Steve Jobs’ Legacy is in the Clouds.


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Sadly, Steve Jobs never got to see iCloud launched, passing away only days before its worldwide release.

Yesterday, shortly after the passing of Steve Jobs was reported, my Twitter feed and Facebook news items were almost exclusively reflections and tributes for the co-founder of Apple. Amongst the quotes and condolences, one comment stuck out for me :

“Steve Jobs is in the iCloud now.”

That particular statement resonated with me as I’ve been commenting on cloud storage and cloud computing options such as the Chromebook in recent posts. Up to this point in time, cloud-based activity has really been restricted to enterprise and corporate budgets, investing in their own servers and managing them internally.

Google Documents and Microsoft’s Skydrive have both offered a solution for online document and file management, but neither has yet reached the point of mainstream acceptance. Google’s Chrome OS, which is currently appearing on a few specially designed portable PCs, is the closest to a fully cloud-reliant system.

Steve Jobs announced iCloud back in June of this year, and when launched will be the easiest way to take advantage of cloud storage, particularly if you own multiple iDevices. Photos, music, documents, even contacts and calendar info will be grabbed from your device and pushed to other devices in your sphere of iOS devices. And in typical Steve Jobs style, the focus was not on the technology or innovation behind this rethink of how we use our connected devices – Steve wanted us to know that “It just works”.

A YouTube clip of Steve Jobs on stage in 1997 demonstrates just how visionary Steve Jobs was and where he saw the future of computing – not just for calculations and localised processing, but as a truly connected communications system that ultimately rendered localised storage moot.

Back in the late 90’s, we were still talking about large, clunky desktops; this has evolved to the sleek notebooks and touch screen products we now take for granted. The advancements in cellular and wireless technology means information is always within our grasp – and iCloud is in a perfect position to change the local storage paradigm that most of us still live by.

Here is the original 1997 discussion on server-based storage that back then would have sounded pretty fantastical, especially considering the infrastructure users would have had to create for their own mini-cloud.

And here is the slick, all-encompassing service that Apple will be offering from October 12th as part of the iOS 5 update.

It took 14 years to arrive at this point, but the iCloud release is an important landmark that will again disrupt industry standards and move end users to online storage without needing to know the details of server farms or network grids.

Ironically, this may stimulate further growth in competing cloud-based products and services because of this shift to mainstream that Apple will be creating. After all, as Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Steve Jobs’ legacy is not just in the products he invented and produced, which have become treasured objects as much as technological achievements. The ripples, indeed waves, of his influence will be felt as we evolve into an age where how we do things is just as important as what we do them on.

Steve Jobs, Rest In Peace.

(Feel free to leave your own reflections and comments on what you think is Steve Jobs’ greatest contribution.)

Apple Announces iPhone 4GS with Increased Capacity and Improved Camera, Voice Command

The new iPhone 4S looks like the current iPhone 4 on the outside, but has a raft of upgraded software and hardware features on the inside.

Today, Apple released details on their latest update to their iPhone, called the iPhone 4S. Looking very similar externally to the outgoing model, the processor has been upgraded to the A5 dual core processor, and includes dual-core graphics.

This extends the iPhone’s ability to play higher-end games that require more graphics power, and in turn opens up a wider usage model for the iPhone as a more serious gaming device in addition to the other entertainment and productivity tools it currently offers.

The new iPhone 4S also comes with an upgraded 8MP camera, with an f/2.4 aperture, meaning casual snappers can take some impressive depth of field shots among other compositions. It can now also film in Full 1080p HD.

Another new feature announced was Intelligent Assistant, a comprehensive voice control feature. The Assistant will be able to action an extremely wide array of tasks via voice, including texting, searching the web or points of interest, find live stock prices, give directions, and set alarms.

Apple took the world from buttons to touch screen... will they now create the voice control revolution?

The assistant will also use data such as GPS location to set up other actions, like sending a text to someone when you leave a predefined area, for example leaving your office to an off-site meeting.

The phone will be released in its major markets, including Australia, on October 14th. The new iOS 5 operating system, which will upgrade the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 and latest iPod touch and all iPads, will be released on October 12th.

iOS 5 includes Twitter integration, improved notifications, over-the-air software updates, and a text chat service for iOS 5 users. A new feature of iOS 5 which was announced this morning was Find My Friends, which allows users to release their location to other users, which could be useful when arranging a group gathering or helping direct people to your current location.

iTunes Match, which has only been released for US residents at this stage, will be launched at the end of October. At a price of US$24.99 a year, iTunes will match the songs in your iTunes library to Apple’s database, regardless of whether they were purchased there, and upload any remaining songs for streaming at a high 256kb/s quality to any of your iDevices.

iTunes Match is part of Apple’s new iCloud service, which provides back up and synching of all your apps, text and MMS messages, photos and video you’ve shot, and documents. This service is free with up to 5GB storage.

