Thursday, September 15, 2011

Things are getting much more interesting in the tablet sector (Part 2)

Author: Riley Alexander, MD, MBA

The iPad was released in 2010 to an essentially new market with unknown potential. We and Apple quickly learned there was a lot of potential there--much more than most expected. 2011 saw the first batch of competitors try and dethrone the iPad and the release of the iPad 2. Nearly all the competitors were half-baked Android-running clones that were usually released in an essential "beta" version that only offered a few extra hardware features and, in many cases, cost more than the iPad they were trying to bring down. Besides Android enthusiasts, these didn't fare so well. The most notable dropout, mentioned in Part 1 of series, was HP's TouchPad, mostly because it was on the market for such a brief time and seemed to signal HP giving up on WebOS as a whole. While many predicted 2011 the year of the tablet, it's been much of the same--the iPad and everything else. Things are looking to change though.

One of the biggest players in the tech arena, Amazon, is set to attack the tablet market from the low-end. While not announced officially a color Kindle tablet is coming. CrunchGear has even gotten a chance to play with it. Their impressions of it were quite good. While it looks to fully embrace the "walled garden" of the Amazon variety, I think it will be a serious player. At 7" it will be a more viable color e-reader than the iPad and will be more portable with the smaller profile. Despite this sounding like B&N's very capable Nook Color, also for $250, The Amazon tablet will come with a much more immersive experience: Amazon's massive storefront, Amazon Clouddrive, Kindle Store, Amazon streaming movies and shows. For half the price of the low-end iPad this could be very enticing to people who need low internal storage space/embrace the cloud and don't really use the high-power functions of the iPad. I will certainly consider it to replace lugging around my gigantic pathology books (color is very nice for histology)

On the high-end of the tablet market, Microsoft is looking to make a big splash. There has been A LOT of Windows 8 news floating around this week with the developer preview being released and, not to knock Microsoft too much, it looks great. MS has been saying all along that they plan on really trimming down this OS and expect it to power tablets and PCs when it releases and it's looking like they may pull it off. Some very, very early tablet builds have even been displayed and they look great. What seems so enticing about Windows 8 is that it's going to be the full OS on a tablet--not the crippled tablet edition from MS's failed tablet foray in the early 00's. To top this, it will essentially have two UI experiences built-in that can be switched--a tablet friendly Metro UI similar to WP7 and then the classic full Windows OS.

This could be huge. As I mentioned in part 1, the iPad in its current state is not a good productivity device and is geared around media consumption and has a great, stable UI to facilitate this. A full OS is not necessary for this, but when working on a document you quickly wish you had it. What MS seems to have in mind is that you have a tablet that you can haul around and use the Metro UI for most of your day-to-day tasks and if you need to do some power computing, switch into the classic OS and you have a fully capable PC at your hands. Think switching between iOS and OSX on your iPad. To make this feasible you'd obviously need a wireless keyboard (and maybe, dare I say, a mouse), but you could only bring it if you knew you'd need it.

If MS and PC/tablet makers can keep the cost reasonable (something they've had troubles with before) these devices may not be that illusive "3rd device" thrown around, they may become the 2nd and 3rd device in one. But to keep the growing ultrabook/MacBook Air market at bay, they will have to deliver on both price and experience. This is one of the most exciting things we've seen out of MS on the OS front in quite some time--let's hope they make it happen.

About the author:

Dr. Riley Alexander is a pathology resident at Indiana University School of Medicine, blog "addict" and avid follower of technology. His primary interests revolve around how technology, especially mobile, will create increased efficiency, enhanced physician education and better delivery of care in the medical field. Dr. Alexander is a graduate of Indiana University School of Medicine with a combined MD/MBA, in partnership with IU's Kelley School of Business. Due to this, he is also very interested in management, healthcare policy and non-clinical aspects of the medical field and enjoys exploring non-clinical opportunities for medical students, residents and physicians. He completed his undergraduate education at IU-Bloomington.

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