Friday, July 31, 2009

Apple Tablet-killer: the Thin-Tablet

While the 'net is abuzz over rumors of the Apple tablet, I'd like to point out a category of device in a form-factor that doesn't yet exist, but would be a killer product. It's also what I believe the CrunchPad tablet should have been designed to be. And that's the "thin^2 tablet". By thin, I mean it's physically thin in dimension, like the iPhone, but it's also thin in the sense that thin-clients are thin when they have nothing but firmware to access a remote server.

The problem I see with a rumored $800-ish device of that size, is that it's highly likely the same buyer will also own a smartphone. For the CrunchPad, at a rumored $400-ish price-point, it's hard to buy into the couch-surfing, coffee shop sipping usage model. In either case, if you already have a capable smartphone, home & work PC, and/or just have an available WiFi network, why duplicate functionality, applications, and user configuration and data files across multiple devices? One company that has identified this kind of thinking is Celio, with their REDFLY product that I wrote about previously. Rather than fall into the trap of providing yet another software stack (see the myriad of netbook-specific OS variants for example), this class of device provides remoting of the end-user experience (screen, keyboard, mousepad, etc) from a local smartphone.

But what I'd like to see is a product that advances in two areas vis-a-vis the REDFLY. First, rather than depend on a smartphone, why not support remote display protocols directly over WiFi etc? Currently, REDFLY is focused on what I call "local remoting". I'd like to see "remote remoting" (as well as local). If you're surfing from your couch, chances are you have WiFi. Why do we need an OS? You can tap directly into your home PC, or run a session from the 'net. Maybe even from Amazon. If you're on the go, why not use the tablet form factor device as a terminal for your smartphone? Just leave your smartphone in your bag, and talk via bluetooth. At home, hand the thin tablet to a family member and let them tap into their own custom environment.

Outside the consumer market, a thin^2 tablet is an excellent proposition for businesses. You can hand them out to employees, walk around the office, take them to meetings, take them home, etc. And data files are never copied to the device. For the educational market, it makes for a universal window into whatever software infrastructure is used (Windows, Linux, etc). Why force making a choice? IMO a sleek, affordable, multi-touch, thin^2 tablet would be the ultimate CrunchPad type of effort.

Beyond that, I'd really like to see thin tablet devices having a dual-mode screen that can function as e-paper, like the Kindle. And flipping mobile device virtualization on its head, why not run Android sessions in the cloud, and remote them back to the device? Then you can tap into your mobile environment from anywhere (thin tablet, home or work PC, web browser, e-console of your car, etc). This would be ripe for an application-level of virtualization (same Linux kernel, multiple application groups) to get really high server utilization ratios.

Who would make such devices? Well, probably at the end of the day there's no margin in the hardware side of this. But there is a lot of business value in the branding and ecosystem enablement. Which is why I think Facebook, Google or Amazon should make one. Any takers?

Disclosure: no positions, related IP

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