While nearly all of its PC rivals with the exception of Toshiba had been experimenting with all kinds of clamshells that contort and break apart in both Windows 8 and RT flavors, Acer has been playing it pretty close to traditional clamshell form factor. That all changed when the company released its Aspire R7 and P3. The P3 takes a page from any number of Bluetooth keyboard cases for iOS and Android tablets; both the keyboard and the tablet can be removed from its rubbery encasing.
The Aspire R7, is more of a unique offering. In some ways, it is similar to other devices with novel hinges such as the Dell XPS Duo 12 (carrying on the tradition of the Inspiron Duo, a 10″ netbook that itself took some cues from the old Windows CE-based Vadem Clio). However, unlike the Clio, which lacked a trackpad, and the Duo, which has it where you’d expect it, the Aspire R7 puts the trackpad behind the keyboard.
Now, its not unheard of for pointing devices, particularly on a space-constrained notebook, to be in odd locations, but there’s ample room for a full-sized trackpad on the R7. Acer claims that it did this so you could move the touchscreen closer to the keyboard for a more intimate experience, but that blocks the touchpad entirely. Perhaps using the distant trackpad isn’t as awkward as it looks, but it’s surprising that Acer didn’t put in a trackstick or some kind of bundled Bluetooth trackpad like the ones that come with Vizio all-in-ones or a pop-out one reminiscent of the pop-out mouse on the HP OmniBook 300.
The design of the Aspire R7 highlights the conflict between touchscreen and pointing device that we’ve seen played out in smartphones. Several BlackBerrys and the T-Mobile G1 as well as other Android phones had separate trackballs and later trackpads to add complementary precision to the touchscreen. I was personally a fan of the BlackBerry thumb trackpad (probably the best UI feature of tortured early touchscreen BlackBerrys). However, perhaps due in part to higher resolution displays that allow easier selection, they have faded away like smartphone keyboards. It is but one more way in which the value of Windows 8’s legacy support must be questioned.
What OUYA has been to game consoles, MiiPC has been to desktops — a small, inexpensive Android device that is looking to take on the giants of their industry with disruptive business models. MiiPC sprang from an established company whereas OUYA was forged from little more than an idea, but both benefitted from successful Kickstarter campaigns offering the boxes for $99 to early adopters (MiiPC’s final price hasn’t yet been set in stone.) However, with a week left to go in the campaign, MiiPC will be adding a double-memory option for $15 more, creating a fittingly minimalist CTO option.
MiiPC is squarely targeted at monitoring the Internet activity of kids from about age 7 to 14. (Nowadays, after that age, kids are migrating to smartphones and all parental monitoring bets are off in some cases). But this summer, the company will be unleashing its interns on the little underlit Android box, which should result in some fun Internet appliances.
Since the launch of the first Galaxy Tab, products marketed as tablets have been at the 7″ floor, with some Windows tablets going to 11″ and beyond sizes. Meanwhile, phone sizes have progressively broken larger and larger barriers, With Samsung’s announcement of the 6.3″ Galaxy Mega, the big-screen phone pioneer leapfrogs Huawei’s 6.1″ phone announcement at CES to reclaim the ergonomic threshold crown at 6.3″. This narrows the gap between phone and tablet to a mere 0.7″, with nothing inhabiting the 6.5″ to sub-7″ range. However, Samsung leads in representing the range, having debuted entries at 5.3″ 5.5″, 5.8″, 5.8″, 6.3″, 7″, 7.7″, 8″, 8.9″ and 10.1″.
Kobo recently released an e-reader at 6.8″ and it would be nice to see a tablet dip under that range for a slightly less product for a breast pocket.
There were many promising and intriguing technology projects that AT&T showed off at a Labs event last week. One of the ones that caught my eye was called Ambient Communications (not that kind of ambient). Sort of a hybrid between surveillance (without the negative connotation) and video chat, the system offers a screen of cameras placed around a workplace. A remote worker can check in to see what kind of groupings are forming in a work area. and jump into a video chat with the people there. One question I had was what if the coffee klatch is gossiping about the remote worker! (There are some basic privacy controls.)
It might not be enough to stop the crusade against telecommuting at Yahoo! But it seems like a good potential way to extend the value of videoconferencing beyond desks and allow teleworkers to participate more in the kind of spontaneous discussions that can boost — and inhibit — productivity as a part of office culture.
