Jan 11

Attack of the vapor tablet

In his column this morning, Philip Elmer-DeWitt lists 101 iPad challengers seen at CES earlier this month.

Obviously, most won’t be around by next year’s CES. But Toshiba’s entry not only comes with a cool website, it comes with an attitude. Try accessing it with your iPhone or iPad and you get this message:

Such a shame. Add this to the list of interesting places on the Internet you can’t see on your device. Of course, if you had a Toshiba Tablet, you would enjoy the entire Internet. Yep, Flash sites too.

Then again, if you had a Toshiba Tablet, you’d be living in an alternate reality where this device was actually shipping. It’s coming “sometime this spring.”

But kudos to whoever built this site, because it really is nicely done. It starts off with a spirited video presenting a list of mouthwatering features. This resolves to a home page that is equally well done, in which you can poke around to learn more about each feature.

Why on earth would anyone buy an iPad when they could have one of these? Well, there are a few reasons — most of which stem from that little “nonexistence” issue.

Problem #1 is that Toshiba’s track record in tablets isn’t exactly stellar. Which is a gentlemanly way of saying that last time out, they completely soiled their nest.

Just last September, Toshiba proudly announced their Folio 100 Android tablet in Europe. It was an Android tablet that, astonishingly, would not work with Google apps. So it couldn’t connect with the Android Market. Nor could it run Flash. It only worked with the Toshiba Marketplace, which as you can imagine, looks like one of those desolate Old West towns with tumbleweeds blowing through. To top it off, the Folio 100 was embarrassingly huge and unwieldy.

So now Toshiba is back, hoping to wipe the slate clean. But they aren’t exactly instilling us with confidence. Start with the name. Or, more appropriately, lack thereof. “Toshiba Tablet,” it is reported, is only a placeholder. While the other iPad killers at CES were demoing their hearts out under their true monikers, Toshiba is sticking to “Tablet” until they’re good and ready. One can only imagine the debate going on back at HQ on that score.

More worrying is that fact that, unlike other major models that showed up at CES, the Toshiba Tablet was only running Android 2.2 — which automatically makes it second-fiddle to iPad. Supposedly, that too will change.

Still, the website makes the specs sound tempting. Here are the main points from the site’s opening video, with a few editorial comments thrown in.

Meet the Toshiba Tablet (but really, we’ll rename it later)
Powered by Android-TM (send for the Taste Police — that TM is way horsey)
10.1 Inch Screen (okay)
16:10 High Resolution Display (great format, but why do I suspect it isn’t quite Retina-quality)
Stereo Speakers (I’m with ya)
5 Megapixel Rear Facing Camera (cool — iPad 2 is rumored only to have a 2-megapixel camera here)
2 Megapixel Front Facing Camera (don’t they have hyphens in the Toshiba world?)
The Full Web – Even Flash (sorry, but not once have I wished I had Flash on my iPad)
Long-Lasting, Replaceable Battery (with Flash, you’ll probably need that extra battery) (Oh, there’s a hyphen — I feel better now)
3 Ports: mini-USB, HDMI, USB (sweet)

At this point, the features are reprised, with Five Colors thrown in. Nice extra touch, but let’s reserve judgment until these things ship, just to make sure they aren’t Zuning us with brown.

The video closes with line: The Perfect Sum of All its Parts.

Like that moment in the movie where the villain unwittingly unmasks himself, this is the moment when I saw Toshiba’s true colors. The expression they’re trying to echo is “greater than the sum of its parts.” Every device on earth is the sum of its parts — but that doesn’t mean you’ll love using it. 15 million people have been seduced by iPad because iOS makes it feel like something more.

With a little luck, Toshiba will get their unnamed Tablet out the door before iPad 2 is launched — when, as usual, the bar will be raised higher.

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  • George

    Why has it become acceptable to define the “entire internet” or the “full web” as “most W3C web standards plus Flash?” If you are going to include the Flash plugin in the definition of “entire internet,” don’t you have to include all other plugins such as Silverlight?

  • neilw

    I’m curious about your take on the idea that the ad thumbs its nose at a potentially large pool of customers. By making the meat of the site inaccessible to iOS users, they prevent those users from actually seeing what they’re missing. And, just for good measure, they poop on them in the process.

    Or have they completely written off iOS users?

    Should also mention that a pretty good fraction of other mobile device users can’t view the Flash either.

    Don’t get it.

  • I had an iPad for Christmas, and I only miss Flash when opening Google Analytics for my domain (I could pay for some app to do it, but I just don’t want to do it, heck, I could write a JS page scraping the analytics API). The iPad is amazing… and I guess all these iPad killers will end where all these iPod killers are. I rarely see anyone listening music in something which is not an smartphone or an iPod as of late (you could count me as one if you catch me listening music in my NanoNote, but this is not the usual device, I have an iPod Touch), the iPad is bound to do the same thing to tablets: bring all others to oblivion.

  • ken segall

    Yeah, that part made me scratch my head a bit too. I’d say that Toshiba’s decision to tweak the iOS users on their site is 50% “forget those guys, they’re a lost cause” and 50% “hey, here’s a cool idea!” Some agencies and/or clients just get enamored with an idea and fail to think it through.

  • bmovie

    1. Taunt the the intelligent;
    2. over-promise; then under-deliver
    and you tarnish everything you produce.

    …not really worth bringing this tablet to market.

  • lrd

    Can it connect to iTunes?

    You know millions of songs, audible books, movies, videos, podcasts, etc.? With seamless integration?

    Does it have iBooks? Millions of gorgeous books.

    Will it have 60,000 plus native apps?

    A full blown word processor, excel & spreadsheet programs?

    Will it have a massive eco-system to connect to?

    I doubt it. Keep it.

  • Resolution is listed as 1280 x 800. So not really high resolution at all.

  • Fring

    From Daring Fireball- lop off the apple.html from the URL and you get a nice pure HTML mobile site.

  • John

    These tablets say they support Flash yet when tested lots of Flash content doesn’t work. It seems that supporting Flash means they play movies presented by Flash.

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