As with any impending Apple event, rumours flooded the online discussions. Here’s a quick rundown of how some of the major rumours panned out:

  • iPhone 5 or entry level iPhone 4S – as it turned out, the iPhone 4S was very much an improved upgrade to the iPhone 4, retaining the same form factor as the current model.
  • Larger 4” screen – no screen change as the iPhone 4 retina screen continues.
  • Upgrade to 8 megapixel camera – this was confirmed, with a raft of improvements to the camera function with speed, resolution and full high definition video recording.
  • Expand range to 64GB capacity – this was confirmed for the iPhone 4S
  • Macbook Air-inspired sloping design – Some rumoured iPhone 5 designs included a sloping design similar to the Macbook Air. However, the emphasis on gaming would require a more symmetrical design, which the iPhone 4/4S offers.
  • Intelligent voice commands – Apple’s purchase of Siri last year has materialised in the Intelligent Assistant, which according to Apple can pretty much help with anything you need actioned hands-free on the iPhone. Personally, I can’t wait to see this in action.

We’ll be following up with a rundown of the iCloud and iOS 5 features later this month when it’s released.

Will these improvements give you a reason to upgrade your current phone to the iPhone 4S?

Apple’s Steve Jobs: The Game Changer

Here’s a true story. A couple of months ago I had to make a trip to one of our new stores to help train the sales staff. I loaded the store’s address into my GPS so I could get to the store quickly and efficiently. I had a couple of new albums that I’d purchased so I transferred them onto my MP3 player.

Knowing this would be an overnight stay, I took a couple of novels on my eBook reader, in case I had some downtime in the evening. I was a few levels through a new game on my portable gaming device as well, so I made sure that was packed for the trip to for some mindless fun in case I wasn’t in the mood to read.

The training went well, and because of the amount of people involved in the sales training, we used one of the display 55 inch plasmas to display the presentation I’d created. During lunchtime I was able to catch up on my emails and make a few return phone calls that I’d missed during training. I made sure I took some shots of the staff and the store on my digital still camera to share back at work.

Once the session was over and we’d had a (somewhat) quiet night out with the staff, I retired back to the hotel and decided to watch a TV episode I’d missed a couple of weeks ago. I still managed to squeeze in a couple of chapters of my book and cleared even more emails.

On the way back to Sydney, I was really in the mood from for a dedicated rock music channel, so I tuned into an internet radio station and enjoyed a channel pumped through my car speakers directly from the States.

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. There have been many tributes and reflections this week for Steve Jobs, as news of his resignation as CEO of Apple spread. My “day in the life” story above has been replicated millions of times over around the world.

The iPhone and iPad had a part to play in all of the activities mentioned above, where it would have taken many more devices and a lot more complication to achieve without them. You can replace the words “GPS/camera/ebook reader/gaming/email/TV” with either of the two iDevices I had with me that day. Was convergence ever so apparent before now?

I could go on, from the rich educational apps that have my kids play, to the touch-enabled magazines and newspapers I probably read more than ever due to the ease of use and instant accessibility.

As the next chapter is to be written soon with the release of the next major OS update and cloud services from Apple, we’ll have an opportunity to see where these new offers take the Apple brand and further impact our social, leisure and working lives. And in amongst it, there will have been the guiding hand of Steve Jobs.

As Jobs is still an active member of Apple through his Chairman position, his influence is sure to be felt for a while yet. From nearly bankrupt to the most valuable company in the world, under Jobs’ stewardship Apple’s products, ecosystem and content delivery have truly changed the way we work, play and communicate. As an observer and participant in this industry, I can’t think of a better legacy to leave behind.

Has Apple’s products made a difference to the way you work? Do you think Apple will continue to lead the market with Steve Jobs removing himself from the helm? Feel free to comment below.

Asus Eee Pad Slider Honeycomb Tablet – First Look

(Update: The release date of the Slider appears to have slipped to early October, according to Asus)

The success of the Eee Pad Transformer from Asus has really driven home the concept of innovation driving sales in an increasingly competitive market. The idea of a tablet that functions as a netbook with detachable keyboard may at first seem counter-intuitive, but Asus has been struggling to keep up with global demand. That extra functionality has resonated with customers looking to enter the tablet generation but want to retain some degree of familiarity with traditional mobile devices.

