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Tablets, smartphones, and netbooks converge

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technology-bourIt is obvious that tablet computers like the iPad and its many competitors are the hottest segment in mobile computing today. These devices are great for Web surfing, social media, e-books, photos, video, and downloading applications of all types. They are great entertainment devices, but they are not the ideal tool for most business uses. They would be better suited for productive business purposes if a physical keyboard could be incorporated (one with real keys, not a virtual touch screen style). This would essentially make a tablet (or a smartphone) more like a real computer. Today’s article will look at some of the approaches being taken toward the convergence between smartphones, tablets, netbooks and notebooks.

For several years it looked like the netbook mini-computer was the best choice for a portable, practical, and inexpensive mobile computing device. The iPad arrived and changed all that. In the past year, netbook sales have declined dramatically. Tablets have muscled out netbooks and have found their niche by filling the gap between smartphones and notebook computers. But for me, the lack of a keyboard on a tablet is a major drawback, as I find it slow and frustrating to compose even short e-mail responses on a virtual keyboard.

One answer is to incorporate an external keyboard/dock. At my local Verizon store, both the iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Android tablet offer companion keyboard docks that you attach to your tablet. Also available are standalone Bluetooth keyboards that will work with any Bluetooth-enabled tablet or smartphone. An external keyboard for an existing device is one answer to the convergence idea, but the trouble of now carrying around more accessories puts a dent in the elegant portability of the tablet computer’s form factor.

Another approach to marrying keyboard to tablet is an integrated carrying case like the Kensington KeyFolio. This solution folds like a book or portfolio and houses a thin Bluetooth keyboard in one half, while holding your tablet in the other. When unfolded on a desk, your tablet is supported next to the keyboard and looks at first glance like a standard netbook computer.

For the netbook market segment to survive, I believe netbooks will need to become more like tablet computers. Convergence toward that idea is evidenced by the tablet netbook. These convertible devices combine both computer and touch screen display. Several approaches are used to allow the screen to rotate and fold so the units can be used as a conventional computer or as a touch screen tablet, with the screen facing upward, neatly stacked on top of the keyboard. The Dell Inspiron Duo 2 is the most intriguing example I have discovered. The innovative flip-hinge lid of this computer allows the LCD display to rotate 180 degrees within the attached frame, allowing the screen to face either inward or outward. I would like this design even more if it were possible to detach the touch screen from the frame for part-time use as a standalone tablet.

Most other convertible netbooks use a type of swivel U–joint configuration to accomplish the transformation. All of these devices are necessarily thicker than a traditional tablet due to the stacked keyboard. Several examples are the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t and the Mirus SchoolMate Convertible. The latter is a product aimed at younger students. It is marketed online through retailers like Target and Walmart. The SchoolMate, I think, offers a good glimpse at the future of converged computing. Its touch screen is designed to be used also with a writing stylus, making it even more versatile.

The convertible netbooks do offer the flexibility and productivity of using existing PC applications since most run some version of Windows 7, but you lose the slick functionality of the Android/Apple tablet operating systems, along with loss of the wealth of downloadable apps that are available for both types of tablets and their related smartphones. Today’s last twist on convergence addresses that.

This newest device is the Motorola Atrix 4G with the accessory Lapdock. The Lapdock looks like a netbook computer, but it is actually just an external keyboard/monitor for the Atrix smartphone. All the processing power for the Lapdock is provided from within the dual-core phone itself. It gives you the functionality of the Android operating system on a larger screen, a full keyboard and trackpad, as well as a proprietary interface described as a “unique webtop application.” You can also still make phone calls while the phone is docked. The curiously absent feature with the Lapdock is touch screen capability! You must interface the unit through the conventional trackpad. It cannot convert to act as a touch screen tablet.

All of the convergence approaches reviewed here have their pluses and minuses. Perhaps in the end we will learn that the best path is not convergence, that it is better to have two or three tools instead of one multi-tool. Yet, on the horizon is another still-unavailable product I will be watching for: The Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid is a Windows 7 computer with a removable touchpad that switches over to the Android tablet operating system when detached. (I wonder if it includes a phone.)•
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Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD, and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s.

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  1. My mother got temporary guardianship of my children in 2012. my husband and I got divorced 2015 the judge ordered me to have full custody of all my children. Does this mean the temporary guardianship is over? I'm confused because my divorce papers say I have custody and he gets visits and i get to claim the kids every year on my taxes. So just wondered since I have in black and white that I have custody if I can go get my kids from my moms and not go to jail?

  2. Someone off their meds? C'mon John, it is called the politics of Empire. Get with the program, will ya? How can we build one world under secularist ideals without breaking a few eggs? Of course, once it is fully built, is the American public who will feel the deadly grip of the velvet glove. One cannot lay down with dogs without getting fleas. The cup of wrath is nearly full, John Smith, nearly full. Oops, there I go, almost sounding as alarmist as Smith. Guess he and I both need to listen to this again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRnQ65J02XA

  3. Charles Rice was one of the greatest of the so-called great generation in America. I was privileged to count him among my mentors. He stood firm for Christ and Christ's Church in the Spirit of Thomas More, always quick to be a good servant of the King, but always God's first. I had Rice come speak to 700 in Fort Wayne as Obama took office. Rice was concerned that this rise of aggressive secularism and militant Islam were dual threats to Christendom,er, please forgive, I meant to say "Western Civilization". RIP Charlie. You are safe at home.

  4. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  5. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

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