Thursday, 26 April 2012

tablets versus Ultrabooks

News this morning that ultrabook sales are flatlining and that iPad sales continue to amaze.

Now the story of both ultrabooks and tablets is an interesting one. Before tablets, people liked netbooks - small form factor, light, could run a classic software base from windows (or if if you like wearing sandals, linux).

Microsoft of course made the decision not to allow Office to run on Windows 7 Home basic which meant people had not only to pay for Office for their netbook but also an OS upgrade. However Libre/Open Office run well meaning that people with a netbook were not deprived of an office suite, and if the just wanted a word processor AbiWord offered a solid alternative.

Apple didn't do netbooks. Instead they produced the Macbook air, which ran a full spec processor, used SSD storage (just like the original Asus netbook), and a full version of the OS and good battery life.

Not surprisingly business types loved it, finding it more useful than they iPad, as for one thing you could type on it, and a second you could run Office on it.

The rest of humanity decided that they like tablets and for them tablets mean iPads.

Various manufacturers noticed this and rushed out tablets and ultrabooks of their own.

The tablets were mostly based on Android, overpriced and lacked the application base of the iPad. It's a sad fact that battery life apart, my no name Chinese Android tablet is better than J's branded Android tablet. In their rush to differentiate themselves the branded tablet makers tried all sorts of skinnings and tweaks and failed to look at the market properly.  The result was a range of overpriced tablets, all subtly incompatible.

One of the reasons why my no name device is better is because the people who put it together tried to put together an Android mimic of the the iPad - not a clone but a base set of apps with the same functionality and an interface that worked more or less the same. The branded device seeks to be whizzier, but ends up doing less and being confusing as it doesn't follow the tablet computing meme which is currently "work like iOS".

On the other hand pc sales are falling, and there's no doubt part of this is through people buying tablets instead of laptops. Vendors looked at the Macbook Air and thought "we can make a windows version of that and sell it to business types."

Not a bad idea. Light, fast startup, all your familiar tools and programs. The only problem was they failed to notice that the reason a lot of people bought the Air was it was actually cheaper than a full size laptop, and was small and light enough to carry about with you. The Air is a netbook on steroids not a laptop with an SSD and no optical drive.

One thing people clearly need is a lightweight notetaker with a long battery life. A tablet with a keyboard does this, but they do suffer the problem of not having  Office - there are various applications in the android space and Apple offers Pages, but they suffer from the problem that they are not Office. And Asus Prime apart, there really isn't a really cool tablet with keyboard solution out there.

I personally don't have a problem with the lack of Office, and am happy to use a range of products, but business types go all funny about this and claim 'corporate standard' conflating application with document format.

Unfortunately it's a sad fact  that Microsoft owns the office productivity space - that's why Office in terminal session from an iPad is a proposition, and why Libre/Open office and various logo'd version from Sun and IBM never gained any real traction.

So we return to my usual rant. If you need a keyboard you need either a tablet with a keyboard or something else. You also need good productivity software and excellent battery life. This device is also likely to be a second computer, which means you need to be able to run Dropbox, Google Drive or Skydrive - all of which work well, but that latter two are not (yet) truly multiplatform (ie Windows, OS X, Ubuntu, Android, iOS) or an alternative solution like Evernote. What you need is a netbook, and if I  ran a hardware business what I would be looking for is something in netbook format with a reaonable processor that I could sell with windows home premium for substantially less than the Macbook Air.

That way corporate IT can install office on it, install whatever the corporate document syncing solution is, and yet people have a lightweight note take that does everything they need easily and reliably ....

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