Tablets and netbooks and smartphones, oh my! And let's not forget notebooks, ultra-thins, and desktop replacements. It's enough to make Dorothy's head spin, but apparently not enough to hold the attention of Lenovo and Toshiba, both of which will add new smartbooks to the mix of portable devices.
Toshiba will kick things off with a smartbook under its Dynabook branding by the end of August. Toshiba will wrap Google's Android platform around Nvidia's Tegra 250 processor to power the 10.1-inch display. Units will first appear in Japan and then spread out to Europe, the Middle-East, and Africa.
Lenovo, which already outed a pair of upcoming smartbooks -- the Skylight and IdeaPad U1 Hybrid -- announced plans to upgrade each one's specs. Gone is the 1GHz single-core Qualcomm processor, to be replaced with Qualcomm's new dual-core 1.5GHz chips. Lenovo is also swapping out the OS in favor of Android. With these changes in place, look for Lenovo to ship both models by the end of the year.
For mobile PC vendors, the smart money is on netbooks, ultraportables, and upcoming tablets, but don't count smartbooks out of the mix just yet. Celebrating its 25th anniversary in the notebook business, Toshiba this week kicked out the AC100, a mighty smartbook capable of holding a charge for up to a week in standby.
The AC100 comes built around Nvidia's Tegra 250 platform and includes a 1GHz ARM processor. You'll also find 512MB of DDR2 memory, up to 32GB of SSD storage, a single USB 2.0 port, a Mini USB port, 1.3MP webcam, HDMI, Wi-Fi, and various other odds and ends.
What you won't find is any flavor of Windows, and instead Toshiba has tapped into Google's Android 2.1 platform. According to Toshiba, this gives the AC100 a smartphone-like prowess capable of switching from standby to full activity mode in less than a second.
The big question here is whether or not this one will make it to the U.S. market, which might depend on how the whole tablet thing shakes out in the coming months. As it stands, Toshiba will start shipping the AC100 to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa in the third quarter, and after that, it's anyone's guess.
The tablet may have just claimed its first victim, though it's a bit early to tell for sure. What we do know is that Lenovo has decided to the delay the launch of its Skylight smartbook by at least three months, which leaves us to speculate on where the market is headed.
Apple sold over 300,000 iPads at launch (including pre-orders), but more importantly, the Cupertino company officially kicked off the era of tablet computing. That doesn't leave smartbooks in a very good position, which quite frankly weren't in a great position to begin with.
Lenovo first announced its Skylight device back in January and said it would ship in April, but that was before anyone outside of Apple had any kind of inkling as to when the iPad would ship. And if the timing's bad now for smartbooks, it's not going to get much better. HP's highly anticipated Slate is just around the corner, and you can bet everyone else will be looking to cash in on this emerging market, just like OEMs did when netbooks started coming into their own.
Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing said on Friday that he sees mobile internet devices making up the vast majority of the company’s profits, possibly as much as 70-80%, in as little as 5 years. Currently, most sales come from the Thinkpad and Ideapad line of notebooks. Lenovo plans to accomplish this changeover by expanding into emerging markets. Devices likely to make up these sales are tablets, smartphones, and smartbooks.
Lenovo is currently the world’s number four PC maker, having purchased IBM’s PC division in 2005. The China based company just released their first touchscreen smartphone, the Ophone O1, in China. Lenovo also plans to release another phone called the LePhone sometime in mid 2010. Most of Lenovo’s energies are being focused on the China market as part of their “protect and attack” strategy. After they feel more secure in China, Lenovo may more into underserved markets like Latin America and Eastern Europe.
Freescale refers to this reference design as the “Smartbook”, which is7.87 x 5.04 x 0.59 inches in size, with a 1024 x 600 resolution touchscreen. It has a i.MX515 processor with an ARM Cortex A8 core. It has 512MB DDR2 memory and from 4GB to 64GB internal storage. It is Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capable, with support for 3G and RF4CE. It also has a 3 megapixel camera, a microSD slot, a USB2.0 port, a USB mini port, audio input/output, and a SIM card slot. The battery is charged via USB.
While the tablet itself looks good, though perhaps a tad small, its pricing makes it look even better. It’s reported that Freescale is positioning its tablet for the sub-$200 market. Not a bad deal, if the proof of concept bears out. We’ll know in a couple months, as rumor has it Freescale is looking to have its tablet available this Summer.
