tablet

Google is a smart company and Sundar Pichai is a smart man.

When Android One was first announced at Google I/O, I didn’t fully understand what the program did. New details have emerged in a BBC article, and I have to say, it’s genius.

I’ve consulted for an Indonesian company before interested in launching its own tablet. It was not an easy process. They had to meet many potential vendors in China, test an endless list of components and spend a lot of time haggling over price. Even then, prototypes were often disappointing from a price-to-performance ratio point of view. It was a huge management challenge, especially for a company whose strength is marketing and distribution.

The Android One program makes all that easy.

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Some time ago, we wrote the following about the upcoming ecosystem war, which will be delineated by display size:

At this screen size, productivity is possible and most consumers will want to do some work with such a device. I’m seeing more people purchase keyboard covers for their iPads; and of course, 2-in-1 PCs address this segment as well. Going forward, no device in this [10- to 13-inch display size ] category will be purely about consumption or purely about work — consumers will expect to do both on a device this size. That is why Google acquired QuickOffice; Apple is rumored to debut a 12-inch iPad Pro soon; and why Microsoft is desperately courting developers to create for consumers.

Apple and Google seem to agree. With tablet sales leveling off; the 12.9-inch iPad Pro expected to launch soon; and Google and HTC developing a keyboard cover for the new, 9-inch Nexus; Apple and Google are moving into Microsoft’s traditional stronghold of devices designed for work.

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I’ve had the Surface Pro 3 for less than a week, but unless things change by the next, I will be returning the device. As you can tell from my first impressions post, I loved it, so what brought the change of heart?

Three things. First, the tablet gets unbelievably hot frequently and when it does it’s incredibly uncomfortable to hold. It’s not much of a tablet when you don’t even want to hold it. What kind of tasks, might you ask, was I doing while its vapor magnesium was brought to a boil? Intensive, taxing stuff like web browsing, email and OneNote of course.

Second, the battery life isn’t great. I’ve consistently gotten 6 hours of screen time. This is on a balanced power plan, 37% screen brightness and sleep after 2 minutes of inactivity. I was expecting 9 hours of battery so 6 is disappointing.

Third, there’s something funky with the WiFi. Sometimes the connection is just awful slow and it’s not the fault of my connection; a reboot fixes it.

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I’ve made it plain on this blog that I’m a fan of the Surface concept, despite its flawed unveiling. Yes, the same Surface that lost Microsoft over a billion dollars. This must mean the concept sucks right?

Well, no, it it’s not because the vision is flawed, it’s the execution and timing that weren’t right. The first and second Surface Pros were too early — the hardware wasn’t ready to deliver the vision. The first Surface RT was just plain bad. I thought the Surface 2 was ready for primetime, if not for its Windows RT roots.

Timing aside, I’m a fan of the concept because convergence will happen between laptops and tablets, just like the telephone, camera, MP3 player, GPS navigation and PDA converged into today’s smartphone. Microsoft absolutely has the right idea with the Surface; just a few years’ early.

So, does the Surface Pro 3 do it? I’ll want to use this bad boy for a few weeks before concluding anything. My initial impression is that it falls just short for the mainstream; it’s too expensive and the form factor is a hairline from perfect.

Fortunately, it still hits the mark for someone like me. I’m loving the Surface Pro 3 so far.

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Just a scant few days ago, I wrote about how the 7-inch mini tablet might go the way of the dodo bird, and a scant few days later, I may have to eat my words. According to a report from the IDC:

Large smartphones (otherwise known as phablets), are already a growing trend in Asia, having outshipped notebooks and tablets last year.  But IDC finds that now even larger devices, tablets of 7” screen sizes and above, are increasingly shipping with cellular voice capabilities, and such devices are getting more traction in the Asia/Pacific excluding Japan (APeJ) region, breaching the 25% mark in the second quarter of 2014. . .This translates to more than 60% growth on a year-on-year basis in unit terms for this category of tablets, which also incidentally happen to be 100% Android-based.

The report also goes on to state that 50% of 7-inch and up tablets shipped in India and Indonesia have cellular voice capabilities. I travel to Indonesia a lot and so find that nugget fascinating, as I don’t recall ever having seen a person call with a tablet. They probably do via a headset.

I can believe this trend happening for a number of reasons: cost, perception that more is better, traffic and handbags.

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Mini tablets exploded at a time when 3.5-inch iPhones and 9.7-inch iPads were what’s most popular. There was a big gap between these two sizes: the iPhone was highly portable, but the screen meant bite-sized consumption; iPads were better for Internet browsing and games, but it was too large to easily carry around. Mini tablets fulfilled a market gap — a computing device small enough to hold with one hand that offered a better reading experience than phones could provide.

However, the world today is different. The 4-inch iPhone 5S is practically the smallest smartphone on the market, 5-inch phones are average and 5.5-inch phones are not uncommon. The trend to bigger screen sizes is apparent in the chart below:

Did you know that smartphone screens nearly doubled in size since 2007?

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I’ve wanted to write this for some time, but hadn’t because there was no solid data to back-up my assertions. I do now. This is about why I believe the future of tablets (and by extension, computing) is 15-inches in display size.

Let’s start with the origins of the modern tablet. The original iPad played such a strong role in shaping our perception of what a tablet should be, including a 9.7-inch display that we think of standard today. Apple arrived at that size because 9.7-inches was ideal given technology’s constraints at the time like weight, battery life and cost. It was the right size for 2010.

The iPad was never designed to be used primarily with one hand, unlike “mini” tablets of today. As Jobs demonstrated in his keynote, the iPad was meant to be used on the lap; or held with two hands; and only occasionally holding with one hand so the other can perform an action.

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There’s a $350 laptop you can buy that was described in the following way:

Design: Cheap, net-book like design. Entire thing is made of plastic. Palm rest that flexes when you grip it. [2.8 pounds so] weighty compared to the competition. Slightly thicker too.

Display: Poor-quality display. 1,366 x 768 screen [where if you] dip the screen too far forward, everything very quickly becomes washed out.

Keyboard: Underlying panel will bend a bit if you type vigorously enough. If you hit them too gently, you’re likely to suffer some missed key presses. The keyboard probably won’t recognize every single keystroke.

Performance: The performance gains here aren’t so huge.

Battery: 7 hours and 53 minutes of continuous video playback.

Software: Cannot, in good faith, recommend [the OS] to everyone. There will be people…who need the flexibility to install whatever apps they want.

What would you rate this device? Keep that number in mind.

Now here’s another $350 laptop you can compare it to —

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In yesterday’s post, we referenced the interview with Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly:

The tablets boomed and now are crashing. The volume has really gone down in the last several months. But I think the laptop has something of a revival because it’s becoming more versatile. So, with the two-in-ones, you have the opportunity to have both a tablet and laptop, and that’s appealing to students in particular. So you have an evolution. The boundaries are not as well defined as they used to be.

The line between tablet and laptop have indeed blurred. People are increasingly using tablets and laptops for both work and play. Going forward, I believe the most meaningful market segmentation is not one based on devices (phones, tablets, laptops, desktops), as we tend to do today, but by screen size (2-inches and below, 3- to 6-inches, 7- to 9-inches, 10- to 13-inches, 14- to 17-inches, and above).

From those lens, the positions of the three incumbents — Apple, Microsoft and Google — look different. Apple doesn’t seem as strong; Microsoft still has a chance; and Google just needs to extend its disruption upwards.

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