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Revealed at last: The tablet

Rory Cellan-Jones | 14:40 UK time, Wednesday, 27 January 2010

No, no, not that one - amidst all the excitement about whatever is going to be revealed later on Wednesday in San Francisco it's important to remember that other tablets are available.

Archos tablet 9So I've just taken delivery of another device which describes itself as "the future of the netbook". It's the Archos 9 pctablet, a good-looking oblong touch-screen device, about the size of a large postcard. It's got wi-fi, bluetooth, a 1.3MP camera - but apparently no sim card slot for a 3G connection.

But here's the question - what's it for? I inserted the battery, turned it on, and was presented with a Windows 7 login screen. After a lot of poking and a little swearing I managed to choose a language by tapping on "I speak English", but then found myself on a page where I was invited to type a username.

It then took me about an hour to work out how to bring up the onscreen keyboard - and finally I was in. But I was greeted by a completely standard PC desktop, with no quick route to interesting multimedia content. So what I appeared to have in my hand was in essence a small computer, without a keyboard, but at a cost of around £450, twice as much as the cheapest netbooks. So, I ask again - what's it for?

The problem with the Archos and similar fully-featured devices is they can do too much - all those traditional computing activities with a bit of extra multimedia thrown in. There are other tablets - like Amazon's Kindle or Sony's Reader - which limit themselves to a couple of tasks and therefore appear to succeed in fulfilling an unmet need.

I have a suspicion that a device unveiled later tonight will do a bit more than the Kindle but somewhat less than the Archos - and will be better-looking and more user-friendly than either. Its creators will still need to explain what it's for - and why millions of people might need it.

But some are already looking beyond the physical device as a means of accessing the internet or multimedia content. Robert Scoble has an interesting post today about a company we featured a couple of weeks ago, Cambridge's Light Blue Optics. Their technology turns any flat surface into a touch-screen device. Apple may give us a glimpse of the near future - but others are looking even further ahead.


  • Comment number 1.

    hang on, shouldn't Maggie be covering this - after all, it was her blog that went on and on and on and on about it before it came out? Or is she going to do one as well?

    YAWN. Now, where's that Ubuntu review?

  • Comment number 2.

    /oops, should have read the entire post lol
    i blame the internet for my inability to be bothered reading stuff before commenting. Ahem.

    Anyway, sounds nice but Windows 7? Gah.

  • Comment number 3.

    Gah. You tease.

    Now get hold of a Nokia N900 for a few days and see how it should be done :-)

  • Comment number 4.

    Let's hope it is not just an over-sized iPhone, not that would be disappointing.

  • Comment number 5.

    Archos is making the same mistake that all windows tablets will make by assuming that the battle here is about hardware.

    Any windows based tablet trying to run standard Windows 7 without some attention to a friendlier user interface is doomed.

  • Comment number 6.

    You know what would be good??

    A tablet with just the internet. then you could download what software you wanted from who you want etc etc.

    The majority of software is never used by most people. They go on the web and thats it.

    I will probaly get shot down for mt simple point of view, but, if you keep it simple, there is less to go wrong..................

  • Comment number 7.

    A friend of mine showed me some youtube videos about the Microsoft Courier which seems to be a genuinely great idea - a double touchscreen book/tablet with software specifically designed for the hardware.

    No idea what's going on with that though...

  • Comment number 8.

    Whats wrong with using a full OS? You can install/run any software you already own, not having to buy it again.
    Shortcuts on the desktop to an Internet browser and common applications is not going to be too difficult to setup/use.

  • Comment number 9.

    Archos is making the same mistake that all windows tablets will make by assuming that the battle here is about hardware.

    Indeed; to expand slightly on my mention of the N900, Nokia have been running a line of 'Internet Tablets' with a custom Operating System (it's Linux based, but the UI is all new) for some years now on a small scale, and the N900 is the beginning of them taking it more mainstream. It can do all the usual things (camera, bluetooth, WiFi, music, video, twitter....), has a pretty fast 3G connection, has it's own App Store (though, to be fair, that's pretty embryonic at the moment) and allows the user to install any software they want, which has allowed a vibrant community scene to grow.

    As well as actually being a rather good device right now, the openness of the N900 allows the potential for all sorts of innovation - it's already the best platform to run the new Mobile Firefox on, and it has excellent native VOIP support. The contrast to the locked-down stifling control of the iPhone couldn't be starker.

  • Comment number 10.

    Is it not more a question of software, rather than the hardware - in the same way that Visicalc made it worth buying an Apple II back in the 80's.

    New hardware allows software developers to present information in different ways, and to provide a more intuitive way of manipulating that information than more traditional means.

    The success therefore lies not with the hardware, but the software written for it.

  • Comment number 11.