According to market research firm ABI Research, smartbooks -- a relatively new segment -- are about to get their due and will see 163 million shipments worldwide by 2015. But how does ABI define a smartbook?
"ABI Research defines a smartbook as a low-powered device running a mobile operating system that is always connected, either via Wi-Fi or using cellular or mobile broadband," explained Jeff Orr, a senior analyst with ABI Research. "Smartbooks can take many different shapes. They are a subset of mobile Internet devices (MIDS) and netbooks, and address the same potential users, usage, pricing, and market needs. The difference is that they don't use x86 processors."
It isn't entirely clear exactly how wide of an umbrella ABI is opening up for its smartbook definition, which could certainly impact the firm's prediction. Apple's iPad, for example, technically qualifies as a smartbook, and so would a number of other tablets.
"The idea of a smartbook doesn't resonate with anybody thinking of buying such a device," Orr added. "Vendors should avoid creating a separate market category with a new name, instead accepting that they are competing in an established category."
Orr also pointed out that vendors need to put more focus on entry-level smartbooks that would cost the consumer no more than $200.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon processor is showing up in all manner of mobile devices all of a sudden. We’ve recently seen the 1GHz chip in the likes of the Google Nexus One, HTC HD2, Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10, and the Toshiba TG01. Now Qualcomm looks to be pushing the industry to see the Snapdragon as more than a mobile phone processor with their new “Snaptop” prototype.
The Snaptop is a touchscreen tablet with a nifty kickstand to prop it up on a table for use as more of a laptop replacement. It has a slim wireless keyboard with integrated trackball. The device is currently running a modified version of Android 1.6.
Much like the Lenovo U1 with its detachable Snapdragon-powered screen, this product is really just a concept. We have no indication that you’ll be able to buy one of these at all. If you could though, would you?
Chrome OS is a curious thing. It does away with many of the paradigms we’ve become accustomed to over the years of computing. It will have users storing data in the cloud, and will offer a user interface based solely around the web browser. Google has also said they intend to have a reference platform for manufacturers to base their own hardware on. This is said to include very small SSDs for chache and operating system files only. This makes some recent comments from Samsung all the more interesting.
Samsung’s Australian head of IT Phil Newton, said that the company would be launching a Chrome OS netbook. Some specs were discussed as well. The machine would apparently have a 10.1 inch screen, 2GB of RAM, a 64GB SSD, and a 1.5 GHz Snapdragon CPU. We’re baffled why a Chrome OS netbook would need 64GB of hard drive space. This just doesn’t seem to jive with what Google has said. Could it be that Samsung intends to make modifications to Chrome OS?
Life is full of decisions, and for Asus, the big dilemma is which of Google's OSes would be the best fit for its upcoming smartbook, Android or Chrome.
"You still have some trade-off between Android and Chrome," said Jonney Shih, Asus' chairman. "With Android you might have the timing advantage, but Android is originally more for the smartphone, for the smaller screen. For Chrome, the original design objective is for a bigger screen -- it has multi-windowing, and is...maybe more suitable."
The decision has perplexed Asus so much that Shih admitted to having a prototype Android device in its lab "for quite a while," but has held off on launching it. In the meantime, the company is currently working on Chrome prototypes.
It's not just the OS that has Asus weighing the pros and cons. The company also wonders how many people would be willing to give up application compatibility in Windows in favor of a lower-cost subnotebook running Linux on an ARM chipset.
"With the current Wintel-based Eee PC, the advantage is you still enjoy the [application] compatibility," Shih said. "The smartbook is usually based on ARM -- then you will have some advantage in the cost. This will further push the original design of the netbook."
Qualcomm's ARM-based Snapdragon chipset is ideal for a lot of different types of devices and form factors. Don't be surprised if you come across smartphones, smartbooks, slate PCs and netbooks all powered by the Snapdragon. We already know that the Google Nexus One is driven by a powerful 1GHz Snapdragon processor. But Qualcomm plans to up the ante with the addition of even more powerful processors to its Snapdragon line. Luis Pineda, SVP of product management for Qualcomm, told tech website Hexus that his company will unveil two new processors this year.
As per the Snapdragon roadmap, a 45nm Snapdragon clocked at 1.3GHz will reach manufacturers later this month, with products based on it debuting around the end of the year. A yet more powerful variant will be unveiled before Christmas in the form of the 8X72, a dual-core 1.5 GHz chip, which will let smartphones and smartbooks keep people entertained with 1080p video playback.