A lot of people have been predicting the demise of the Netbook as a fad of the economic downturn. I’m just the opposite, I think they’re great and I love mine but they’re only great at doing the job most of us USED to use a laptop for. That it, a second, mobile computer to use when away from our main high powered computer. And now that the price point for a fully capable mobile computing device has hit the $200 mark it’s about to usher in the advent of marketable tablet PCs, (even if it’s about 6 years later than Bill Gates prediction of the tablet revolution).
However even though they’ve come along way since the initial lame Asus 7” 4GB XP driven machines, they’ve still got a little ways to go before they reach their full potential. The frustrating thing is that all the technology for creating the ultimate netbook/mobile computer is available, but for whatever reasons it’s not currently being marketed.
There are a slew of new netbooks coming out now that the pinetrail chips are finally being released but they’re not really stepping up the capabilities of netbooks, it’s just a minor power efficiency upgrade.
So here’s my wish list to create the perfect netbook, and as I alluded above, this is something that is do-able, not some half sci-fi wishlist of a computer with direct to brain interface that is the size of a pen the expands to the size of a desktop with glassy Minority report multi-touch capabilities.
First of all let’s get a starting point with a current netbook. I have an Asus 1005HA, I love it and it’s great, there are just a few things that need upgrading. However in less than 30 days it will supplanted with a new version, so as our foundation let’s use its replacement the 1005PE.
Features that we’ll keep:
1. 10” screen. 9” leads to a keyboard too small for frequent use. 11” leads to a device where its size discourages casually carrying it around; which is the main flaw to using a fullsize laptop as a second computer. If it’s so heavy and bulky you don’t use it, it’s worthless.
2. 1024×600 resolution. This doesn’t need to be upgraded, the screen is small enough that higher resolution is unneeded (but I wouldn’t complain about a small upgrade either…).
3. 802.11n wireless. I don’t have N at home but the natural upgrade from G so it’s nice to future proof my wireless capabilities. I’m sure most free wifi points will make the same upgrade in the future.
4. Bluetooth. I don’t use it frequently but it’s so cheap and small to integrate that it should be there. ESPECIALLY for a mobile unit.
4. Hard Drive storage. Solid state is cool but the benefits don’t outweigh the price, there is little or no difference in speed and battery life. Most importantly is size, when you’re mobile you don’t want to have to carry a bunch of external drives, you want all your music, movies, and programs fully on disk.
5. SD Card reader. I hardly use it but it’s nice to have just in case.
6. Camera+mic. I think these should be standard in mobile devices, thanks to Mac for making a camera above the screen common.
6. Touchpad, headphone+mic, 3 USB, etc. Pretty much standard in all mobile computers and for good reason.
Feature that need upgrading:
1. 10/100/1000 Ethernet port. Ok people it’s time to start upgrading everything to gigabit, 10/100 was tolerable for the first decade of the millennium but it won’t be for the second. Even if you don’t always use it having it there for the times you do makes up for the additional $3 manufacturing costs that it takes to install it.
2. 2GB RAM standard. Non-ultra light Linux OS’s shouldn’t be shoe-horned into 1GB. I’d require that every current netbook start shipping with 2GB as well. The added performance is worth the price.
3 VGA+ HDMI out. HDMI needs to be added with the HD playback capabilities below.
1. High def playback from NVIDA Ion chipset.
Even if the screen can’t playback high def the computer needs to be able to play high def content and down-process for the screen (I’m not reformatting all my HD content just to play it on a computer). And it needs to be able to export the HD video to an external screen through the HDMI port. This way the tiny netbook becomes a mobile player when out and about. I was hoping the new pinetrail chips from Intel would support HD video but all they do is take the low output integrated graphics and move them onboard. So a separate Nvidia Ion chip needs to be added.
!!!!This is worth the extra cost and lower battery life!!!!
Best scenario would be software that runs normal low graphics intensive programs through the PineTrail and only fires up the GPU for high intensity processing.
2. Netbook to Tablet Conversion.
This is really icing on the cake but a netbook that has a rotating screen that can become a tablet will allow it to bridge two close but separate markets. A netbook that can convert becomes a netbook+tablet+PMP+ebook all in one. That makes this another feature that would be worth the higher price for the conversion.
Regardless of the Apple rumors tablets target=blank>are coming. But most are using low complexity OS’s not full bodied computer OS’s like Windows, OSX, and Linux. A netbook can not just tap into this market but be at the top of it by the added capabilities given by a full OS, keyboard, and traditional computer. This would also involve upgrading the screen to a touch screen for more complex interaction whiule in netbook mode.
3. A fingerprint reader.
Ok this one doesn’t really need to be there, but on business laptops like the Lenovo T60 laptops it was a really cool feature for locking and unlocking a computer. For mobile devices that may be accidentally left in a public place some added security locking is a nice touch.
It pay upwards of $700 for a 1005PE with added Ion and swivel screen. But even the Ion addition should be in netbooks. The few that have it are 12” or larger, however those of us with smaller screens still want to watch our HD movies without converting all of them. Or god forbid watch a flash video without it freezing up the system.
Today Google announced more details on the new Chrome OS, it’s not an OS release (which will be sometime next year), not even a beta release but the source code is open to the public for people to tinker with. So give it a day and people should have working copies on their machines to review.
I was reading the post of the live notes from the conference on Tech Crunch and the part that really caught my eye was this:
You cannot download and install Chrome on any machine. You will have to buy a new one.
End of next year. Before the holiday season.
I don’t like that at all.