    No multitasking available which limits it's ability somewhat. And it certainly is NOT the best browsing experience, there is no Flash. Still. In fact I don't see a lot of appeal in it unless you are complete 'Applaphile'.. (a new word? I'm gonna copyright it before Apple do but I'll probably get sued for it for violating a patent...(!)). Anyway, Whist $499 seems pretty cheap, that will translate to £399 here. And that is with extremely limited functionality. For this type of device 64gb storage space is the absolute minimum and 3G is an absolute must. $829 for the whole lot? Are they mad???? Granted my netbook only has a standard 1024x768 TFT 10.1" LCD screen and a keyboard - but for £300 I got both WiFi and 3.5G as standard! And multitasking to boot!

    In terms of OS, this seems remarkably similar to what Google are doing right now with their Chrome OS but I suspect multitasking will be possible and that the OS will be more of a web-centric device AND will more than likely feature a browser that supports Flash.

    So if you really want a tablet PC with muscle and multitasking, HP's or Archos' offering with Google Chrome OS (or perhaps even Ubuntu mobile offering), would probably be the best combination....

  • Comment number 12.

    Is that IT?

  • Comment number 13.

    At least this tablet has a proper operating system. But im still not sure what these tablet things are actually for.. Even more so the iPad, that truly is a piece of junk that answers a question no one asked.

  • Comment number 14.

    Rory - You asked who these devices are for. I am probably one of the few people who have been looking for such a touchscreen device with no keyboard, so let me explain why!

    I vision I had was to use such a device the centre of a "digital home" to use a worn out term. I saw it as a browser for my music/pictures stored elsewhere in my house so that I could use it to select songs and playlists for any stereo in the house or to browse through pictures on my flat screen TV (I am a keen photographer). I would then have the bonus of being able to browse the internet in the lounge too. All in a form factor much less intrusive and smaller than a laptop, i.e. something you could easily leave on a shelf in the lounge without it looking out of place but could curl on the sofa with when you wanted to browse Facebook or catch up on the news. Much more acceptable than opening a laptop each time I want to change a playlist.

    However, sadly for me the Archos doesn't meet my criteria as it does not support the ability to interact with DLNA technology which would allow me to use the TV and stereo as "Play to" devices. Unfortunately this is only available in the more expensive versions of Windows 7 so a sale lost to Archos. I will keep looking and will follow with interest how the new Apple device interacts with other devices.

  • Comment number 15.

    At least this tablet is less defective by design than the Apple one, I'd imagine.

    For something nowhere near as sexy but none the less important for it's complete lack of restrictiveness (Is that a word?) there's this that is out/due out soon.

  • Comment number 16.

    It's amusing how the anti-apple crowd moan about Apple getting so much coverage on here, and when confronted with a story about a device from another company, can't talk about anything other than Apple! Judging from the usual moaning I'd have thought the chance to talk about the Archos tablet would be welcomed.

    As for the Archos, I don't find it as appealing as the iPad. The main problem is that it runs Windows 7. I used to think that a tablet running a full OS would be great, but it's one of those concepts that is better in concept than reality. The OS must be adapted to allow for the different form factor if it is going to be great to use. This is what Apple generally get right, more often than anyone else. When the rumours about the iPad started I initially hoped for a full version of OSX, but I came to realise that an expanded version of the iPhone OS (a kind of cut-down OSX) is actually the best route to take for usability. Whether I will buy one or not is something I don't know at the moment. The fact that it will run all of my existing iPhone apps (either in a window to keep the same resolution as the iPhone or blown-up to full-screen) is a big plus as it does mean not having to buy new versions. Having iWork would be nice too. No doubt the negative points will be highlighted by the time it becomes available to buy but first signs for me are positive.

  • Comment number 17.

    Looks like you were right. The only thing I don't like about the iPad is that it seems the iBookstore is US only for the time of launch.

  • Comment number 18.

    Overall the iPad is disappointing - it's not a giant iPhone, it's a giant iPod Touch.

    Now I love my 64GB Touch, but apart from fat finger syndrome (unless you're a newborn baby) on the tiny onscreen keyboard, the iPad really doesn't offer enough to tempt me to pay that much. (And UK pricing will be the usual Apple extortion.)

    Sure, a large screen will be great for watching movies and reading, but how on earth are you going to protect that giant screen? The Touch slips into a pocket, or a neat little case, but this new ultragadget is gonna lose a lot of its touchy-feely-looky appeal if you have to stash it in a case.

    And the lack of 3G severely limits connectivity. Ho hum, at least I can spend my money on something else.

  • Comment number 19.

    There are models that include 3G capability. I expect the networks will use that to force you into taking on a separate contract though, so personally I'd probably just go for a non-3G version.

  • Comment number 20.

    Thanks JN, I suffer from the same inability to read everything before commenting as badger_fruit.

    So there are models with 3G, but it's not a phone - it's for data only. Gotcha.

    You're still gonna need very deep and very wide pockets to keep this baby safe...

  • Comment number 21.

