My screen is my computer

Posted: 11.09.10
Kmart’s 7-inch tablet.

This is the year of the tablet, big and smaller, the e-reader, big and smaller, and the all-in-one desktop computer—all screen and no box. This is more than a packaging evolution, this is a usage model revolution, and largely brought to you due to new low power high-performance processors—say “thank you Moore’s Law.”

As we slip into this new paradigm of computer usage we can look back at the pioneers who helped us get here, who molded our thoughts so we are able to accept these new designs, and we can watch with amusement as the suppliers of these screen only computers squabble with each other about what is the right, best, correct size screen. The suppliers marketing positioning noise will have little to do with reality. The consumer will always decide.

So what are our choices? In tablets we seem to have at least three: the remarkably popular ARM-based Apple iPad with its 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 resolution color screen, the low-cost and soon to be ubiquitous ARM-based 7-inch 600 to 800 x 480 color screen versions, and newer versions of the earlier X86-based 10.5-inch 800 x 1280 models. Prices range from $99 to $1,299 and capabilities vary by processor, operating system, feature set, and application suite. Ironically, it seems the 7-inch tablet may be the MID that Intel promised us so many times, albeit with an ARM rather than an Intel processor.

All-in-one computer. (Source: Samsung)

The e-readers that have been on the market for a couple of years, with Amazon’s Kindle being credited with opening up that market (even though it wasn’t the first) have screen sizes that vary from 6-inches to 9.7-inches, and are usually 800 x 600 4-shades of gray paper-ink screen. A couple of models have dual color screens. OS never gets discussed, and all of the units are ARM based, mostly from Freescale.

On the desktop we are seeing the introduction of the all-in-one, pioneered by the Apple iMac a few years ago and popularized by HP’s Touch Smart. This year and going forward, every major (and several minor) brands will have one. The color screen size seems to be 19 to 24-inches with up to 1900 x 1200 resolution, and all are based on x86 with a Windows OS.

So the acceptance of these new screen-only computers has illustrated the consumer’s utter lack of regard for CPU or OS, and instead is centered on functionality, UI, and application suite. It also points out that despite all the lecturing from suppliers and their market research lackeys, cross platform and cross application compatibility is not much of, if any at all of, a factor to consumers—here we have a pure example of if you build it (i.e., the right thing) they will come.

6-inch e-reader. (Source: Sony)

And the consumers seem unimpressed with stickers (Charlie inside), shovelware, and redundant I/O.

What can we learn from this? A lot of us really aren’t as smart as we’d like to think, and no good idea should ever go uncloned. You are about to see every form of screen-based computer imaginable, and we may see the desktop box and even the ever-present clam-shell laptop fade into limited use and popularity.