No one can deny that 2010 will be the year of the tablet. So many manufacturers have presented tablet designs during the last CES that some sites are now making tablet device roundups. This made me think about what the best tablet device would look like.
Unlike a netbook that will be be sitting on your your lap or table, a tablet is made to be held most of the time. This makes the weight of the device pretty critical and in my opinion 2 lbs is the absolute maximum for these kind of devices, with a weight under 1.5 lbs being a major advantage.
Tablet devices seems to fall in three categories: the 4' to 5', the 7' and the 9' to 10'. To me the 5' category is too small if you already own a smartphone. Why pay for another device just to gain one or two inches of screen real estate. The 7' category seem perfect to me: it is big enough to give a comfort level that is far superior to a smartphone screen, but at the same time stays small enough to preserver the device weight and battery life. The 9'+ category could be interesting if the manufacturers manage to fit such a big screen in a light enough device without sacrificing battery life, something possible if a PixelQi screen is used.
800x480 seems to be the minimum to use a tablet device properly, but 1024*600 would be better.
A tablet is a device that is not designed to be plugged in during usage. This makes battery life even more important than for netbooks. I think that an 8 hours battery is really a minimum, but a 10+ hours battery life would be a plus.
This would obviously be some ARM design. Tablet devices could be made with Intel Atom processors, but the current models would probably not be able to meet my current battery and weight requirements. Another factor is that most ARM designs also include 3D and video acceleration on the die, which is not the case for Intel Atom chips. To get the same feature set you would have to add an Nvidia Ion or a broadcom crystal HD decoder to your setup, which would degrade the battery life of the device and increase the price.
Despite some rough edges the Linux based Android OS seems to be the most viable option. Android is free, stable, optimized for touch input and with more than 20,000 apps in the market the software ecosystem is fairly rich . Windows 7 could be a contender if it could run on ARM processors, consumed less resources and if the software library was better optimized for touch input. Windows CE is not really an option if you want to install third party applications as no "store" is available. The iPhoneOS could be an option, but I am not willing to invest in any Apple technology anymore because of their incessant changes of policy regarding what is acceptable on their devices. If Apple decided to give up its excessive control of the App Store content it could be an option in the future though. The other viable option is of course the other Linux based tablet OS: Meego. The only issue is that the project is still too new to allow me make an opinion of the OS, but this will probably be a contender in the future.
This is difficult to estimate, but for me a price under $300 would be ideal. Like netbooks, tablets are meant to be secondary devices, not your main computer. The price should be low enough to allow most people to afford one in addition to a PC, and for me that means it should cost about half the price of your main computer. Since most PCs now sell for $600 that would make the $300 price point right. The Apple iPad would even follow this rule if we consider that the price of Macs is usually above $1000, however it would fare badly when compared to PCs.
The most important expansion option for me is a SD or MicroSD card slot. Even on machines with a lot of on-board storage being able to plug in your camera memory card for a quick view on the big screen is a definite plus. Also with memory prices falling all the time this may allow for an easy upgrade in a few years time. A 16 Gb tablet may look impressive now, but it will look restrictive in two years time when 32 Gb SDs will sell for under $30. An USB connection to transfer files from your main PC is another obvious requirement. VGA, HDMI and USB ports are also nice to have, but they are not critical.
A tablet by definition use finger as an input, so the software needs to be designed accordingly, and a multitouch screen is of course better than a "single touch" one but I do not feel it is mandatory. The possibility of adding a real keyboard through USB is also a plus if you intend to use the device for typing.
Some software should be included with the tablet: capable audio and video players, a decent web browser with flash support, an e-mail client, a PDF and ebook (epub or mobi) reader, a picture viewer and a mean to install third party software and games. Most of the operating systems mentioned above cover most of these requirement from the start except for the iPhone OS (no Flash and arbitrary limits on third party software) and Windows CE. As soon as Android gets flash support (currently in beta) it will cover all these requirements quite easily.
I think that we will see a lot of interesting tablets this year, and that I'll probably be able to purchase one that fits most if not all of my requirements. It probably won't be the iPad because to justify all the restriction Apple puts on the App Store their devices should be vastly superior to the competition in most other respects, and this is simply not the case with the iPad. The Archos Android tablets are currently the best contenders, but I expect many other to appear soon.
picture cc by nDevilTV
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