Normally at this time of the year, I predict tech trends for the New Year. As I think about 2012, I realize that over the next 12 months, the personal computing and consumer electronics industries are poised to see some big disruptions that could change their course for the next five years.
In fact, I believe that when we end 2012, we will look back and realize that it was the most disruptive year we will have had in personal computing in over a decade. In the next 12 months, the market for personal computers of all shapes and sizes will have changed dramatically.
So, what will be the major forces that could reshape the PC business in 2012? There are four technologies and trends in the works that I believe will force the computer industry in a new direction.
The first will be Intel's huge push to make ultraportables 40 percent of its laptop mix by the end of 2012. Although I don't believe it will achieve that goal, especially if ultrabooks are priced above $899, the fact is that ultrabooks are the future of portable computing. Instead of thin and light laptops driving the market as they are now, ultrabooks, which are thinner and lighter, with SSDs and longer battery life, will eventually be what all laptops will look like in five years. The heavier and more powerful laptops that exist now won't go away completely since there are power users who will still need that kind of processing power. But ultrabooks will be the laptops of the future and 2012 will be the first year of their major push to change the portable computing landscape.
There is an interesting twist with ultraportables that could be even more important starting next year: the introduction of ultraportables with detachable screens that turn into tablets. In the past, this hybrid, as it is called, ran Windows when in laptop mode and Android when in tablet mode. But this approach was dead in the water from the start. With Windows 8 tablets ready to hit the market next fall, you will see ultraportables with detachable screens that will run Windows 8 with the Metro UI both on the laptop and in tablet mode. This will bring a level of OS consistency across both device modes and I think that this concept is a sleeper. In fact, if done right, this alone could reshape the traditional PC market in the near term.
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Analysts at JP Morgan met with Apple CEO Tim Cook and chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer on Friday to discuss the long-term impact of Apple products, and when it comes to competitors like the Kindle Fire, "we believe that Apple is not too concerned about the low-priced entrants," the firm said in a note to investors.
If anything, the Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet, and other low-priced options might help introduce consumers to the tablet market, prompting them to eventually upgrade to more feature-rich devices like the iPad, the report said.
"In other words, we think Apple is not seeing much pressure from lower-price tablets, yet," JP Morgan wrote.
The Amazon Kindle Fire is the first small tablet that average users can pick up and immediately use, with a simple, clear interface. Then there's the price: Android along with amazing specs for just $199. It's open enough to attract geeks, too. While the user interface occasionally gets sluggish, we're willing to have a bit of patience to get a first-rate tablet for half of what most competitors charge, thus the Kindle Fire is our first Editors' Choice for small tablets.
A solid little brick at 7.5 by 4.7 by .45 inches and 14.6 ounces, the Kindle Fire looks and feels a lot like the BlackBerry PlayBook, but the Fire is smaller in all dimensions. There are no slots or tabs; both the memory and battery are sealed in, and the only interruptions in its smooth, black form are the headphone jack, Power button, MicroUSB jack, and dual stereo speakers. There's no camera, but I've never been sold on the value of tablet cameras anyway. It uses 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi networks to get online; there's no cellular radio or Bluetooth connectivity.
Turn the Fire on and the 7-inch 1024-by-600 IPS LCD screen lights up. This display is very sharp and clear, but it's also rather reflective. Just like on the Apple iPad 2, you may have trouble reading in bright light because of the screen's sometimes mirror-like gloss. While this is par for the course with tablets, I expected more given the Kindle name. This isn't a dedicated e-reader by any means.
If you pre-ordered a Nook Tablet, you can get your hands on it a bit early. Though Barnes & Noble said the device would arrive on doorsteps and in stores on or around Nov. 17, the company confirmed that it will actually be available as of yesterday.
The device was delivered and available for in-store pickup yesterday. Those who didn't pre-order can start buying the tablet in stores today.
The Nook Tablet includes a 7-inch touch screen with 1024-by-600 display and runs a TI OMAP 4 dual-core processor. The $249 Nook Tablet boasts 16GB of internal storage, expandable up to 32GB via a microSD card and includes access to Barnes & Noble in-store support.
Rival Amazon also shipped its Kindle Fire tablet a day early for shoppers who pre-ordered the device; it was originally scheduled to ship on Nov. 15. During an earnings call last month, Amazon said pre-orders for the Fire exceeded expectations, prompting the company to ramp up production on the tablets. Dave Limp, vice president of Amazon Kindle, also said this week that the $199 Kindle Fire is already the best-selling item across all of Amazon.com.
The low-cost Android tablet space is heating up. And just in time for the holidays.
Barnes & Noble today unveiled the Nook Tablet, a beefed-up follow-up to the popular Nook Color ebook reader/tablet. The Nook Color also remains in the company's arsenal, but with a lower price. The Nook Color is available now, while the Nook Tablet is available for pre-order and ships by November 18.
Amazon, meanwhile, last month took the wraps of its first color touch-screen ereader/tablet, the Kindle Fire, which is currently on pre-order and ships by November 15.
This morning Barnes and Noble unleashed their answer to the Kindle Fire, and it's the Nook Tablet. The Nook Tablet focuses on multimedia consumption, and keeps true to its e-reader roots with a great book and magazine reading experience. It's got a 7-inch display with Wi-Fi built-in and 16 GB of storage as well. It's thinner and lighter than the Nook Color, with a much faster 1 GHz dual-core processor as well.
The Nook Tablet also has 1 GB of RAM, and weighs in at under a pound. B&N says you should expect 11.5 hours of battery life from the device, which runs a customized version of Android 2.3. That customization, by the way, means that this isn't the type of Android tablet that you can just take and do your will with. It's geared towards things like reading books/magazines/periodicals, email, Internet browsing, video streaming, etc. In fact, a partnership with Netflix means you'll have deep integration of the platform on this tablet, with suggestions showing up on your home screen. Expect games, music services like Pandora, and other entertainment options (like Hulu) as well.
The Nook Tablet ships on November 18th, and can be pre-ordered now.