Yesterday was a relatively slow news day in the space we cover until TechCrunch dropped news that they were seeking advice/support/all comers to develop an open source Web Tablet with a hoped for price of $200. Some thought it was a hoax. My buddy Rob doesn’t think they are serious. Some jumped on it as if it were the second coming. Some see it as a great kick in the pants to an industry that keeps ignoring the obvious as they continue to look in the rear view mirror.
I’m in that last camp. I sincerely hope the TechCrunch folks succeed in this. I’d pay up front for the device, sight unseen. But whether Mike, Nick, and their cohorts succeed may be beside the point. I hope everyone else was paying attention to the wave of responses. Here’s why.
In just a relatively short time span since Bill Gates held up the Haiku device at a conference, we’ve seen the small pocketable computer in your pocket become a Holy Grail that has been as frustrating and mythic as that original legend. Microsoft tried and failed with the UMPC. We are still waiting to see if Intel can deliver with its Mobile Internet Device, and in that waiting game there’s an important point to ponder.
When Intel announced the MID concept, it sketched a road map that spanned three years. I remember it well. What we were to see in 2008 was only the beginning. What was to come in 2009 and 2010 was were the MID concept would really pay off. That timetable is important context because what it said between the lines was ““we know you want it, we want to give it to you, but we aren’t there yet.Ã¢â‚¬Â
The fact that this first news of MIDs came wrapped in a Linux package also was big news. Again, between the lines it declared clearly that there has to be a better way than trying to develop a chipset that could handle Microsoft’s bloated code.
And then there’s Apple. While Intel and Microsoft were trying to figure it out, Apple came out with the iPhone and then followed up with the iPod Touch. You can successfully argue that the iPhone is the first real MID on the market, selling right now (well, sorta, kinda if being out of inventory counts).
The game changed all right. But not enough for those who want a truly open system, not locked in and not tied into either Microsoft’s, Apple’s, AT&T’s, Verizon’s, Sprint’s, or name a telcom’s way of doing things. Take a look at those specs and Skype is a big part of what TechCrunch is after when it comes to communication. Break the chains and open up everything. That’s a key theme and a strong undercurrent that is bubbling beneath the surface of all the iPhone hoopla. I think it is also an important one, if not the important one.
Yesterday also brought Apple’s latest financial earnings report and a brief mention of a ““mystery productÃ¢â‚¬Â that some Grail searchers quickly jumped on as the long rumored Apple Tablet. Here we go again with all of that rumor craziness. But I have to think Apple would have delivered if the technology was there, and the protect the prior investment mindset wasn’t.
Here’s the bottom line that the TechCrunch Tablet heralds. This mobile Holy Grail wont appear unless Microsoft, Apple, Intel, VIA, or any of the players are prepared to scuttle years of investment and entrenched thinking and start over from scratch. That’s hard to do and I’m guessing would require wholesale changes on levels we can’t imagine. Do I think that will happen? Not likely. But it can be done.
Asus rocked the world by doing just that with the Eee PC. (Will a vowel ever have as much clout again? I mean, even Dell is calling its come lately attempt the Ã¢â‚¬ËœE’. ) The rest of the world jumped into that swimming pool with all their clothes on trying to follow the crowd. But then, yesterday we started to see the first hints of a re-examination of that rush from Fujitsu. Fujitsu’s concerns had to do with profit margins and that only makes sense. But it points up the fact that the old models don’t jive with what consumers really want, especially now that they’ve had a taste.
Where is this all going? I don’t presume to know. I do hope that the TechCrunch Tablet moves forward and shakes things up though. If we’re ever going to get to the kind of mobile, on-the-go, computing that most, myself included, seem to desire, it is going to require a big shake up and perhaps a shake down or two