I was looking forward to being able to throw Chrome OS onto my netbook as a quickboot alternative when I just want a quick web lookup or some thing similar. This makes it sound like you can only get it if it comes preconfigured on the device as it comes from the store.
Think about that, even Windows can be installed afterwards onto an existing OS and be given the option to dual boot into one or the other. In fact my netbook works exactly like that now. When I boot I have the choice between the initial install of Windows XP (I keep for legacy networking programs) or Windows 7 with Win7 being the 5 second default.
In fact I also have Backtrack 4 beta on the SD card where I can hit “esc” during boot and boot over to that instead of the two OS’s on the hard drive. During the POST and 5 second timer I have the choice between 3 different OS’s to go into. I was hoping Chrome OS would be similar for a quick lightweight alternative OS when I don’t want a full Windows OS.
Things may change, this is just a quick comment from a live blog. The other bad news in the quote, the fact that its due at the end of NEXT year means a lot can happen in the meantime.
Which comes to the final point. There are many great OS’s out there now that do everything I want in a quick light-weight OS. There are some really good Linux builds made especially for netbooks that take most of the hassle out of dealing with driver installs and the initial setup I ranted about in the last post. Another TechCrunch post mentioned JoliCloud which sounds very similar to what I’d like in Chrome OS, with great optimization, device sync and the ability to choose your own apps (as opposed to using all google), and it’s available for beta testing NOW.
Chrome OS still look great but the biggest news of the announcement seems to be potentially bad news IMHO.
I almost always disagree with John Herman’s Apple Butt-kissing posts over at Gizmodo. But I could not agree with him more in his post about what Chrome OS needs to “be a contender”
I’d add to it but I’ve got nothing other than a big +1 to that.
The rumors have been flying around first about Apple making a netbook (which was shot down by execs) and now pretty confidently that Apple is making a small tablet device, smaller than the Macbooks but bigger than the iPhone. For those of us who have been around a bit the Newton immediately pops back into our heads.
Newton was more a PDA than a tablet, it was only sized as big as a tablet because of the technology of the time. It failed due to a lack of interest and becaue there wasn’t a demand in the market niche it filled; in comparison today all it’s features could be done on an iPhone with no problem. Although one of my iPhone gripes is that for all it’s advanced tech the iPhone still can’t fully duplicate the old Newton as a PDA. Half the programs aren’t there natively and when you “get an app for that” you can’t run multiple or background apps.
Back to the modern iTablet (not its real name, I just made that up for simplicities sake), PCWorld writes an article why they don’t think it will work. I usually don’t agree with PCWorld but here they made a few good points.
While I think a multi-touch display is a great idea, using it to host a virtual keyboard takes too much real estate on a petite 10-inch display. Eliminating the physical keyboard would make the device very thin, but at the expense of the screen protection a closed laptop offers.
The iPhone and iPod Touch work as keyboard-less devices because they are designed to be hand-held—something which would be difficult and clumsy with a 10-inch tablet.
Exactly why the onscreen keyboard on the iPhone sucks, it takes up more than half the screen in landscape; 9-10” screens are barely big enough for surfing as it is, there is no room for a keyboard. And on the tablet you can’t thumb type because of the size of the tablet. When typing you’ll need to sit the tablet down on a flat surface or in your lap which will make viewing the screen a royal PITA, especially if they stick with a glossy fingerprint smudged screen.
On the plus side there should be more room for the keyboard than on the iPhone, and people are brainwashed enough to ignore that and some even call it a “feature”. Also as a netbook/tablet the keyboard will be relegated to more infrequent use; it’s the same reason I can barely stand the keyboard on my 9” EEE PC, I never really have to use it except in a pinch. But I still think a convertible laptop/tablet like the Asus T91 is a much better way to go to get the best of both worlds in this device size.
The second major strike is the possibility of the tablet running the iPhone OS or a hybrid; at this point all we have is rumor but many people hint at an iPhone OS relation running on an ARM processor for the tablet.
The iPhone OS as-is would be an epic fail. Unlike Android and Windows Mobile the iPhone OS is built to run on one platform and one resolution only and all apps are optimized for that phone, that way Apple can be sure all apps will run well. If the iPhone OS had to deal with all the variations in hardware that Android and WM deal with it’s wouldn’t be nearly as slick. Trying to stretch that phone OS out to 10” wouldn’t work without some major redesign. Thus a hybrid OS is far more likely
The Hybrid OS that the tablet will likely get is something that looks like a big iPhone OS but has some added capabilities to it; however this will still be insufficient.
Regardless whether this is designed to compete with netbooks or not, at 10” it will be placed in competition with netbooks in everybody’s minds anyway. So running anything less than a full OS will seem crippled when compared to netbooks/tablets running Windows or Linux. Apple will have to go with OSX or an “OSX Basic”. But Apple charges the price premium to put good hardware in their devices so a thin 10” tablet running OSX is entirely possible if they can keep the battery usage down.
I disagree with PCWorld that the tablet will be a train-wreck. It will sell like a beast and the Apple faithful will ignore the keyboard drawbacks or short battery life or limited OS. Like the netbook fanatics they will load complex software into device poorly designed to handle it and claim that since it can barely run without crashing the tablet that it’s “full featured”. But best of all it will accelerate competition in making a useful tablet PCs, hopefully prodding competitors like Asus into making a convertible netbook with a decent video processor (Asus T92 perhaps?) that will combine the best of both worlds between the Apple tablet and the current netbooks.
I’ll be happy just so long as we don’t get the “iPhone effect” where people become so brainwashed they start to remove advantages like a physical keyboard, stylus input, background apps, and copy/paste in an effort to copy Apple.