In a short while, Asus will be releasing their new tablet concept called the “Slider”. Asus Australia were kind enough to leave one with me to have a play, and after only a little while with the unit, I’m pretty excited about the impending launch.

From a specification perspective, it meets all the criteria fit for a Honeycomb tablet – the NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual core processor, 1GB RAM, 10.1″ screen with a 1280 x 800 pixel resolution, and a choice of either 16GB or 32GB capacities. It also comes out the door with Android 3.1 preloaded, so it’s current right out of the box. Asus have also mentioned that it will be upgradeable to Android 3.2 when that update is released.

The retail packaging is as we’ve come to expect from Asus, and the first surprise is a premium-looking satchel case sitting on top of the actual Slider. I’m not sure if this part of the package or whether it’s an accessory, but it looks quite classy and is a snug fit for the tablet.

Underneath is the slider itself, with the obligatory power supply and USB cable. There was no other documentation with this sample but I’m sure there will be some with the final retail pack.

Onto the Slider itself: this is another tablet that is most natural when held in landscape position, which seems to be one of the most common differentiators for Android tablets vs the iPad. The front 1.2 megapixel webcam is at the top centre, with a small arrow pointing upwards, hinting at the enhanced functionality the Slider offers. The two tone back panel works well in terms of styling, and the 5 megapixel camera sits upper centre.

Moving around the Asus Eee Pad, we see some welcome input and output ports. A full-sized USB and headphone jack are situated on the right hand side, and on the opposite side a Micro SD card slot, volume controls and power buttons are laid out. On the top are a mini-HDMI output and an eMMC slot, which can handle an additional 16GB or 32GB card.

USB port, headphone jack and Speaker Grill

Next to the iPad2 the Slider is both longer and thicker. However, most tablets don’t seem to be competing with Apple on design aesthetics – the amount of accessibility available without the need for adapters is another compelling reason to consider many of the Android tablets on offer. And of course, the additional thickness on the Slider in particular belies the final but ultimate differentiating feature – the slide-out keyboard.

As mentioned before, Asus have made the idea of a keyboard-attached tablet attractive, not only because of the obvious increased usage for document creation, but also some of the Android-specific shortcuts created on the keyboard. The Slider turns the original Transformer on its head: instead of a netbook form factor that becomes a standalone tablet, this is a tablet that reveals a keyboard/stand. And it’s a crucial difference because of the way I can imagine this tablet used.

The sliding motion to bring the keyboard out is a very smooth action, much better than the original prototype I had been privy to a few months ago. Using one index finger to lift the top panel where the arrow is above the front webcam, you then use your other hand’s thumb to push the bottom of the panel upwards, and once you pass the threshold, the spring loaded mechanism assists to take the panel all the way back until the entire keyboard is exposed.

Once slid out, the screen is fixed in one position; there are no angles to select unlike the Transformer. This is similar to many cases that include a tongue to raise the case into a display position, and I don’t think it’s a big issue.

Comparing the keyboard-open look between the Transformer and the Slider, the biggest difference is the missing touchpad and palm rest area on the Slider. However, after using the Slider I can see how this is actually a positive. On the Transformer, while the keyboard dock is attached you still feel a slight habit to use the touchpad and buttons. On an Android OS this can be quite unnatural, as you have to switch to a one-click mindset for selecting files, opening apps etc., and change that mindset back again when back on a standard notebook.

With the Slider however, two things become clear after some use. Firstly, after a while I did get used to using the combination of screen gestures and the keyboard in tandem, and soon was typing on the keyboard, as well as selecting files and commands on screen, quite intuitively. Secondly, the proximity of the screen in comparison to the edge of the keyboard actually lends itself to retaining the touch interaction. This will be a major attraction to the Slider in my view – the casual reveal and hiding of the keyboard means there’s more scenarios where the tablet will be sitting in Slider mode but without the keyboard even used. It’s almost like a mini-all-in-one.

The sound quality is also enhanced in Slider mode. The grill on the front makes it appear that the sound is funnelled through the front, but in fact there are small slots either side of the centre bracket that pump the music out – a little muffled in Tablet mode, the sound is clear and crisp when given space to breathe.

The IPS screen is the same as the Transformer’s – a bright, detailed and wide-angled display that presents information and movies on screen with clarity and decent response. As I’ve mentioned before in regards to other Android Honeycomb tablets, the widescreen panel really does lend itself to better quality movie watching, as the screen ratio is much closer to the filmmaker’s intended presentation.

