Archive for August, 2009

August 26, 2009

It’s Tablet TV Time

Apple Tablet from the

Apple Tablet from the

Ever since Microsoft demonstrated the Mira portable tablet concept I have been fascinated by the idea. This was during the early part of this decade. Clearly, it was ahead of its time – wi-fi was in its infancy, broadband was not as broad as we know it today, power consumption was too high, LCDs were still pricey and storage was expensive…but most importantly content was limited to photos and some music stored on your PC hard disk.
We have come a long way since then.

  • 802.11n claims speeds of 100mbps and above, which means I can stream HD movies from my hard disk or home server into the tablet without a glitch.
  • A 1TB hard drive now costs about $80
  • HD movies can be streamed. downloaded on torrents and ripped from DVDs
  • Broadband speeds are up to about 2Mb at least in most countries
  • 3G is getting more ubiquitous and affordable
  • LCDs panel prices are only dropping further
  • Multimedia SOCs are getting cheaper by the day and more powerful in both graphics & multimedia functionality
  • LED backlights and low power SOCs are driving up battery life
  • Online video market is exploding

All of the above point to the fact that the time is ripe for a handheld tablet that I can take to bed, place on the kitchen counter, on the dining table while having breakfast or in a coffee shop.

I believe video will drive adoption of these devices. Up until now the TV was the only big CE device not threatened by a notebook or a smart phone.
Camera functionality, picture viewing, radio & music were all absorbed into a notebook and a smartphone either as standalone device or with the help of web services like Flickr & Last.FM. Video has always been the last function to get absorbed into a device given the MIPS & bandwidth requirements. While notebooks, smart phones, Wi-Fi and 3G have bridged the technology gap to bring video to these devices in the last few years, all that was required was content.

YouTube started the trend with short user generated clips, followed by HULU that brought full length TV shows to the web. This according to me was the turning point when people actually believed they can be weaned away from their TVs.

TV viewing has consequently also slowly moved away from being a family experience to one that is more personal and social (friends). It is also more participative, with users tweeting and commenting on videos and TV shows. Hence the need for a device that acts as a personal TV.

Now portable TVs have been around for a while. But for a generation born in the internet age used to interactivity, broadcast TV just doesn’t cut it. Users are trying to use their mobile phones, notebooks and photo frames to access TV content.

Notebooks are too cumbersome to take to bed with the keyboard and all. It also occupies a lot of space on a coffee table. Moreover it is still considered a compute device. The mobile phone screen is too small for long form TV content.
Netbooks are trying to address this with smaller notebooks with longer battery life. However it is still a compute platform.

I don’t need yet another small computer. I need a portable CE device. Portable media players like Archos & iTouch have been trying to serve this need as well. I still believe they are poor alternatives. They haven’t got the screen size right, work with an ARM or MIPS based embedded processor that are not fully compatible with the web (as opposed to an X86 based device) as yet and have limited or no support for flash video. Flash is the default standard for over 80% of online video. I don’t want a device with crippled access to the web that limits me to local videos stored on my hard disk.

A tablet on the other hand serves exactly this market. It is portable, has a large screen and battery life and fulfills all my entertainment needs well. It’s my picture viewer (photo frame), my internet radio & my TV. Note that I use the term “MY” which also implies personalized content. Here is what I would like to see in a tablet:
– A 10″ LCD. This should also be the size of the device.
– At least 8 hours of battery life
– An x86 based SOC capable of delivering HD video and 3D graphics
– Slim & light (like the iTouch)
– Support for Flash is a must
– 802.11n Wi-Fi support
– 2 headset jacks
– Multi-Touch screen
– Optional 3G support

I can easily see it as a kitchen TV, coffee table TV & my travel infotainment device. Something I can slip in to my “Man Purse” 🙂

The time is ripe and I can see that Apple smells the moolah….