Recipe for the Perfect Tablet

So with CES out of the way and plenty of new tablets launched we still seem to be waiting for a worthy iPad competitor.  So, I thought I would outline what I think is the perfect spec for a tablet PC in the hope one of the manufacturers will get it right at some point.

OS
It pretty much looks like you can discount Windows 7 at this point, unless you’re prepared to put in some serious work to slap a more touch-friendly front-end on it.  Apple will never share their OS and nothing else but Android seems likely to compete at the moment.  So stick with Android, but I’d recommend going with version 3, which is supposed to be better designed for tablets.  You could develop your own, but to compete with the iPad you’re going to need apps, compatibility and integration, which Android already has and your own OS is never going to get.

Size
Manufacturers still seem intent on 7″ (and even 5″) tablets.  Don’t bother, go straight for the sweet spot of 10″.  I’m with Jobs on this one, the smaller ones are a waste of space.  They don’t offer enough screen real estate to be useful and they’re too big to be phones.  Save yourself the failure and focus on the 10″ form factor.  I’ll through weight in here too, the short answer is: as light as possible.

Screen
It needs to be touchscreen, obviously, but it needs to be capacitive touchscreen, not the cheap and nasty resistive type.  It also needs to be bright and clear and offer a high resolution, and by that I mean at least 1024×768, ideally higher, but don’t just try to cram in as many as you can, you need to find a sweet spot otherwise things will be too small for people to ready or interact with.

Battery Life
Another key requirement, eight hours being a minimum and the longer the better.  Once it drops below eight you’re in danger, below six and no one buys it.  Another reason to go with a bigger form factor.

Connectivity
Starting with wireless, I wouldn’t bother with 3G, it’s too slow to be practical and too costly for most people to use regularly.  If you want on-the-go coverage either wait for 4G or do a deal with a major WiFi provider in each country so people can use hotspots.  So, cut costs and just include WiFi only.  If you think you must include 3G, do two versions.

Physical connections would be nice too, I don’t think an HDMI output is a necessity, but a USB port would be good (you could even use it with a 3G dongle if you want to offer that).  Obviously some sort of dock connector/charger is essential.  As Apple, I assume, won’t be licensing the iPod connector anytime soon, I still think the best bet would be for anyone who is not Apple to get together and create a standard, but it’s unlikely that’ll happen so you’re stuck with their proprietary ones, or maybe USB.

A stand (with charger) would be wise and some sort of keyboard connection (even bluetooth) is a must.

Apps
They seem to be a new buzzword.  You’re going to need access to an app store of some sort.  The worry at the moment seems to be that every man and his dog is launching an Android market.  Amazon recently announced they’re stepping into this mess and that may be the way to go.  They have the size, clout and know-how to compete with Apple and they’re also going to be certifying applications in the store.  Having read an article about the various dodgy things done in WordPress themes on free sites, you certainly wouldn’t want a free-for-all where anyone can submit apps without any checking (even if it’s an external app to check them with) (basically, I agree with Andrew Garcia).

Price
And here we come to a clincher and we suddenly see either how much market dominance Apple has of the flash memory market (if you believe the stories) or how unrealistic the other manufacturers are.  I still think the iPad is more expensive than the ideal for tablets.  Especially those from people who are not Apple and don’t offer all they do.  Other manufacturers not only need to beat Apple’s pricing, but by some way.  So I’d be looking for tablets to retail £300-400 (and $300-400).  Most of the current tablets, or those announced at CES that look like they might make it to market sometime in the near future, are anywhere near that, certainly not the ones grabbing headlines.  Yes, you can pick up a Archos 101 for under £300, but running a less-than-ideal version of Android and it doesn’t get rave reviews.

A Samsung Galaxy Tab comes in around £500, even though is sports a much smaller screen.  The Xoom, which looks like it could be a competitor, appears like it will retail for around £700, way too high.  The Asus Eee Pad Transformer doesn’t look too bad with a reputed price of £429.  The Blackberry PlayBook pricing hasn’t been announced yet but doesn’t appear to be too far off the iPad.  Most of the others don’t have prices yet either.

So, the iPad is looking to be fairly competitive when everyone else should be coming in plenty cheaper.  Maybe this will change, but anyone thinking they can charge the same, let alone more, for a tablet may be in for a rude awakening.

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