There were many objections to my blog yesterday in support of market researcher Canalys's move to reclassify tablets as full-fledged PCs. Some were very thoughtful, I can't deny that.

But faster than we realize, I think these objections to the concept of tablets=PCs may feel as antiquated as Bill Gates' "640K ought to be enough for anybody." or "There is no reason for anyone to have a computer in his home."

Or, more relevantly, these rants against portable computers (yes, that's what they called them back in the day) that I culled below (mostly from the awesome Classic Computer Magazine Archive)):

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"If you've got more money than good sense, you may want to try a portable computer: laptop, notebook, whatever. My advice? Forget it; they make terrible game machines. My objections? 1. Lousy ergonomics [cramped keyboards and nonstandard location of arrow keys, for example]. 2. No way to attach a joystick without an external parallel port adaptor]. 3. Without an expansion slot there is no external sound capability. 4. The display is, of necessity, small and usually monochrome [unless you're willing to spend a ton of money for color). And 5. Slow doesn't begin to cover it. Dollar for dollar, you get about twice as much performance from a desktop."

- From PC Pilot, The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation, by Scott Smith, 1994

 

"That doesn't mean that it can be used for graphics, however. The  active area of the display is only 0.8 high, hardly enough for any kind  of detailed plot. Nor is it--or any of the notebook computers--much good  for screen-oriented games. Even spreadsheets are a bit of a  problem--your window on the entire sheet is very small. The most  ideal applications for a notebook computer are light word processing and  communications. Although the small display is a bit of a problem, it  can be largely overcome with scrolling...Unfortunately, most notebook computers are not, as yet, capable of  true word processing."

- From Creative Computing, January 1984.

 

"Laptops have less-than-ideal screens. Your friends may start calling you 'Squint Eastwood' behind your back."

-From Compute!, August 1991.

 

"

"Nope, we'll never get one of these to fit inside someone's house. And why would you want to?"

Courtesy of Computer History Museum

 

"I'd hear the whispers in the hallway: 'If the Good Lord had intended Adam and Eve to have portable computers, He wouldn't have given them an Apple.'"

- From Memoirs of an Osborne by David Nimmons.

 

"While 'regular' desktop PC systems have always been and likely always will be the way that most people buy PCs, notebook PCs (also called laptops)  have become very popular in recent years. At first they were almost  exclusively the province of big business 'high rollers' due to their  very high cost. Now the cost of some notebooks PCs has come down dramatically, and they have really entered the  mainstream. Many people use a notebook as their only PC today, and for  some they offer advantages that make them very worthwhile. However,  notebooks also represent a trap that far too many people fall into."

From a PCGuide.com article ostensibly last updated in 2001(!).

 

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Of course, it's only fair to include some choice quotes from the other side - writers a tad too optimistic about laptop/notebook/portable computers.

 

"By 1990 no computer bigger than the Apple Macintosh will be selling well."

- From Creative Computing, November 1984.

 

"Roach (Chairman of Tandy Corp./Radio Shack, maker of the first popular notebook PC, the Tandy 1000) also admits an admiration for the HP Portable and thinks that 'all  machines may be basically portable sometimes in the near future.'"

- From Creative Computing, November 1984.

Market research firm Canalys made a gutsy move today: it became the first major market tracker to start lumping consumer tablets like the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab together with other PCs.

This has major implications. First, doing so vaults Apple into third place globally in Q4 among PC vendors, behind HP and Acer, according to Canalys. By contrast, Gartner and IDC, who are better-known for tracking the PC market (and presumably thus more conservative in their methodology), do not (yet) count iPads as PCs.

Also, calling a tablet a PC means that we are acknowledging a tablet is a real computer, not a dismissing it as some limited-use mobile device.

At the risk of wading into a 'How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?' type of debate, let's examine the arguments against counting tablets as PCs in order to knock them down. Shall we begin?

1) "There's no [physical] keyboard." Yes, but as BetaNews' Joe Wilcox points out, IDC counts Windows tablets as PCs, even though a large percentage of them are stylus/finger input only.

