a sure sign we'll see at least one Kindle Fire announced at the company's September 6 press conference, and possibly more. According to the Wall Street Journal, an ad-supported Kindle Fire 2 may also be introduced.
It's also quite possible that Amazon will also introduce a series of new non-tablet Kindle readers, including one with what appears to be called Paperwhite display tech that allows for night time reading.
How much will the Microsoft Surface tablet cost? We'll find out the week after next, after Apple has taken its turn in front of the world. At this point, we'll have a much clearer idea of the tablet landscape to come.
One thing is for sure, however. Increasingly, it appears that Windows 8 tablet manufacturers are attempting to carve out a niche of their own, somewhere between ultra book and tablet. They're essentially leaving the touch-only experience for Apple and Amazon to claim.