I predict that by this time next year we’ll be wading in Android mini-tablets up to our knees.
It’s going to be the next Netbook Flood.
Why I say this is due to two things.
1) Google released Android OS version 2.0 today. This is a significant improvement that simply cannot be dismissed by anyone — certainly not by Palm (webOS) and especially not by Apple. Even what I’ve seen of just Android 1.5 on the Archos 5 Internet Tablet has increased my interest in that OS — thanks in great part to the Aldiko ePub-reading program.
2) I was looking at this video of the Alex eBook reading device:
That’s really a very, very strange way to overcome two shortcomings: the limited functionality of eInk and the battery-eating predilection of a color LCD screen.
That Alex device would be blown out of the water by any device with a Pixel Qi screen. The Pixel Qi can go from battery-chomping full-color to battery-stingy eInk-like e-paper monochrome with the flick of a switch.
Why build a device with two screens when one will do?
(Yes, I know the Nook is built like that too. But it has Barnes & Noble behind it to keep it alive for at least a few months. The Alex is basically dead on arrival.)
We’ve already seen Asus shake up the entire computer industry by creating the netbook category.
That category is beginning to dry up. The new Intel CULV designs are really for machines priced a bit higher than the netbook price point. These machines are also considerably larger than a grab-and-go tote-anywhere netbook.
This leaves a hole in the market for the next grab-and-go tote-anywhere device and the next sell-like-crazy-mad device.
That’s where an Android mini-tablet would fit.
One thing people tend to forget is that the madmen behind Android were previously employees of PalmSource, the spin-off of the Palm OS. They have tons of experience with small devices. And while I wouldn’t expect them to hit an Apple-level of excellence (due to a lack of Steve Jobs to harangue them), they have already hit the Good Enough mark with Android 1.5 and easily surpassed the craptastic Windows Mobile botch. They could soon leave webOS behind too.
Intel has been trying to define this space with what they’ve termed Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs). They’ve been creating an OS called Mobilin. How many of these devices have you seen for sale despite two years of prototypes and hype from Intel’s partners?
Um, right: zero.
Intel has already lost that gamble. And with ARM chips ramping up their speed, Intel might also find itself shut out of the CPU socket of all these Android mini-tablets.
Apple’s upcoming iTablet is going to revolutionize everything and will again goad every tech company to imitation — as with the iPhone.
So: Android mini-tablets to sop up the money from all the people who can’t afford the iTablet (just as the Commodore-64 grabbed all those people who couldn’t afford an Apple II+ way back when — that would have been me!) as well as appeal to all those people who already have Android phones yet desire a bigger screen experience from time to time.
And then there is the huge factor of eBooks, which will really drive this market, especially for devices that use the Pixel Qi dual-mode screen. I’ve already shown that Aldiko’s software is probably the best eBook software out there right now because it can do ePub. While it can’t do Adobe DRMed ePub, I can envision a device manufacturer getting an Adobe license, getting an Aldiko license, and marrying the two for an eBook-friendly Android-based mini-tablet.
What’s great about such a product flood — as we’ve already seen with netbooks — is that inspires companies to ruthless innovation as well as aggressive pricing. But there will be more innovation with Android mini-tablets than was ever possible with netbooks — because there isn’t a Microsoft lording over everyone dictating hardware limitations.