Ritchie’s Chat Room: Intel Director Makiko Eda

As the director of Intel’s marketing and sales division for Asia Pacific, Makiko Eda can talk with authority about her company’s current and future position in a world now dominated by daily tablet announcements. Hailing from Japan, Eda was in Sydney to meet retailers and get an update on the Australian arm of the Intel business.

After the worldwide recall which affected all PC manufacturers, Intel is preparing to re-launch its second generation Core processors commonly known as Sandy Bridge. Eda is under no illusion that the recall did not affect business for both Intel and its customers, admitting there was “pain in the supply chain, delay, and missed opportunities in the market.”

Eda notes that they have strengthened their verification process in the production and testing areas, saying there is definitely a need for “an extra step at the factory”. After the success of the first generation of iCore models, Eda noted there was a “military” push to get the new chips to market, and when they did find the issue that sparked the recall, Intel “had to make a quick decision.”

That recall left much of the market starved of higher value product, particularly in the quad core notebook range. The challenge now is to make enough noise about a category that has been overwhelmed by the interest in tablets. “We hear a lot of concern, that computers are kind of boring”. The new range, Eda says, “has a lot of new capabilities and can bring more excitement into the category. As Intel we have to do a better job of communicating that excitement and experience that Sandy Bridge brings to the market.”

So how does Intel feel about the impending onslaught of tablets? “Tablets are a great device, but they’re not going to replace computers.” says Eda. “It’s going to be a secondary device, but it is getting a lot of attention in the market.” With NVidia becoming well known for their tablet processors, Eda says Intel will have their own offering in the second half of the year. “Our products will focus on energy efficiency, performance and added value to the tablet.”

In the meantime, Eda says that netbooks remain a viable alternative in the near future as a second device, and that Intel are working with manufacturers on innovations to keep the netbook category relevant. “We’ll come up with interesting form factors, like hybrids. You’ll get the goodness of tablets, ease of access and thinness but at the same time you have the convenience of the keyboard.”

Intel have set their sights on the lounge room as well, with a host of manufacturers showing off Intel-embedded Smart TVs at this year’s CES exhibition in Las Vegas. Said Eda, “We’re working with some partners to enable the internet experience on TV more seamlessly. We want to make it an out-of-the-box experience.”

With cloud computing also on the horizon from a consumer perspective, Eda believes that the enterprise space will derive the most benefit at this stage, where “the internal cloud makes more sense”. Consumers may not be ready to make the leap because “you rely so much on the communication infrastructure. You may still want to have a photo on your hard drive; you may have videos you want to see, without thinking ‘do I have an internet connection here’?”

Security will be foremost in the minds of end users when products like Chrome notebooks begin to make their way into the retail space, and to that end, Eda says that Intel are “working on hardware-based solutions”. Intel’s acquisition of McAfee may be part of that plan, with Eda hinting that Intel intends to “extract some of the (McAfee) goodness to integrate into the core business with security features in the future.”

With the computer industry evolving quicker than ever, Intel faces challenges from many corners, but Eda is confident of her company’s ability to repeat the successes of last year’s Core processor launch. As Eda explains, there’s more to computers than talking about speeds and specifications. With the marketing focus on the “experience”, rather than the product, Intel is “trying to put a little bit of the human side into it.”

Interview courtesy of Intel Australia.

When Is a Tablet Not A Tablet?

During my latest planning meeting with my contacts at Samsung, I had a closer look at a product that has been shown at various exhibitions but not yet released for sale here in Australia. It’s an interesting product, given the upswell in interest in the Tablet category. It’s called the Samsung Slider Series 7 PC. Note that the word “tablet” isn’t in the description.

Many manufacturers are lining up to offer their own take on the tablet product space, and this model from Samsung, aside from the Galaxy Tab, is a form factor that does take some cues from the tablet concept but is still very much a netbook. Why? It’s all about the operating system.

As you can see from the picture above, this model comes with full functioning keyboard and for all intents and purposes works just like a standard netbook, although it does use an upgraded Atom processor and is loaded with Windows 7 Premium as opposed to Starter, so it has a full notebook operating system. In this form, the netbook is also touchscreen enabled, which may be useful in some situations.