Just as Apple has an “i” in front of each of its major products and services, Asus have adopted the “My” moniker when it comes to its extra offerings. Mynet is a DLNA-standard interface that connects to other shared devices to push and pull content – music, movies, photos. MyCloud is the Asus version of online data storage, and registering when you purchase your Slider will get you one year’s worth of unlimited storage at no charge.

MyLibrary is an ebook manager, and MyZine is a widget that rotates through your selected folder of photos and shows weather at a glance, unopened emails, calendar appointments, books, last music played, and the last website you visited. None of these services are deal breakers on their own, but they do add up to some compelling features over and above the standard Honeycomb.

That brings me to the closing thoughts of this review. The Android platform for mobile phones has proven to be a worthy competitor against the incumbents, and there is word that Android updates in the near future will bring the smartphone and tablet products even closer. The Android tablet platform is still evolving from a very early stage, but even now it is showing encouraging signs of being able to offer meaningful differences and experiences that can capture the consumer’s imagination and decision-making mindset.

Developers are adding to the list of available Honeycomb-optimised applications on a daily basis, and manufacturers are thinking outside of the square to enhance their tablet beyond a screen with webcam and speakers. Not only are tablet manufacturers competing against the entrenched market leader who has what some might call a captive audience, but they are also competing against each other for the remaining slice of the valuable tablet market. This is a great example of intense competition driving innovation and integrating new features in a short period of time.

The Asus Eee Pad Slider is part of that innovative push. With the slide-out keyboard, comprehensive ports and additional software, this could be a compelling alternative for customers who are looking for connectivity and tactile keyboard input on demand.

What are your thoughts? Do the Slider’s features impress you? Will you be in line to buy one later this month?

Connecting Your Home to Entertainment

Media players have been around for quite some time now, and they’ve taken many different forms over the years. At one point, we thought that the Windows Media Centre would take centre stage in our lounge room, but people just didn’t like the idea of having to boot up their DVD player. I don’t really blame them either.

After the “desktop in a DVD box” idea disappeared, we then saw media players start to take off from storage and network vendors, and from a rudimentary and humble beginning, they have evolved into powerful, connected devices designed not just to play, but truly deliver entertainment around the house.

One of the first media players we ever sold at Bing Lee was the Iomega Screenplay, and its interface was as crude as you could get. It was basically a file management system using a font from the 80s. But it didn’t matter, because it just worked. It was unobstrusively small, firmware could be easily upgraded via USB to update the codec compatibility, and it even had HDMI out, to match the inputs of the growing number of LCD and Plasma TVs.

One of the secrets to designing a good device that sits in the lounge room is to “hide the software”. All users want to experience is a smooth, non-buggy front end that you can navigate without referring to the manual every time you want to go from videos to music or change the input port.

The litmus test for me? If a family member starts to use the remote control without actually looking at it, then we have a winner. Who looks at the remote when changing the TV volume or channel? Media players need to be that easy, that intuitive.

Playing content in a hassle-free manner is one thing. If you can share it, and not have to make physical copies for each room to watch, even better. Network-attached storage, or NAS drives as they’re commonly known, have really begun to show promise as a consumer-level product. These days, you don’t need to know about IP addresses or advanced networking mysteries, just load the software and you’ll get a browser-based dashboard to change settings, security levels, etc. You’ll even get a shortcut to your drive’s location for easy transfers.

The new Western Digital NAS models are moving away from commercial storage functionality to be more entertainment-focused, with DLNA support, which many TVs now offer, and easy detection by other media playing devices including PS3 and Xbox 360. They will even deliver photos to an iPhone or iPad via an app no matter where you are in the world. The WD media players are no slouches either, with HDMI, 1080p output, and a pretty comprehensive format support.

The connected home is no longer just a catchphrase or throwaway line – we’re here, even though it’s probably still an open secret to many. Here’s the segment we produced for Bing Lee to help bring that secret out into the open. Check out how far media players and network drives have come.

Have you taken the step towards a connected home? What’s your experience been like? Feel free to comment below.

Read all about it… on your tablet.

In one of my very early posts last year, I wrote about the progressive move of comic books onto tablets. This move is now well in truly in full swing, with more traditional publishing groups jumping on board and making very compelling digital offerings.

I’m a big fan of science magazines, have been ever since I was a kid. So when the Australian science mag Cosmos launched back in 2005, I jumped at the chance to subscribe to a locally produced science periodical. Since then I’ve enjoyed the bi-monthly mag arriving at my doorstep.