2) "Tablets suck for doing real work like type long memos or build slide decks." I know plenty of businesspeople, especially managers, who spend the majority of their time in Outlook or Lotus Notes, sending and receiving e-mails. Are they not doing *real* work? Does that mean doing e-mail on a tablet is suddenly not real work? What about pulling up sales leads or mining deep Business Intelligence data via rich analytical dashboards? Sounds like real work to me. These are all business tasks at which tablets like the iPad already excel.

3) "Canalys is just doing the bidding of Steve Jobs and other Apple fanboys." Actually, Apple doesn't seem to be interested in lumping iPads with its MacBooks or iMacs, judging by its recent fiscal Q1 earnings call. Nowhere does COO Tim Cook refer to iPads as PCs or computers. In fact, Cook implies that Apple internally sees iPads as being different beasts than Macs: "The iPad teams are building the best iPad for the future, and the Mac  teams are building the best Mac, and I can tell you that both groups  believe that they can continue to grow and do great stuff, and I believe  that."

4) "Neither iOS nor Android are full-fledged operating systems." By what metric? Lines of code? Android has 12 million lines of code. Windows NT 3.51 had 10.1 million. Do we retroactively declare that those servers running NT 3.51 weren't "real" computers? Or do we base this on the fact these iOS and Android run apps, not applications? Well, Mac OS X now has its own App Store. Or is it because iOS and Android run on ARM chips, not Intel? Well, then let's start thinking of a new category to put Windows in after Microsoft ports it successfully over to ARM.

5) "Tablets aren't as powerful as PCs." Actually, ARM's single-core CPUs last year were already more powerful than their Intel Atom counterparts, according to chip researcher, The Linley Group. The latest dual-core ARM Cortex A9 CPUs due to arrive in tablets this year should pull ahead of Atom even more, especially when bolstered by powerful graphics such as Nvidia. Indeed, the graphics chip in the Nvidia Tegra 2 chipset, the 8-core ULP GeForce GPU, supports 1080p video output on up to 2 simultaneous displays (1920x1080 resolution). That's far better than any laptop I've ever owned.

Perhaps we should just let Canalys' analyst Daryl Chiam, who made the call to redefine tablets as PCs, speak.

"Any argument that a pad is not a PC is simply out of  sync," said Chiam. "With screen sizes of seven inches or above, ample  processing power, and a growing number of applications, pads offer a  computing experience comparable to netbooks. They compete for the same  customers and will happily coexist."

"Each new product category typically causes a significant  shift in market shares," he continued. "Apple is benefiting from pads,  just as Acer, Samsung and Asus previously did with netbooks. The PC  industry has always evolved this way, starting when Toshiba and Compaq  rode high on the original notebook wave."

Eric Lai

Get an iPad, Get Arrested

Posted by Eric Lai Jan 13, 2011

Seton Hill University was one of the first schools to announce (way back in March, before the iPad was available) that it would give iPads to all of its students.

The Pennsylvania school is also the first to have one of its students arrested, after he failed to return his iPad and MacBook after quitting school early.  Freshman Michael Sellers was issued an iPad and 13-inch MacBook with a total value of $1,700 when he started in August, in exchange for an upfront $500 technology fee.

When Sellers left school after a month or two, however, the school asked for the iPad and MacBook back - and then sicced the police on him when he failed to respond.

As a Seton Hill professor explains, the $500 fee didn''t cover the entire cost of the gear - the rest is amortized over the duration of the student's time at Seton Hill.  In other words, "They can take the  new computer with them when they graduate, but until  then, the laptops are just loaners. All this is clearly spelled out in the school’s promotional materials and the contract the student signs when picking up the equipment.”

Ahh, the fine print, which understandably an 18-year-old might overlook...that led to the police coming to Sellers, who told them he no longer had his iPad and MacBook (did he Craigslist them?).

Sending the police still  seems a little harsh - why arrest Sellers rather than bill or sue him in  small claims court? Unless he was meant to serve as an example.

On the other hand, Seton Hill's sort of lease-to-own arrangement is pretty common in the tech space. It's like when you buy the latest Android smartphone  from Verizon for just $199 - the low cost is subsidized by the two-year contract you also sign that guarantees huge profits for the carrier.

Those who upgrade or replace their phones before the two years  are up must pay a financial penalty proportional to how long he or she used the phone.

