Over the years I’ve come up with odd projects for myself. It started during my first retirement when I got into astronomy and very quickly astrophotography. Incredible astrophotographical images come from both skill and equipment and I was fortunate to learn from some really great amateurs. But I decided to take my own path, to see what’s the best images that I could develop using the smallest investment. Instead of using dedicated astronomical imaging equipment I used consumer digital cameras and webcams. I quickly found I enjoyed the challenge. So now with my iPad an integral part of my life, I thought it was time to see what I could do with an inexpensive Android platform. So while making a prediction that tablet computers will change the way we work with computers may be a me too, I have a new tipping point.
See for me the internet boom really started when construction workers started talking about web commerce. It was the point at which I thought things had gone mainstream. And while iPads may be a hot consumer tablet and Samsung, Motorola and HTC bash it out for the hottest Android tablet, it’s Coby Kyros that is going to make it mainstream. Actually they have help from Amazon with it’s Appstore. Only a few months ago reporters were laughing at the fact that these devices would not have access to the Android Marketplace. As if on cue enter the Amazon Appstore to solve the problem. Do we finally have the first sub-$100 computer? With Walgreens and CVS selling these devices at sale prices, I almost have to say yes.
Now let me make sure I say this. A Coby Kyros will not sway users that were going to buy an iPad or a Galaxy, but we’re not the majority. Believe it or not there’s a lot of people that still don’t have internet in their homes. Don’t believe me go visit your local public library where you’ll see people there with their $400 laptops checking their email using free WiFi. And it’s not even those people that will be the sweet spot of the market. It is for those that didn’t see a reason to spent money on email and want to play around with it. We’re about to be swamped with a whole new category of users and I wonder if we are ready for it.
About the Marketplace
The interesting part about Android to a lot of people was the open architecture that it offered. Especially as it was device manufacturer independent. Not only is the development but porting the Android platform is free to. What I think a lot of us missed was that this was all about the marketplace. Each device vendor must negotiate access to the Android Market. Of course there are “hacks” to getting Android Market installed, but lets stay in the non-hack world. These negotiations are quiet but it is not hard to imaging that they would have pushed Coby and Sylvania out of the game. Instead these devices came pre-installed with the alternative AppsLib.
AppsLib was the only alternative. It’s focus was to create a larger community that didn’t require the same levels of agreement that Google does. Their marketplace does not require certification of applications. It does allow applications be labeled “Approved” once they have meet some specific requirements. But mostly there was no cost for device manufacturers to install the marketplace application. But new apps were slowly being added to the AppsLib. But everything changed last Monday.
Amazon opened its marketplace Amazon Appstore. Amazon has similar rules to Google but does not require devices to license the marketplace. And as of Friday there were 5,100 apps in the Appstore. Based on numbers I’ve seen reported this could already make Amazon the 2nd largest Android app marketplace. Being that is is Amazon, you can expect the library to continue to grow. Soon the only apps you will not be able to buy from Amazon are those written by Google. (Today you can get all the Amazon Apps on Google.)
So What Can/ Can’t You Do for Under $100
I have played with the On Laptop Per Child’s Sugar architecture. It is interesting but when I look at the concept of making computers accessible to all with a $100 laptop, I see Android as the reality. As more and more apps publish both on Google and Amazon marketplaces, tablets will offer basic laptop functionality. As of today, in addition to being able to access my email and search the web (out of the box functionality), I’m reading books with Amazon’s Kindle eReader, accessing my files with Box.net, checking blog statistics and am mastering Angry Birds Rio. I can even plug in a full size USB keyboard and attach an external HDMI monitor. Granted I can do that with my iPad but now I can do it for $400 less.
What I can’t do is take pictures. The device also does not include a GPS nor does it offer wireless connectivity with Bluetooth. The app library is missing some key apps. I haven’t found a document authoring tool yet nor is Skype available. But I don’t see those apps as being far away. WiFi only is another limitation but the acceess to free public WiFi is surprising. For me it’s a great second tablet. For others it can be more.
How Sub $100 Tablets are More
As I said before, sub $100 tablets open a whole new world and I see this in two ways. First off are those individuals for whom a $500 computer is a stretch as are $100+ unitaskers like eReaders. Families on a budget can now have access to basic computing on their own device using WiFi connections. By being a multitasker it also brings electronic textbooks closer to reality offering additional functionality. There are also several other scenarios where low-cost computing could bring benefits. How many times have you had a conversation with someone wanting a table but they find their at a price they can not afford?
The other side is situations where usage of the device would be less than ideal. Granted I sway away from being “connected” when I go camping, but I can see a case where the $100 tablet could be used outdoors. Construction sites where there is some potential for damage is another scenario. Cases where theft may be an issue like hospital admissions become much more practical. Being less expensive will drive tablet experimentation. How many of us would love to expirement with an traditional tablet at work but know that they could never get the $500 investment through the budget?
When Linus Torvalds first wrote the Linux kernel, he had a vision for it’s future. I’m not sure he saw it spreading as wide as it did. Yes Linux run desktops and servers but it’s also used to show video from your TiVo at home and in-flight entertainment systems. The use of Android will do the same thing to the user interface. Our end-user devices and the way we use them will change. I’ll offer some scenarios in the future.