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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. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  2. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  3. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  4. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  5. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

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