This Week in Tablets: Samsung’s Galaxy S4 offers a glimpse at the future of tablets

March 16, 2013
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Two or three times a year, the mobile stars align in such a way that a single week’s worth of stories and events provide a nice, consolidated snapshot of the near future of tablet and smartphone technology, design, and usage.

This was another one of those weeks.

Samsung’s Galaxy S4 announcement was the big tent pole. Before and after Samsung’s event, however, a number of other stories, rumors, releases, and proclamations created a fairly well-rounded view of the mobile ecosystem.

We’ll get into Samsung in a bit. For what it’s worth, I can’t shake the notion that one of the most important announcements of the week was CBS’ declaration that it will begin offering full-episode streaming of all of its programming—including prime time—at all times via a new app for the iPad and iPhone.

The caveat is that prime time programs won’t be available for a full week after broadcast, which feels limiting and antiquated. Yes, full time streaming is a step in the right direction. But I can’t help but wonder how soon the eight-day delay will disappear when CBS realizes that playing in the realm of mobile on-demand means ceding ground to every other network on the planet.

When you consider that NBC and ABC already have streaming apps available, and that Netflix has recently entered the game by releasing its first original series, House of Cards, in a single batch of 13 episodes, CBS’ entry into the market with an eight-day lag feels even more behind the times.

But the networks move slowly. The fact that they're here at all is a big deal, and certaintly represents a tipping point around streaming television. 

Samsung: The next big thing?

It is undisputable that from a hardware perspective, Samsung’s Galaxy S4—rolled out at a high-profile, Apple-inspired event at New York’s Radio City Music Hall—is an aggressive concoction that contains numerous hints about the future of tablet design.

With a 5-inch 1920×1080 screen, a state-of-the-art Snapdragon 1.9GHz quad-core CPU or 1.6GHz eight-core processor (depending on the market), and a 13 megapixel front camera, this is a fully loaded device.  

The software side of things is equally ambitious. A new Drama Shot feature allows you to capture 100 photographs in 4 seconds. The new set of gesture controls appears particularly tablet-oriented; they allow you to manipulate the interface while browsing the web and watching video without touching the screen. 

And, more importantly for business-class use, the phone is the first device by Samsung to feature Samsung's and SAP's Knox security technology, which creates an impermeable barrier between a user's work and personal files and apps. 

The S4 will be available this April, and it seems obvious to me that we can expect to see most of this device’s configuration in tablet and/or phablet form in the near future.

Devices like this will further Android’s ability to penetrate enterprise environments, that’s for sure.

Meanwhile, at Apple…

A couple of interesting headlines and rumors came out around the iPad this week. First, and not surprisingly, the numbers indicate that the iPad Mini is a huge hit, with demand doubling in the first six months.

This research came on the heels of IDC’s own research earlier in the week, which indicates that small-screen tablets are hot, and that Android tablets are even hotter—enough so that by year’s end, Android tablets will represent 49% of the total market.

IDC’s research also revised its forecast for tablet sales up to 191 million devices sold from 172.4 million.

So, besides small, where does Apple go from here? Aside from OS-level improvements, one hint emerged via a patent Apple recently filed around an iPad Smart Cover possessing an inductive power transmitter designed to wirelessly pass power to an iPad.

Wireless charging is truly a Next Big Thing for mobile devices on all fronts. Getting there first seems like the kind of thing Apple would want to accomplish. This said, if you have to charge your iPad’s Smart Cover, that doesn’t seem all that different from charging the iPad itself.

Blackberry’s strategy going forward: Sell?

Based on a quote Lenovo Group CEO Yang Yuanqing made to a French financial paper, an interesting rumor made its way around the Net earlier this week: Lenovo is apparently considering buying BlackBerry.

Given Lenovo’s significant ties to the enterprise sector, this feels more natural than just about anyone else buying BlackBerry. It would almost certainly spell the end for the PlayBook, however. Lenovo has that covered already.

Windows future: Dig in?

At the same time as BlackBerry is apparently considering folding its cards, Microsoft is in the tablet race for the long haul. Despite only having sold 1.5 million tablets, tablets based on the OS appear to be finding traction among underserved markets.

Two categories of growth for Windows 8 tablets emerged this week: schools and developing nations. Early in the week, Dell reported that demand for its 10-inch Latitude 10 device is surging, with a number of schools and school districts buying in.

At the same time, HP announced that its 10-inch Elitepad 900 is making its debut in India. Both devices are Windows 8 Pro-based, reinforcing the notion that Windows RT isn’t destined to be long for this world.

(Worth noting: Dell also announced an 18-inch tablet/All in One PC that only weighs 5 pounds.)

All the while, Amazon appears to remain focused on making its Kindle line of tablets—the ultimate commerce delivery device—as affordable as possible. A few days ago, it announced a $30 discount on the 9-inch Kindle Fire HD, which is now available in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan.

This week's loser: RSS junkies

Google’s announcement that it is shutting down its Google Reader is a sad day for RSS junkies. It’s easy to chalk this one up to the rise of tablet and smartphone apps like Flipboard and Pulse.

This week's winner: Android

Wow, what a week. Samsung’s Galaxy S4 event puts a premium, Apple-level shine on the OS. And IDC’s numbers point to it coming very close to eclipsing the iPad in market share in 2013. That’s remarkable for an operating system that was fragmented and struggling to find its way at the very end of 2011.


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