Chromebook: Breaking through the clamshell mystique

An old Yogi Berra quote could be applied to the notebook market: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” Microosft has subtly snubbed the popular clamshell with its first Windows device, Surface, even as it seeks to recreate some of the form factor’s advantages. I’ve ben writing for a while about the lack of interest from Apple and Android device providers in getting their mobile phone operating systems into clamshells. But despite all the challenges facing any new operating system, particularly one as unconventional as Chrome OS, Google and its partners Acer and Samsung had the courage to put it into conventional form factors like desktops (Chromeboxes) and notebooks (Chromebooks).

Indeed, Chrome has become a simple notebook OS alternative to Windows and Mac for consumers, a truer “netbook” than was ever produced by a Windows vendor, even more so than the original netBook from Psion. And in a time that even Microsoft is willing to throw out backward compatibility to take advantage of ARM processors, Chrome has found the mobile home it needs in the new Samsung Chromebook. The battery life may not be up to that of the iPad, but the 6.5 hours of battery life it delivers is at least in a user interface optimized for a keyboard and trackpad-driven form factor.

As James Kendrick points out in this ZDNet piece, Chrome is now becoming more functional offline. This is helpful because, in contrast to his rhetorical ending (“When was the last time your computer was offline, anyway? Probably doesn’t happen all that often.”), it’s still far too frequent. Worse, in at least some scenarios such long, sometimes international flights — it can be a prime productivity opportunity.

Obviating Office on the iPad

The potential of this seems rather murky. Obviously, there are several office suite alternatives already for the iPad as well as remote desktop solutions. And even if there were a more concerted effort between Apple and VMWare to offer hosted Microsoft Office, there would still be a place for the popular office suite on the iPad, even in the enterprise.

Of course, such a native version would have to closer to a Windows 8-style app implementation than the current “touch-optimized” but fundamentally desktop-style version. The next version of Office will likely be offered in a Windows 8-style version as an option, much like Internet Explorer.

iPad mini: the Retina Display question

Most coverage that we’ve seen of the rumored iPad mini notes that it won’t have a Retina Display. There is, however, a counterargument.  Clearly, Apple has been on a Retina tear (although hopefully without any actual torn retinae) as it has become a defining and increasingly anticipated feature crossing many product lines: MacBook, iPhone and iPod. If Apple was willing to put a Retina Display on the iPod touch, why wouldn’t it put one on the iPad mini? The technology is clearly available. The display on the imminent Barnes & Noble Nook HD is Retina-sharp. Adding credence to this is rumors that the iPad mini may start at $329, which would be relatively high for the sub-8″ tablet category even given that Apple is profitable (and quite) on hardware. Pulling off a Retina Display iPad mini at $299 would be a coup.

On crowdfunded kitchen gadgets  ʦ

Companies keep trying to affix touchscreens to our refrigerators and develop more infomercial-friendly variations of the blender, but the kitchen still remains a relatively low-tech sanctuary. Even as we hurtle toward a Wall-E-era existence of complete automation and leisure, the simple joys of preparing a meal in one’s own kitchen can be invigorating.

My latest Backed or Whacked column for TechCrunch examines three Kickstarter funding campaigns for kitchen gadgets.

On Surface RT’s price point  ʦ

Beyond Surface’s clicky hardware amenities and accessories, it will come down to a preference for features such as the panoramic Live Tile home screen, which avoids much of the icon clutter of the iPad, side-by-side apps, and Charms, which allow apps to communicate with each other in a more standardized way than we see on Apple’s tablet.

 My latest Switched On column examines the value proposition of Surface RT.

Official name of 4K becomes Ultra HD  ʦ

Apparently, the sticky widget was whether to include a qualifier to distinguish between 4L and 8K, which was dropped. Of course, today there are a few pricey 4K TVs on the market. As with the early days of HD, content is mostly confined to upscaled discs (Blu-ray these days) and photos.

Rumor: Color Labs to be acquired by Apple  ʦ

It would be odd to see Apple go back to the same well from which it drank up Lala, but Color hit on some emerging phenomena such as introductions and (live) video sharing that will undeniably become more important.

New Acer 7″ tablet enters crowded, margin-free market

Easy to blame this one on competing with your OS provider (albeit indirectly), but the situation would be similar if it the A110 were simply competing with the Kindle Fire HD, just as it was for other 7″ tablets from Samsung and Lenovo. Still, it’s the perception of competing with the OS vendor that makes for uneasiness.

Amphibious ATV coming for about $40K  ʦ

Twice the fun at 45 mph on the water from the folks who brought you the Aquada. “It’s about freedom.”

Amazon touches seas of Kindles with Whispercast

Like Apple, Amazon’s standing as a successful retailer has allowed it to drive the Kindle business beyond those of any other Android-based tablet maker. Both companies have succeeded in part because of their focus on the end-user or customer. The introduction of Whispercast, however, throws a wrinkle into that. This is the first “Whisper”-branded technology that caters to the needs of institutions, priming the pump for large-volume purchases.

It may also signal a continued move away from ads that are not enterprise-friendly; Amazon greatly reduced the price to remove ads in its latest round of Kindles. The move is timed well to take advantage of the larger, higher-end Kindle Fires on the way that can do a better job of displaying documents and other rich media as wel as the lower-end Kindle Paperwhites that are lean, mean text-reading machines. It also helps to shore up Amazon’s defenses now that its main competitor is partnering with enterprise software giant Microsoft, but also to further differentiate it from the signage-class e-readers that may soon start to aggregate in that unforgiving pool known as “the bottom.”