from the e-Reader,-we-hardly-knew-ye dept
To be clear, I've no influence in Cupertino, and the closest I've ever been to Steve Jobs was when I wore a black turtleneck skiing. But that said, there were a few developments at CES that got me thinking about a killer feature for a tablet. So here are the specific three developments from CES that stood out to me, and how I'd combine them in a disruptive tablet.
First, small, portable computing platforms were hot. No surprise to anyone, but Netbooks were all over the show, in creative new formats, layouts, OSes, and component make-ups. This sector has already proven to be a consumer favorite, and the OEMs are responding in force. Tablets, slates, and new formats were being shown by a variety of vendors hoping to get the jump on Apple, notably Microsoft in what could be described as an anemic Keynote by Ballmer.
Second, e-Readers were exploding out of the booths. There were new e-Readers on display from Huawei, Spring Design, Plastic Logic, Entourage eDGe and many more. Many analysts predict growth in the e-Reader sector, largely predicated on the notion that the readers use crystal clear e-ink screens, which greatly extend battery life, are easier on the eyes, and can be read indoors or out. Devices with standard LCD screens like Netbooks or iPhones churn through batteries too quickly to pose a direct threat to e-Readers. Thus, for now, this sector is seen as "protected" from the cheaper or more versatile Smartphones, Netbooks and tablets.
Third, there was an immense amount of innovation in screen configurations across Netbooks, TVs, laptops, etc. We saw two-screen laptops, touchscreens, tablets, double screen e-Readers, MEMS displays from Qualcomm, and more. Among the cool new screen technologies was one from PixelQi (discussed at GigaOm). The PixelQi (pronounced Pixel Chee) screen can operate in two modes: one which is like a standard backlit LCD laptop screen, and a second that closely resembles the e-ink of the Kindle. In this high-resolution, black-on-white mode, power consumption is cut to ~1/3 of a regular laptop screen. This mode also is easier on the eyes, and can be read easily in sunlight. PixelQi technology is cool in and of itself, since, as processors get more efficient, screens are becoming a relatively larger portion of the power budget - any savings here could have a dramatic impact on battery life. One could switch a laptop into "ink mode" and extend battery life at the expense of color.
I think you see where I'm going. If I were Jobs, I'd launch a tablet that used the iPhone OS, had access to the app store, iTunes, Safari browser...AND had an 8-10" dual-mode screen. Such a tablet could suck the air out of the room for e-reader makers. A company like Apple has the clout to get access to a wide range of book content, including the NYT bestseller lists. If so, Apple's tablet could quickly end the dedicated reader era. Consider a tablet that offers the value proposition of an e-Reader, a Netbook, GPS, and 100k apps. That's the kind of product that could justify a price premium over a $300 Netbook or Reader.
Either way, I see the dedicated reader market fading in the future, much as PDAs did. Not that they're not in demand, but the dedicated Readers will evolve and be subsumed into general-purpose tablets, or will be beaten by tablets that can do more. If it's not Apple or PixelQi next month, it's going to be somebody else within a year. Either way, buyers win: we're all going to benefit from the active innovation in the screen/display category, and more functional devices with better battery life.