Of course, once I received my first iPad early last year, and began exploring the e-books, magazines and comics available, I wondered when Cosmos would make the transition. And indeed it now has – offering a digital subscription for less than half the price of the standard magazine subscription.

There is a caveat here – the digital version is only available when you are online, and there’s no way to download the magazine. At the moment, the digital version is a soft copy of the paper-based mag, and I hope it will start to be richer in content and follow the likes of the tablet versions of Wired, Project and Popular Science and embed video, animations and audio into each issue.

On the iPad, both Wired and Popular Science have added a subscription option, one that makes financial sense even if you are a casual reader. For example, Popular Science normally costs $4.99 per iPad issue, but you can take up a 12 month subscription for $17.99 – which is only $1.50 per issue! Back in the day, an imported copy at my local newsagent was more than $10.00 per issue, and usually a month late.

Last week, the Sydney Morning Herald released its own iPad app, which is available free for the next few months, after which it will have an $8.99 monthly subscription cost. After spending a little time on it each day, I can say it is truly a great example of a tablet news app, one that does not simply duplicate the website. The weekly magazines are included, and can be accessed for a week after they’re released. The photography layout makes full use of the tablet real estate to enhance the articles. Images are really missed in the browser edition, and this app brings the images to the forefront of news reporting again.

Another interesting announcement last week was DC Comics relaunching, or should I say rebooting, their entire comic book line-up to start back at issue one in September. At the same time, all issues will be available digitally on the day of release of the physical copy. This is great news for those who love comics but don’t necessarily want the boxes of once-read issues cluttering their attic or basement.

The success of the tablet market was always going to depend on content, and how innovative publishers wanted to be in order to get their product into people’s hands. With all of the progress made in cost-effectiveness, differentiation from browser and paper-based versions, and same-day deployment as its traditional counterparts, the tablet has definitely come of age as a one-stop shop regardless of your reading interests.

Acer “Iconia” Android Honeycomb Tablet – First Look

We had our first chance to get up close and personal with Acer’s slim and shiny new tablet-based products amongst the bulky, low-tech relics of our country’s seafaring history within the Maritime Musuem at Darling Harbour, Sydney. Acer are serious about this category and had many variations on show – a 5 inch smart phone, a 7 inch and 10 inch Honeycomb tablet, a 10 inch Windows 7 netbook with detachable touch screen, and a dual 14″ touch screen notebook that deserves a blog piece on its own.

Mr Touchbook, we'll be coming back to have a closer look at you soon.

The product that we’re focussing on in this blog is the one that Acer will be launching as their first foray into the highly prized tablet market. This one is the A500, a 10″ tablet with the Android 3.0 operating system. This is exciting for us, as it’s the first iteration of the tablet-specific OS from Google that we’re playing with.

Looks kinda nice even when it's turned off.

First, the product itself. It weighs 700 grams and feels quite sturdy and solid in the hands. Acer have definitely not tried to emulate the iPad design, with a more notebook inspired form – it actually appears like a monitor off a classy netbook, which isn’t a bad thing. It has a nice streamlined design that keeps the overall aesthetic simple and easy to handle. In landscape, the top and bottom edges are framed by a brushed metal finish that continues all the way around the back, where the logo sits in centre.

Speakers, Camera and all-important Logo.

To the right of the logo is the 5MP camera that is also capable of taking 720p video. At the top of the unit are the volume controls and orientation lock. Next to them are the micro SD card and 3G slot, the latter of which is available if the model is a 3G variant.

Instant storage expansion - just add a dash of SD.

There are plenty of I/O ports – on the right there is a full sized and mini-USB port, on the bottom a docking connector for an upcoming accessory that charges and connects to other devices. On the left hand side there is a headphone jack and a mini-HDMI. The front frame also encases a front facing 2MP camera. The capacitive screen is bright and smoothly responsive.

To make it easy for users to start using the Iconia without delay, Acer have designed a group of 4 areas where there are preloaded apps and more can be added. These are labelled eReading, Game Zone, Multimedia, and Social Network, these being the most obvious groupings for common activities on the tablet. The plus sign on each page allows you to add more apps into each area as you see fit.

Acer's own customised grouping system - simple and attractive.

Now, the big question, how does Android 3.0 perform on the 10″ Iconia? Honeycomb, as Android 3.0 is commonly known, is an exciting alternative to the benchmark tablet system. As an environment to manage apps, which is really what you want in a tablet offering, Honeycomb is highly customisable. Widgets are a defining feature for this version of Android, with enough landscape for many of your favourite widgets, which are similar to those on a desktop, offering dynamic, updated information in small, bite-sized panels.