This sort of lease-to-own arrangement appears to be growing in popularity.  Take North Bay Haven Charter Academy in Panama City, Florida. North Bay is deploying iPads to its students. But knowing that many students and parents might have trouble paying for the $600 cost (iPad plus case plus insurance), the school is letting them pay $17 a month or $150 a year until their child graduates.

Two months ago, I argued "Why Mobile Business Apps Will Flower in 2011". My blog post got some backlash from readers who didn't believe that companies were starting to understand the benefits mobility could bring them.

Here's some evidence backing up my original argument. In a survey released today by Kelton Research and sponsored by Sybase, 90% of IT managers said they planned to deploy new mobile apps this year (see the press release).

The online survey quizzed 250 IT managers in the U.S. and UK at companies with revenue of $100 million or more. It had plenty of other interesting findings:

1) Saving money is the most popular reason (63%) for companies to deploy mobile apps. Frankly, I expected employee demands to Bring Their Own Device or IT managers trying to keep up with the Jones/competitors would be the top reasons. Not so according to the IT managers surveyed. It's heartening, as it shows that mobilizing appears to be a fiscally sound strategy, not something with a pie-in-the-sky ROI.

2) Security remains the biggest inhibitor (75%) to deployment. Which is too bad, since there are a number of proven solutions out there, including Sybase's own market-leading Afaria product, and the mobile device management service based on Afaria technology and hosted by major telecom partners including Verizon Business, Orange and others.

3) Diversity rules. Nearly four out of 10 (38%) of enterprises expect to support five or more mobile platforms or operating systems. 4) Apps are taking off. Consider that 2/3 (65%) of respondents said they'll deploy 5 or more mobile apps this year. 21%(!) say they are deploying 20 or more. As my Sybase colleague Dan Ortega put it, that's a fast, running start towards mobility that will likely help those companies leapfrog their competitors, the same way that e-business separated the innovators from the laggards.

5) Mobile fans are in the majority in most IT departments, with 56% seeing it as "crucial to business," and 55% espousing a timeline for rolling them out.

Gartner's Hype Cycle seems so quaint these days. Seemingly within minutes of Verizon's iPhone 4 launch on Tuesday morning, BNET's Damon Brown had a post up arguing that the Verizon iPhone is "not for serious business professionals."

 

Ouch for Brown, who sure fell into that Trough of Disillusionment quickly. I, on the other hand, see myself as a more of a glass-half-full kind of guy. So his objections didn't carry that much weight to me.

First, Brown argues that the lack of keyboard will keep many would-be business switchers on their BlackBerries. My reply: there is such a thing as third-party accessories. For instance, there is the $70 BoxWave Keyboard Buddy which is a case/slide-out keyboard for the iPhone 4. I got it for a pal for Christmas since, as I told his spouse, he texts as much as a teenage girl.

It's not perfect - Engadget rates it a 7/10 for its solid sliding keyboard and look, but dings it slightly for the feel of the keyboard itself - but it seems like a solid option for keyboard addicts.

Second, Brown also points out some of the high-profile security problems found with iOS last year. Many of those problems were solved by iOS 4. And in any case, any IT department worth its salt, security-wise, is starting to investigate or deploy mobile device management (MDM) software (full disclosure: such as Sybase's own market-leading Afaria) to get a firm grasp over its growing fleet of Android and iPhone devices (Microsoft Exchange not being sufficient, in most security pro views). For companies looking for a less-complicated solution, Verizon has a hosted MDM service in partnership with Sybase.

Moreover, the Verizon iPhone 4 is going to be a boon to enterprises in these three additional ways:

1) Another very solid carrier. While IT departments have been forced to allow a variety of devices into their enterprise (i.e. the 'Bring Your Own Device' movement), they have drawn a harder line at supporting multiple carriers (in the same country, anyway). So it's likely that plenty of iPhone-wielding workers couldn't get support or subsidies simply because their company had standardized on Verizon for its reputation of overall better coverage and voice quality. As Computerworld's Richi Jennings put it (sign-in required), Hello envious Verizon BlackBerry users!  

