Would you buy a device between a laptop and smartphone? « GartenBlog

Would you buy a device between a laptop and smartphone? « GartenBlog.

Michael Gartenberg’s column caught my eye through one of his Tweet’s –   he casts a skeptical eye on the “tweener” space between the smartphone and the laptop (aka The One Pound Wasteland).

I like to demonstrate this tweener concept by taking an ultraportable laptop — say a ThinkPad X200 with a 12″ screen and setting it on the table next to an iPhone or a BlackBerry.  Then in the middle I drop one of two objects — either an 8″ by 5″ Moleskine paper notebook or an airplane ticket — and say: “What could you do with that?”

Devices in the tweener category are too big to hold up to your ear, and too small to do any serious keyboard work. They won’t fit in a pocket and one looks dorkish holding one like a lady purse at the opera. Yet from the UMPC to the Kindle, the form factor lures us in — designers and consumers alike. And never has there been a success until the use-optimized Kindle.

Gartenberg posits that consumers will carry three electronic devices — let’s say a digital camera, cell phone and laptop (I throw in a FlipCam and Kindle) and that trying to breakt triad …. well, let’s go to his bottom line:

“Mobile devices are following two contradictory trajectories. One class is fragmenting in terms of core functions, creating new markets for stand-alone devices such as dedicated cameras and media players. The other, which includes such devices as smartphones and mobile Internet devices, is taking on new features and functions, rivaling stand-alone devices in terms of functionality through convergence. Neither approach is universally correct, and vendors more than ever need to understand the contextual factors that influence consumer device usage. They have to focus on providing the sorts of core features that will lead users to include these devices among the three that they’re willing to carry. Devices that can’t displace one of those three will simply not be purchased.”

I agree with his premise — this is a dismal space where few have succeeded. And the industry is in an interesting state driven by advances in smartphone/handset functionality on the iPhone side, and decreases in laptop pricing from the netbook end.  I think Gartenberg is making the case that netbooks are tweeners. I don’t agree. I think they are Wintel machines that don’t cost much money. A tweener is a netbook like Sony’s $899 P device. The form factor is airplane ticket like, the keyboard is pretty cramped, but the screen height is very crowded in terms of scroll space. Netbooks have been a hot category — driven by a few factors: consumer attitudes towards commoditization, disposability, and their own economic comfort. If I can get a Windows experience on a sub-$400 device that hits the web when I connect to the home WiFi, then game over for many users. Keyboards aren’t super duper. Screens are ultraportable 10″ and under. But netbooks get the job done for a big segment of new laptop owners and the questions I have are this:

Can we go smaller or should we go smaller? Are tweeners just too big for pockets but too small for hands and therefore doomed? Or is the industry thinking about things entirely wrong? Where does pervasive connectivity come in? Where does simply working trump speeds-and-feeds? I never have patched, scanned, or otherwised babied my BlackBerry. So why am I patching, scanning, and babying a netbook running Windows XP?

Gartenberg is right. Either do something really well like a camera or an iPod, or do it all like a notebook. But trying to be all things to all people … no one has nailed it yet.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

8 thoughts on “Would you buy a device between a laptop and smartphone? « GartenBlog”

  1. someone has to be “first” in any category. And in this space specifically there will be great products. It’s not hard to imagine corporate or govt entities (think the IRS or Census bureau) equipping field folk with such devices.
    but suppliers will need to market, which is just not being done now. And they are going to have to provide any buyer with a compelling argument and a real call to action.
    Portable computers can no longer be based on “Field of Dreams” marketing; “If you Build it, they will come.”
    mi dos centavos,
    Jim Forbes

  2. Look at digital camera, cell phone, and laptop for a moment.

    Even within these “single use” type devices there is huge variance.

    Between a Nikon DSLR and a point and shoot there is a huge gulf. Is it possible to get PAS type shots from a cell phone? Not quite but soon enough. Need 3fps, good white balance, a bunch of storage, and a decent lens. Megapixels for the consumers but anything above 6MP is just going to introduce a ton of noise in something that small.

    Recent trip: iphone, MacBook, and Canon PAS.

    The phone comes. No question. The Canon PAS, yes for now until cell phones get better. And there’s a safety factor in not having them combined. The MacBook? Email, web, and watching movies.

    NetBooks need a VERY good UI and most of that comes from the touch pad. I’ve become a huge fan of gestures on the glass mac trackpad after swearing I would never give up the ThinkPad nipple.

    One obstacle I see is no real resolution independent OS. Get a 24″ LCD on a given OS and the text size is tiny. Sure you can up the magnification but the menus and the rest of the OS stay the same size. No true resolution independence.

    Same problem but inverted on NetBooks. Throw in a nice high-rez screen and it’s all too tiny.

    Not enough attention paid to these kinds of things.

  3. can you talk about the success of the netbook? the research houses are predicting that all the growth in the market this year to come from this tweener category with desktops in decline and notebooks flattish

    thanks, enjoy your blog


    1. I can’t divulge Lenovo’s numbers but the volumes have been very strong in the past 12 months, strong enough to create a “category of interest” among the analysts, and definitely a strong point in the past holiday quarter. The category will be renamed — to what is unknown.

  4. Not font scaling. Most programs will allow you to change the text size (Firefox, Word, etc). But just the text size. The rest of the UI stays the same.

    True resolution independence.

    And yeah, lowering the screen rez in control panels to something non-native is possible now but not even close to ideal.

  5. What is this netbook supposed to accomplish? Where is it that I will want a smaller version of my laptop (keyboard and all)? I understand the arguments against the smartphone being a “content creation” device but other content creation, my iPhone does a LOT. With the successful deployment of iPhone apps through the app store I use it more than I would any previously owned mobile phone. I have music, video’s, podcasts, weather, email and web browsing. I even find myself pulling up tidbits on the internet while watching TV, accessing the IMDB or doing a wikipedia search on a person of interest at the momemt.

    For me the tweener device would be if you could get a laptop with a touch screen and not take up so much real estate for a keyboard that is only used some of the time, that would be great. I could download my photo’s to it, do some quick photoshopping and upload to the web. The other thing is a real keyboard should be available either as a flip out. Think of a mini tablet pc.

    I think the key (and you will know more than others) is that they will have to have a market to sell it to. So who is this market? Who wants a mini laptop and what will they use it for?

  6. OK, give me the functionality of the Dell Latitude XT2 but make it half the size so it is no bigger than 8.5 x 6 x 1 with a 8 inch diagonal screen. That would provide all the funtionality of a laptop while out and could plug into a dock with full keyboard and screen when at home or in the office. That is a product that I would buy.

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