However, the screen can be articulated all the way to be flush with the keyboard, and slid down to change into a tablet. This action activates a customised user interface. You can then hold and handle the Slider PC as you would a tablet, although it is a little thicker due to the keyboard adding an extra layer of componentry and hardware.

Samsung mentioned that more “apps” would be available as they’re developed, and they would appear on the screen above.

This is certainly an interesting product, and worked well for the short time I had it, but is it a tablet or netbook first and foremost? I think the answer lies in the software. Both iPad and Android have an interface that has been built from the ground up for the touch experience, and they have an app environment that Windows does not really compete with.

If this product does eventually come to market, I think it will appeal to the user looking for a small notebook or netbook with a keyboard; that wants to use Windows-based programs such as Office; and likes the idea of being able to convert the netbook into a touch screen for ebook reading or viewing video content.

This product concept illustrates the influence of the tablet usage model into other designs such as this netbook. Is this a product you’d consider purchasing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

2nd Generation Intel Core Models Have Landed

It’s exciting times in the PC industry. AMD are rolling out their new Fusion products, Android Honeycomb is set to be launched on a raft of new tablets, and Intel’s latest generation of Core Processors are finally being launched, after a recall that delayed the release of new notebooks across all brands.

This week, Bing Lee took delivery of the first two iterations of the new Intel range. We’ll be doing a full unboxing of both notebooks in the near future, but in the meantime here’s some brief specs and pictures to whet your appetite.

First up is the Samsung QX412, which replaces the QX310. It features a Gen 2 i5 processor, 1GB graphics card, HDMI output, DVD burner, and Samsung’s 3 second boot-up feature.

One of the impressive aspects of this model is the increase of the screen size to 14″ while using the same overall design from last year that used a 13.3″ screen, so it makes better use of the real estate – it really is a 14″ screen in a 13.3″ notebook chassis. The top lid is a cool-looking metal black, and reveals a silver/chrome surface on the keyboard area when opened. It’s definitely a style-setting notebook, with a great combination of looks and performance.

Also launched is the Acer AS5750G, which is our first Gen 2 quad core model. This notebook is all about grunt. The 2GHz quad core processor turbo boosts to 2.9GHz, and is backed up by a massive 2GB graphics card, 4GB memory and 640GB hard drive.

Other features include a 15.6″ screen, HDMI output and numeric keypad. It’s also one of the first notebooks to feature the new high speed USB 3.0 port, which can transfer files between it and a USB 3.0 storage device by over 10 times the speed of a standard USB 2.0.

The release of these models are a pleasant surprise as most Gen 2 models aren’t due out until April or May. We’re looking forward to taking both these models through their paces and presenting more details in the near future.

Toshiba NB550D AMD Netbook Unboxing (Video below)

A little while ago, we interviewed Brian Slattery of AMD about their position in the market and future plans for their soon-to-be-released range of APUs, or Accelerated Processing Units, that combined both the CPU and the GPU onto one chip.

Well, the first product that Bing Lee ranged as part of this rollout was the Toshiba N550 netbook, which features the C-50 processor. We took one out to test and produce an unboxing and feature highlight video, and boy, we were impressed: smart design, smooth video playback, great browsing experience, high quality HDMI output and premium Harmon Kardon speakers.

I spoke to Brian Slattery as a follow up to the launch of this new model, and he could hardly contain himself. Here’s what he had to say:

“I know that because of its size, it will be referred to as a netbook. But this machine is so much more – a fully featured notebook in a smaller size. Our new APU, featuring a dual core CPU and HD capable graphics, tucked away inside one of the coolest looking Toshiba designs out there, with rocking Harmon Kardon speakers, I can’t get enough of it!”

I’m fairly certain it was pretty much gushed out in one breath! I, for one, can understand Brian’s excitement. Netbooks have taken a step back in the shadows since the interest in tablets has taken over a lot of media and consumer interest. This netbook brings performance and style back into a category that is in need of a shot in the arm.

Anyway, enough words on the screen, take a look at the video and judge for yourself. Brian, we’re excited too.

