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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. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  2. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  3. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

  4. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  5. This article proved very enlightening. Right ahead of sitting the LSAT for the first time, I felt a sense of relief that a score of 141 was admitted to an Indiana Law School and did well under unique circumstances. While my GPA is currently 3.91 I fear standardized testing and hope that I too will get a good enough grade for acceptance here at home. Thanks so much for this informative post.

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