2) Legal personal Wi-Fi hotspottethering. AT&T doesn't allow its users to use the iPhone as a modem for other devices, like a laptop. But it doesn't allow the iPhone to serve as a personal Wi-Fi hotspot for multiple devices and PCs. Sure, it's technically possible, if you run a jailbroken version of iOS, but it's mostly the kids doing that. Corporate workers whose iPhones are managed by their IT department can't do that. Verizon will let the iPhone serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to 5 other devices. It might be pricey, but this will be a cost that enterprises will absorb for their traveling executives and salespeople, especially since alternatives such as iPass subscriptions are no cheaper.

3) More apps, especially enterprise ones. An analyst told Bloomberg that the Verizon should add 13.3 million new iPhone users this year, of which 11 million are net new users (2.3 million stolen from AT&T's total 23 million subscribers). Excluding AT&T's growth, Verizon alone will cause the ranks of iPhone users to swell by 50% in 2011. This will move even more developers to get off the iPhone sidelines, especially enterprise-oriented ones

Silicon Valley marketers pump out tech jargon like a teenage girl changes her clothes (sorry Katy Perry).

It's not a meritocracy; catchy names don't always catch on. Remember the smartbook, aka a netbook with ARM guts? Introduced by Qualcomm in early 2009, smartbook seems to be dying a slow death, trampled under the bumrush for tablets.

For most of 2010, the SuperPhone looked like it could go down the same path as the smartbook. Touted when Google launched the Nexus One year ago,  the problem was that the Nexus One wasn't superior enough to other  smartphones to earn the superphone moniker. There was also the small  thing of the Nexus One being a commercial flop.

Samsung CSO Omar Khan gave his best try in July to define the superphone, but it was both too vague -  superphones are "optimized from a silicon perspective, a hardware  perspective and a software perspective," Khan said - and, again, not WOW enough. How does a 4-inch-plus screen and a 5-8 megapixel camera blow past the 2010's state-of-the-art smartphone, the iPhone 4?

At CES today, Nvidia showed off its dual-core Tegra chips powering  the coming LG Optimus 2X, which CEO Jen-Hsun Huang declared to be the  first true SuperPhone.

It was an impressive demo, one that I think will cement the SuperPhone category this year, and clearly differentiate it from plain ol Smartphones (which will continue to dominate shipments).

Granted, specs are a constantly moving target, but for 2011, I propose that we define SuperPhones as having at minimum these attributes:

1) Dual-core ARM chips of at least 1 GHz each. Two  cores doesn't mean double the performance. In fact, the performance  boost from two cores will be even less obvious than on a PC, since it is  easier to multi-task and run several jobs at once on a computer than a  phone. Still, the gain will be big enough to create a gulf between smart  and super.

2) Great Adobe Flash performance. That's something Huang showed off during his demo on Wednesday, and something the top Android smartphones lacked in 2010.

3) 1080p high-def streaming video that can be output to TVs/monitors via HDMI. That would differentiate from the 720p-capable smartphones today.

4) Greater than 3G network connectivity. In the US, that means  both 'true' 4G services such as Verizon LTE and Sprint's Wi-Max, as  well as HSPA+ networks of AT&T and T-Mobile that critics say are 4G  wannabes.

5) At least a 500,000 pixel display. Top-of-the-line  smartphones last year mostly maxed out at about 400,000 pixels (480 x  800 was common). An iPhone 4, for comparison, has a 610,000 pixel  display. So a 500,000 pixel count doesn't seem unreasonable.

6) Access to a vibrant app ecosystem. Today, I would only count iOS and Android as possessing those.

Here are a few things a SuperPhone doesn't need IMHO:

1) A physical keyboard. Nice to have, but hardly a requirement, as Apple proved.

2) Greater-than-3.5-inch screen. Increasing pixel density is  more important, as Apple proved, then larger screens. Besides, consumers  have shown again and again that they hate gadgets that bulge out of  their pants pockets. The vast majority of the world are not engineers and thus unwilling to carry $500 bits of electronic in the pocket of our dress shirts. If we were, then we'd all be using Dell Streaks today, right?

3) Greater-than-5-megapixel camera. While pixel count is key  on displays, I think it's a little overrated on cameras. It's the  lenses/flashes that continue to lag on phones.

4) 3D display. I'm in the anti-3D camp, for sure. Just don't see the point.