Is There a Future for 7” Tablets? (Unboxing videos below)

Since the iPad launched and set the benchmark for portable touchscreen devices, no other manufacturer has come close to replicating its success. The combination of design, performance and developer support has made this the benchmark for what Steve Jobs calls the “Post-PC” era. This year, the Post-PC era will be more than a solely Apple event, with many PC manufacturers lining up to introduce their own tablet.

Steve Jobs has made it very clear that he thinks the 7″ tablet segment is doomed to fail. After seeing some of the new tablet offerings from traditional PC manufacturers, there will be some compelling reasons to consider one. Here are some of the reasons I think the 7″ tablet market will flourish in what will be a year full of innovation.

I’ve handled the Telstra T-Tab, the Viewsonic Viewpad7 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and they all have one thing common – they’re light and fit very easily in one hand. I use my iPad nearly everyday, and it’s usually on the couch, with the iPad lying on the armrest. But I have a confession to make: I have sustained minor facial injuries from lying in bed, head on the pillow holding the iPad up while reading and dozing off. Come on, admit it, you’ve done the same, right?

7″ tablets weigh much less, and the screen real estate is very different to a 10″ screen, but with that comes a lightness and size that make it much more attractive to take with you, particularly on public transport. It does feel much more like a small novel you’re holding, and if you’re using it as an e-reader, you can change the font size to suit your eyesight.

This may be a minor point, but 7″ tablets are much more inconspicuous. You could use one on a train or bus and not attract attention to yourself. Whip out a new iPad 2 and you’ll be forced to explain and demonstrate the device to at least one fellow passenger. Not a bad thing if you’re an extrovert and like showing off your tech gear, but it might be an issue if you just want to use it to catch up on news, play a quick game, read a book or browse the net – with no interruptions.

I have mentioned it before, but I think the tablet market is divided into two distinct categories – portability and mobility. 10″ screens are great used around the house and office space, connected to wi-fi, and used for rich content consumption, even some creation, especially with the editing and production apps now available. 7″ tablets are the perfect form factor for on-the-go use, to slip into a purse or small bag, and used on a much more casual basis. They suit users who want a subtle mobile device as opposed to a full blown tablet.

Below are two unboxing videos we produced for Bing Lee for 7″ tablets and you’ll see what I mean by fitting in one hand. It’s a category that will occupy a smaller share of the overall tablet market, but will still exist to meet the needs of a particular segment.

Samsung Galaxy Tab Unboxing:

Viewsonic Viewpad7 Unboxing:

Nikon D3100 Unboxing: DSLR for Dummies (Video Below)

In an earlier blog, I talked about the awesome abilities of DSLR cameras. However, just picking up a DSLR and taking good images won’t happen without a fair bit of practise and maybe even some lessons. Trial and error when using a new DSLR that has lots of settings, knobs and dials and be a little daunting, maybe even discouraging, especially if you’re not getting the results you were expecting.

DSLR manufacturers have cottoned onto this, and identified it as one reason would-be purchasers might stay away from upgrading their point and shoot. Let’s face it, on a compact camera the only real variables that you would use are flash/no flash, zoom and maybe a few other preset options. DSLR is a totally different story – it’s all about taking control of every possible aspect of a shot.

That’s why a product like the Nikon D3100 is cool – it really helps bridge the gap from being an enthusiastic photo snapper to a more considered and creative image composer. You may not understand what changing the aperture setting does, but the camera will help you decide in plain English what you want the picture to look like. Instead of random trial and error, it gives you a chance to truly experiment with settings to see how they affect the final image.

This is a great example of embedded technology bringing new people into the fold. Before the age of “firmware” and affordable digital cameras, SLR’s were a mystery understood by the chosen few. Now software on the camera itself can teach, guide and complement face-to-face lessons or advice. Innovations like this don’t make us lazier –on the contrary, they challenge us to strive for improvement, and there’s nothing like that “buzz” when you produce a picture with a wow factor.

An interesting phenomenon I have noticed is on Facebook album uploads – there are those that share their random party and social event pics, and then those that present, (with a fair amount of pride, I imagine), their crafted images from a day’s shoot. The positive comments that these images attract then spur the creation and sharing of more great images. Years ago it would have been harder to make your pic available to such a large audience, but your friends across the globe can now enjoy your creative output.

Here’s the video we produced for Bing Lee on the D3100 – enjoy!