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Tablet computers: the hard and the soft sides

One of the latest game changers has been in the pipes for quite a while. Processing power, connectivity, video presentation, and software have finally all come together with a reasonable price. Now you can see folks sharing pictures and other things at table gatherings on their tablets.

Digital Trends (HT Instapundit) has a rundown on the Apple iPad 2 vs. Motorola Xoom that provides a good synopsis of the hardware. Computerworld takes on the software.

The processing power is a balance between power consumption for battery requirements and, primarily, user interface management. It is amazing just how much processing is needed to manage a one or two megapixel video display at a decent frame rate. That gets important, especially, when the device is used to drive a 1080p TV as an external display. Media also makes an impact on internal storage as well as options for attached storage. 32 GB or sufficient for 5 or 10 movies appears to be the sweet spot for internal storage right now.

The size is still a bit more than a pocket can handle but not so big as to need its own carry bag. It is almost all screen and big enough to show sufficient readable content to reduce scrolling to a frequency that isn’t obnoxious – like the time it takes to read a page in a book before you have to turn the page. The controls are almost entirely soft on screen touch capable. And the devices are much more than just computers.

Moving internally, the Xoom has more sensors inside it than you can count. The iPad 2 may have an accelerometer, ambient light sensor, and gyroscope, but the Xoom also has a proximity sensor, digital compass, and barometer inside it.

These sensors open up options that are just beginning to be realized. One driver cited for a speeding ticket remembered he had a sports app on his device that was tracking position and speed. He showed the report from that app to the judge to dispute the LEO’s testimony. Cute right now, but probably soon to be accepted as ho-hum, is the ability of these devices to reconfigure the screen according to how it is being viewed.

Both of these reviews bring up the app census concern. That is interesting because it is the same concern that was being used as a Microsoft Windows argument fifteen years ago. This round of that issue has been complicated because it is not two closed source behemoths battling it out with proprietary systems. In this round, Google’s offering is FOSS, which has already had an impact on breadth of devices supporting the software platform.

Cost has come down to the sweet spot between $500 and $1000. That puts tablets as 2 or 3 times the cost of a netbook but still within the ‘toy’ category these days – less than a week’s wages for many. And this is just the opening barrage.

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