The HTC First is the first device sold with Facebook Home as the default UI. Normally, when a manufacturer is selected to produce something, it’s called a “design win,” but I wonder how much, if at all, HTC wins by having the First in its portfolio.
The First has been announced just as the HTC One — by far, the most sophisticated phone HTC has ever produced — is coming to market. Unlike when HTC released the One X, there is no lower-end compement (the One V), at least for now, so all the eggs for HTC’s user experience will be in the One basket. HTC will be promoting its flagship via a multi-city tour that will let consumers wrap their hands around the phone’s exceptional design and hear its BoomSound audio system.
And yet, the First seems to be the antithesis of everything HTC is trying to create with the One. It lacks the One’s design, its audio improvements, and of course the refocusing of Sense on Blinkfeed, which is something of a competitor to Facebook Home. In fact, there is almost nothing distinguishing about the First except that it runs a launcher environment that will be available on other phones.
It just gets difficult to reconcile HTC taking ownership of its future with devices like the One as it hearkens back to its origins as a contract manufacturer with something like the First. Perhaps HTC was compensated adequately for its rule in the First’s rollout, but at some point it will be time to pass the baton for things like this to Huaweii or ZTE.
Since Apple stores rose to become the money-printing machines that they are today, several of the company’s competitors have tried to replicate its success. Microsoft has been the most direct of these, often opening up its stores very close to those of Apple. Sony, which operated its own stores years before Apple entered retail, revamped its stores’ layout and sales strategy to focus more on revenue generation. Nokia tried flagship stores in a few cities that flopped. Even Palm for a time had its brand affixed to a number of small airport stores; the format persists today.
But what of Samsung, which many see as Apple’s closest hardware rival today? For years, the electronics giant operated a showcase at Columbus Circle. A museum of modern art and science, virtually all of Samsung’s products were on display there, but you couldn’t purchase any of them. Its closure in the face of Samsung’s surging sales could only be prelude to a bigger retail move in the U.S.
Last week, Samsung’s intentions became manifest as the company decided to partner with Best Buy to open stores-within-a-store at Best Buy and Best Buy Mobile stores, much as Apple has done. The move will help demonstrate Samsung’s tightening ties among its various products, but ultimately is not enough. Samsung has invested enough in its brand over the past decade and now has enough momentum in the U.S. to have its own branded retail experience. It doesn’t need to be at the scale of Apple’s, but there are gains to be made having a consumer’s full attention at a destination.
At TechCrunch, game developer Jawfish Games creative director and game design blogger Tadhg Kelly responds to early reviews of the Ouya game console, particularly one from The Verge. Kelly notes that products such as the Ouya and GameStick should not be compared with the likes of the PlayStation 3
(Ouya has also responded and I sympathize with its position that Kickstarter backers received preview editions of the console. That said, and without getting into the semantic rabbit hole of what constitutes a proper “review,” you have to be prepared that someone is going to review it.)
Netbooks were always something of a misnomer. Sure, they could surf the Web like any PC, but there really wasn’t much about them that was cloud-centric. Today’s tablets, with their host of cloud services surrounding their apps, are far more net-centric than netbooks ever were. Netbooks just weren’t great content consumption devices that microconsoles that supposed to be. Kelly notes that nobody would fault a netbook for doing a poor job running Photoshop. Ah, but what if it couldn’t run Office? Or Windows? Or one of the three leading Windows browsers? These were the real killer software franchises for a netbook, their Call of Duty, their Madden football.
And then, of course, there’s the simple and eternal battle for real estate. Fortunately for Ouya, the space around a television is more forgiving of redundancy than that inside a pocket. But consumers must make choices. Is a cheap MP3 player designed to compete with the iPhone 5? No. But have sales of those products suffered in light of iPhone 5s and other high-end smartphones? They have, just as owners of smart TVs and Blu-ray players are less likely to buy a Roku box.
Even if the comparison were more accurate, comparing these products to netbooks isn’t exactly high praise. Netbooks, of course, had a moment in the sun in 2009 after they began shipping with Windows as opposed to custom Linux variants. But all PC vendors have abandoned the category, moving on to ultrabooks that are even less of a faux subcategory than netbooks were. Indeed, microconsoles may be like netbooks in the sense in that they both will likely face tough competition from tablets.