The plethora of content available on the Internet has created a Wild West mentality among mobile device manufacturers who are frothing at the bit in a race to deliver the next latest and greatest tool for Internet connectivity. A number of vendors and chip manufacturers are already touting a device they refer to as a smartbook. The question is, what is a smartbook and who needs one?
Well, the answer depends on whom you ask. The response that seems to resonate the best is the one that targets usage and experience first, capabilities second, and nuts and bolts last.
Simply stated, a smartbook design is for people who are living more of their lives online. For example, they connecting to social media, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, as well as, instant messaging and checking email. These users also play games and are interested in hi-definition video and surfing the web. In short, this user type wants an always-connected Internet experience that is more about entertainment or digital content consumption, and less about productivity.
Jeff Orr, senior research analyst at ABI Research suggests that the smartbook is a “concept term” not a product category or a brand. “The primary use for a smartbook is entertainment, gaming, video, sharing and calendaring,” he says.
In contrast he points to the laptop, which is productivity focused and the smartphone, which is communications-centric. Which leads to the next logical question about the smartbook – where does it fit into the existing landscape of mobile devices?
With laptops on one end of the spectrum and smartphones on the other, industry pundits agree that the middle ground is up for grabs. ABI Research refers to this middle ground as Ultra-Mobile Device (UMD) landscape and includes familiar technology such as the Netbook, the Mobile Internet Device (MID), eBook Reader, Media Tablet (such as the Apple iPad), Connected Navigation, SmartPhone and Portable Media Player.
The smartbook concept intersects somewhere between netbook and smartphone as in an always-on device for surfing the Internet. Think of a smartbook as a smartphone without the phone but with a 6-inch to 10-inch (that may vary) screen that accommodates a full Internet browser for an uninterrupted, all day, online experience.
Don’t get hung up on form factor. Depending on the manufacturer expect to see device designs that include clamshell, touch screen/tablet and/or sliding keyboard.
While some smartbook designs may at first glance look like a netbook, this new ultralight mobile device experience is distinctive due to a unique user interface. Lenovo’s Skylight Smartbook, for example, with a 10.1-inch screen and weighing in at under 2lbs, has an custom interface focused on web gadgets and comes with 18 preloaded web gadgets, such as Amazon MP3 and Roxio CinemaNow, GMail, Twitter, and YouTube, for example, and there’s no logging in.
The Skylight is not a PC experience. “It’s all about the web, social networking and rich media while on the go,” says Ninis Samuel, director of Mobile Internet Products at Lenovo.
Similarly, the Compaq AirLife 100, a smartbook concept, is all about the browser and is streamlined for the web, according to Andy Clipsham, product manager for Compaq AirLife 100. Open it up, it’s, connected and online via 3G cellular or Wi-Fi, with up to 12 hours of battery life, VGA webcam, and a customer touch interface. HP eliminated the unnecessary F-row on the 92 percent full-size keyboard and added buttons, at the bottom left of the keyboard, familiar to Android users: Menu and Google Search, and a Quick Launch button. And, the ultra slim profile of smartbooks is possible thanks to a smaller battery that means it runs cool with no fan and its quiet.
The target user for a smartbook is someone in their late teens, college, early 20s and digital enthusiast. “The AirLife 100 offers a good web experience on a larger (10.1-inch) display. Only have a few minutes, open it up, it’s on, read and respond to email, close it and toss it in a knapsack,” says Clipsham.
Mainstream vendors such as HP, Lenovo and Sharp are visible entrants in the worldwide smartbook race with the Compaq AirLife 100, the Skylight and NetWalker PC-Z1, respectively. Newer entrants from design houses like Always Innovating include the Touch Book. Expect to see ASUS, Dell and other design houses introduce smartbooks this year. Apple’s iPad may also be considered a tablet smartbook concept by some.
In short, the list of players is just beginning. According to ABI Research, 163 million smartbooks are expected to ship worldwide in 2015 up from 16 million shipped by year-end 2010.
ARM at the core
It takes getting down to the nuts and bolts of the smartbook to grasp what drives this new mobile experience, and, that’s an ARM processor, the same technology that fires up the mobile phone market. Freescale, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and NVIDIA are vocal proponents of the smartbook concept. The mobile OS of choice for the smartbook is Linux-based. This isn’t a Windows device, like a netbook or Mobile Internet Device (MID) that runs the Intel Atom processor.
Lenovo’s Skylight, for example, utilizes Qualcomm’s Snapdragon ARM processor and runs a customized Skylight OS built on top of a Linux kernel. HP’s Compaq AirLife 100 also uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon platform and the multitasking Android OS, built on the open Linux kernel.
Additional required and defining criteria for the smartbook is both mobile broadband and Wi-Fi. Integrated GPS, while considered a nice add-on is optional. An always on, all fired up device demands a battery life between charges of at a minimum 4+ hours of active use but 8+ hours is recommended.
Think of the smartbook as a new purchase, not replacement device with a recommended price of $200 or less. To help distinguish the smartbook, from the netbook, for example, the marketing channel of choice will be telecommunication partners, such as Telefonica, a company supplying mobile broadband services to markets across Europe and Latin America, and HP’s partner of choice for the Compaq AirLife 100.
Available in late Spring 2010, the AirLife 100 will be sold exclusively through Telefonica, in Spain, Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Columbia, according to HP. Pricing will be determined by the telecommunications operator.
Expect to see subsidized pricing models for the smartbook set by telecommunications partners which is industry player expect will boost momentum of the smartbook concept.
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