What Honeycomb is all about - making it your own.

At the time of publication, there were still only a small but growing number of tablet-specific apps on the Android marketplace. Developers have most likely been waiting for Android and manufacturers to release new products so they can see some return in creating these new apps. So far, I’ve tried a few – Flixster, CNN News, Google Body and DrawFree. They all make good use of the screen real estate and are intuitive in layout and touch-use.

Great - another reason to ignore eating and showering. Who needs to watch movies when you can read about them all day?

Of course, tablet apps are huge business for Apple, and the massive installed consumer base they have means developers are falling over themselves to deliver apps of every kind. As the likes of Acer, Asus, Toshiba and others begin to roll out their Android tablet products, we should see a snowball effect in tablet-optimised apps to deliver even more value to users.

Android 3.0 opens up a huge world of possibilities for different form factors, OS skins and customisation that will provide users with choice and innovation. Each manufacturer has an opportunity to make a big technology statement here, not just for development’s sake, but for the customer’s touch screen experience. Acer are first out of the gates and it’s an impressive start to a year of Honeycomb launches.

We’ll be doing a full unboxing demo video of the Acer A500 Iconia in the near future, so thanks for reading and we’ll be back soon.

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.

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:

Viewsonic Viewpad 7 First Impressions

And old colleague of mine is running a company called Viewsonic in Australia. It’s a brand more known for its LCD monitors than anything else, but they’ve been looking to expand into new and emerging technology categories. So when he visited me at the Bing Lee head office for a catch up, he brought along a new toy to play with – their offering in the tablet space. I was lucky enough to have it for a couple of days, and here are my thoughts on the product they call the Viewpad 7.

 

If you are a reader of my blog, you will know that I am a fan of the iPad, not only as a product but as a vehicle for consuming rich content. So for better or worse, this Viewsonic product was going to be compared to it.

What I realised is that they are two very different creatures, and you’re not really comparing apples with apples (irresistible bad pun). So what are the differences? Well, the easier thing to do is state the similarities first, which are they are both capacitive touch screen, 3G capable and both have access to their own version of an App store. From there, the differences are significant.

The screen size is the most obvious. The ViewPad 7, as its name implies, has a 7″ screen, which when compared to the iPad, is nearly half the viewable area. So viewing video is an easy comparison. The ViewPad will play a widescreen clip full screen, while the iPad will have lots of real estate left in either portrait or landscape, but even in portrait the iPad’s image size is almost as large. And of course the resolutions are completely different, 1024 x 768 for iPad vs 800 x 480 for the ViewPad.

 

So what separates the ViewPad from the iPad that some may take as a positive? Well, the ViewPad has two cameras – one at the rear for photo and video snaps, and a lower-res front cam for webchatting and self portraits. It also has a Micro SD card slot for easy file transfers and a USB port which can be used for charging.

The Micro SD card slot is a very practical addition. I can imagine myself taking pics on my digital still camera, then slipping the card into the ViewPad for instant sharing, rather than using the small LCD screen on the camera. It takes a few more steps to achieve that on an iPad if you don’t have the right accessories.

The Android software is very easy to navigate, and in my view, just as intuitive as the Apple iOS. Many apps are being ported to multiple platforms, so it’s getting easier to find apps appearing on both the Android Marketplace and the Apple App Store.

 

As this was an engineering sample, I’m not going to go into too much detail until I have the final product in my hands. But after spending a bit of time with it, I can say that the 7 inch form factor is actually quite comfortable in my hands, or should I say hand. It’s easy to hold for reading or viewing, and having the whole screen filled with a movie or TV episode works well for me. The browser was fast and easy to use, and the screen size does lend itself to casual reading, whether online or a downloaded book.

 

Contrary to some opinions, I think the 7 inch tablet, if it’s executed well, will definitely have a place in the tablet category. I think the iPad is to a large extent a portable device that is used predominantly at home on Wi-Fi. The 7 inch ViewPad is effectively half the physical size of the iPad, and fits easier and more inconspicuously into anything from a handbag to a jacket pocket, so has more chance of being mobile as opposed to portable.

Spending time with this device makes me more excited than ever about the market next year. Many vendors will have their tablet offers in January or February 2011, so I’ll be back with more thoughts on this dynamic part of the PC industry as the weeks progress.

Cheers for now!