The Future Of Tablet Computing & Netbooks

Two of the biggest buzzwords in mobile computing right now (besides iPhone and Android) are Tablet Computing and Netbooks. Many people expect one of them to be the successor to laptops. I don’t think it will be quite that simple.

Tablet Computing

Modern tablet computing designs are really all based on Allan Kay’s 1968 Dynabook design. While never constructed, it’s almost obvious design has influenced many companies to make desktops and laptops that are controlled via a touchscreen. PDA’s and smartphones also follow this basic design closely, though I wouldn’t really consider these devices to be tablet computers.

A few laptops manufacturers offer a tablet variant of a laptop. One of the most popular is Lenovo’s X Series. It’s a regular laptop minus some modifications to allow for a touch display and a special hinge system. All the power of a laptop with the convenience (and cool factor) of a touch screen.

The downsides of this are obvious. Laptops aren’t that light, they are power hungry and have moving parts (hard drives in particular). They also don’t come cheap.

Netbooks

Netbooks have gained considerable ground in the past year. A netbook is really no different than a typical laptop except it’s smaller, lighter, more power efficient (thanks to a slower power efficient cpu and smaller screen) and cheaper. By focusing on a handful of terminal activities such as browsing the web and email they can scale back on most of the fancy hardware.

One of the most popular Netbooks is the ASUS Eee PC. It’s advantages over a typical laptop are it’s low cost, small size, and weight.

The downsides here are speed, small screen and small keyboard.

The Merge

CPU’s have advanced significantly in the past few years. One of the most obvious changes is multiple cores. Another less obvious but equally important evolution is power efficiency thanks to a new breed of chips like the Intel Atom.

Touchscreens have gotten significantly better. The most obvious is the iPhone’s capacitive touchscreen. As opposed to resistive touchscreens and a stylus the ability to handle multitouch revolutionizes the interface.

Solid State Storage (SSD) has also dropped in price and increased in availability. This means that storage is faster, consumes less power and more reliable in a mobile device than previous hard drive technology would allow.

Users have also evolved in computer usage. Several years ago almost everyone used an email client. Now many are using webmail only thanks to improved interfaces. Even spreadsheets and office documents can be handled with a web interface. The need for client side computing is becoming less of a necessity for many people. Wireless networks have only sped this up.

I suspect that due to these current trends tablets and netbooks will blur and move towards a new category of ultraportable computing. Obviously just small evolutionary changes could drastically change this but that’s how I interpret the current trends.

Apple today offers laptops with dual GPU’s to save power and allow for higher performance by selecting the GPU. I suspect it’s even possible to eventually see dual CPU’s where one could be selected for performance, and another for better power consumption (great for when just browsing the web).

I suspect the rumor of an Apple tablet coming Q3 will fall largely along these lines and accelerate the merge between tablet computing and netbooks. Time will tell.

What Happened To Sony?

Remember when Sony was the gold standard of electronics? Well, those days are obviously gone. Earnings are down 94%. Wow. Part of that stems from the laptop battery problems, but an under-rated portion of that is the lack of clear innovation at Sony for the past several years. Sony still doesn’t seem to think the Walkman is threatened by the iPod.

When will Sony learn to innovate and return to the days of old? Hopefully soon. 94% drop in earnings can’t go on forever, so something must happen.

What does AMD the ATI deal mean for mobile computing?

There are not to many out there who think AMD is serious about mobile computing (laptops mainly). AMD still hasn’t figured out how to keep performance, thermal, and power management all under control, giving Intel a somewhat strong lead in that market. It seems most Intel laptops have been using ATI graphics chipsets, since they are relatively low power, and in general very compatible.

So now that AMD is buying ATI, and Intel cuts ties with ATI, where does that leave mobile computing? Are we going to see all Intel Integrated systems? Or Intel/Nvidia?

I have this feeling it’s going to get messy before things stabilize. I just hope we don’t have to see a generation of pathetic laptops before things rebound.

High Pings

I’ve been wondering why my ping times have been so high on my laptop, and so low on any other computer I have here. I finally found the culprit.

The Intel 2915 wireless card (part of the whole Centrino package) has a power saving mode with 3 options, High, Medium, and Low (creative eh?). Mine was set to high. Which created pings that varied from 20ms to 400ms. Going to medium brings the average down to 2ms, which I can deal with.

Why this is a separate setting in Access Connections (the utility used on Thinkpads to manage different connection settings) rather than in the Power Manager as part of a profile? I don’t know. Ideally it would switch to high when I unplug, and go medium when I’m plugged in.

Anyway, always good to know why stuff happens. Very good for gaming, VoIP or anything where latency is an issue.

Backorder Fun

It’s like waiting for paint to dry. CDW still says on it’s website that my new HD usually ships in 3-6 days. OK, great, but I ordered on 7/5/2005. Oh yea, Seagate keeps changing the date of the delivery for the next batch. They initially told me it was supposed to be July 11 (aprox), then July 22, now August 1. Not that I’m optimistic it will ship on August 1. Sigh. What an absolute pain in the butt. And here’s the best part. Depending on the sales rep you ask, they may or may not have gotten a shipment in the end of June. Seagate says they haven’t shipped as of 2 or 3 weeks ago. So somebody is making up stories.

Oh yea, FedEx isn’t exactly an angel either. As others have noticed FedEx has a policy against 1 day delivery for ground or FedEx Express shipping. Even if you ship within the same town, or neighboring towns, you will almost definitely wait 2 business days. Most likely so you cough up $20 or whatever it is for overnight shipping if you want things next day.

So yea, ordering online is great, but backorders and delivery can totally suck.

Bargain Shopping

It feels really good when you get a good price on something. I found out this afternoon that Circuit City had a 300GB Seagate drive for $99 after rebates. Yea rebates are a pain, but for that much of a discount, it’s so worth it. At $99 that’s $0.33 per GB. So I ordered the AMS Venus enclosure I planned to get the other day. I think that’s a pretty fair deal.

Still waiting on my massively overpriced (but much needed) laptop hard drive, still on backorder. Hopefully it will ship soon as expected. I’m not holding my breath.

Best laptop HD ever

It’s seems amazing. The Hitachi Travelstar 7K60 is an amazing hard drive. It’s blazing fast, and 7200 RPM (that’s the same as most desktops). Unlike the 4200 drives that ship in most laptops.

It’s given me a giant improvement on my system. I really feel the difference. On boot, my computer used to hang for 20 seconds, while the drive would spin like it was about to fly to the moon. Now it doesn’t do that at all. It’s speeds along. Very, very fast. And runs surprisingly cool. Oh, and it’s quiet. It’s a great drive.

I took my old 40GB IBM Travelstar (IBM’s storage unit joined with Hitachi’s, hence the name for the new drive is also Travelstar), and got an IBM Ultrabay Adapter for it. I keep my floppy drive out now, and put a 2nd HD in there. I haven’t used a floppy drive in ages, so it’s no loss. And if I need it, I can take that drive, or the CD-ROM out. So I don’t really loose any functionality.

I’ll be putting Linux on that other drive soon. A few other things need to get done first. That’s not priority #1.

Great product. Good for the geek you need to get a Christmas present for ;-).