We're not even at Halloween yet and there are already more new non-laptop/desktop choices now than we've had in quite a while. Microsoft's Surface tablet is out of the secrets bag, Google has introduced an attractive Chromebook for $249 and there's still the Apple iPad mini expected to appear next week. It's all here in time for the holiday shopping season and I'm betting some winners and losers emerge before the end of the year.
Look for the iPad Mini to be a big winner, despite Apple's move to a (yet another) non-standard proprietary connector. The rumor mill of the day has the Mini going between $250 to $300 for a 7.85-inch screen and 8 GB of online storage. Analysts fret that sales of the iPad Mini will cut into standard iPad sales, but given Amazon's push into the tablet market, the name of the game is getting users locked into the iTunes/iCloud content world.
People can still buy their lower margin physical goods via an Amazon app with Apple securing purchases of high-margin content and wiring people into their ecosystem.
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Apple should win big in the "mini" tablet segment because it's got an established name brand, plenty of apps and the iTunes store to feed consumer's desires for on-the-go music, video and books – despite the fact that some of its buyers will curse the company for moving away from the 30-pin connector into a smaller, not-quite-but-looks-like-a-USB connector.
The loser? Google's Chromebook. Google is promoting the Chromebook as the "best computer that's ever been designed" at $249 with a 11.6" display, HDMI 1.4, 16 GB of memory, SD reader, a USB 2.0 and a USB 3.0 port, plus Wi-Fi support through 802.11n. At 2.4 pounds and 0.7 inches thin, it is light and looks sharp, but an 0.3 MP webcam is a little on the weak side, as is 6.5 hours with a full battery charge.
No RJ-45 Ethernet port either, but you should be able to do wire Ethernet.
Chromebooks are very dependent on an always-on Internet connection. That's great if you're in a dorm or a household with Wi-Fi, but the experience starts to go downhill once you start moving out of a known-zone and traveling. Compare and contrast that to the experience one gets with an Android or Apple tablet or phone while traveling, and the Chromebook experience still needs work.
Into the wait-and-see category is the Microsoft Surface tablet and the host of Windows 8 tablets/PC convertibles. Microsoft has embraced touch in a big way across all computing devices, with the Surface tablet one of its rare forays into hardware. For "light" work involving keyboard and mouse-y interaction, the Surface looks to be a big winner over the Apple iPad family and is likely to be very attractive to the enterprise.
But will Surface RT win in the personal/home user category over the iPad? It's a tougher call, due in part to a price closer to Apple's tablet, especially when you start adding in either a thin touch keypad or a bit thicker/heavier one with "real" keys. Microsoft may have a slight edge here if people can actually get their hands on a Surface with the various keyboard cover options, and if Microsoft advertising emphasizes its tablet has standardized ports (HD video, full USB 2.0, microSD slot) that don't require Apple's extra-cost funky connecting frob AND a copy of Microsoft Office RT thrown in.
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