    AndyWard - yes, that's exactly what I've been looking for for several years! I don't want a remote-controlled interface on the TV just to browse and play my music collection (catalogued how I want it, not just by artist/album/genre) through my hi-fi as that is awkward, I want a touch interface in my hand. Similarly playing movies/videos - I want to browse at the settee and then have videos play on the TV. With all the MP3 players and media centre-type applications that are around, no manufacturer has yet got to grips with a client-server type system. uPnP and DLNA are a good step forward in terms of control but they still have limitations with regard to cataloguing and browsing. The best that can be done at the moment is to use some sort of remote-desktop software on a hand-held device to control another computer but it is not seamless and you require software on a server PC that can handle multiple monitors, zones etc. The iPad is now the right form factor, but it's only a large iPod Touch and still requires the software to make it work. All manufacturers have completely missed the home automation market and are concentrating on, well you can browse the web with this and send email, read books, play music and video on it etc, but what makes it stamd out from a netbook or ordinary laptop?

  • Comment number 22.

    So now that we've got this pointless device that will appeal to few people out of the way can we have a story about the quite remarkable turnaround in Nokia's fortunes?

    You know, the company that just increased its smartphone share from 35% to 40% of the world market?

  • Comment number 23.

    I work in a large university as a computing officer. This morning, I was at a meeting and the table was split 50/50 iPhone users and Apple afficianados against non believers like myself. On making gentle enquiry about the iPad, the Apple users all made many and varied negative comments. The rest of us looked on in amazement and kept our mouths shut. It would seem that Apple have managed to turn their regular customers off with this product. My own opinion, not worth much mind, is that it will sell but only to the very well off and the top of the range Apple geeks.

  • Comment number 24.

    If I understand correctly, one of the purposes of these tablet devices is to act as ebook readers.

    All very fine and dandy.

    But as far as I can see, the real problem with ebook readers is not the hardware, but the software. There are 3 big problems with ebooks, one of which is easily solved, the other 2 of which I predict will prevent ebooks going mainstream for a good many years to come.

    1. There are still a great many books available only in hard copy. That's easy to solve. Any book that's been published in the last 25 years or so should easily be available electronically, and conversion to ebook format should follow naturally as the user base increases.

    2. Price. One of the supposed advantages of ebooks is it cuts out all the printing and distribution costs. So why the hell do ebooks usually cost more than the printed book? While that's still true, I see no incentive whatsoever to waste my money on a device that's primarily for ebooks.

    3. DRM. I can see why publishers want to do it, but they need to remember that it doesn't make life easier for their customers. If I buy a DRM protected book, I have to jump through hoops to activate it, and jump through even bigger and more tedious hoops if I want to read an ebook on more than one device (or maybe I can't even do it at all). To me as a customer, DRM doesn't add any value whatsoever, and actually makes my life harder. Publishers need to realise that DRM is for their benefit, and not for the benefit of their customers. If anyone at the publishing companies has been to marketing school, they should be able to figure out which of the following 2 options makes the best business sense in the long run: a) doing things to make your life easier, or b) doing things to make your customers' life easier.

    No don't get me wrong. I'm no luddite. I love gadgets. In fact Mrs Disgusted has often been known to refer to me as "Inspector Gadget". However, until I can buy ebooks more cheaply than printed books and don't find myself inconvenienced by DRM, I'll stick to printed books thank you very much.

  • Comment number 25.

    Ha ha, all you people wondering what it (and the iPad) is for... the reason you can't see it is simply because you're not the target market. You are all journalists, web developers, IT pro's, or just ordinary geeks. In a word, you're content CREATORS. But millions of people don't create content for the web, they just CONSUME it. As such, they don't need an expensive laptop or desktop that does lots of cool stuff: they just want something that lets them surf, send emails, read, listen, or watch, and possibly download. These devices are for them, and they will revolutionise the way content is created. In less than 2 years, all you developers criticising these devices now will be creating or adapting content for them as a matter of course.

    Re: DRM. I work for a small publisher. We only publish books in small print runs, primarily because we can't afford to print 50,000 copies and make a profit after all the big distribution companies and shops have taken their cut. So we're interested in eBooks, as a means to widen our readership. But a book still costs money to produce: it has to be designed and typeset and proofread, even without printing and paper costs. And of course, the author needs to be paid. The problem is, once it's in digital format, it only takes one person to make it available as a pirated copy, and all that hard work and potential income is lost. If we were HarperCollins, we could probably absorb that loss, as the million hard copies we sell would more than compensate. But for all us smaller publishers, you could be talking about more pirated copies than hard copies being available. You talk of making life easier for the consumer, and I agree up to a point, but we don't want to make life easier for the pirate too: anything less would kill us. DRM may not be the best answer, but until something better comes along, it will have to do. Without a means to protect the income of small companies like us, we'd all go to the wall, and only the massive publishers would survive. Would you want to live in a world that is dominated only by a handful of huge corporations that dictate what is available to read?

  • Comment number 26.


    I'm well aware of the costs to produce a book, particularly for niche books that are never going to be selling the millions of copies that make recouping production costs easy (I'm a published author and Mrs Disgusted is an editor with many years experience of publishing books). However, all that design and typesetting and proofreading has to be done on the printed version as well. I can understand if some books seem pricey, and don't mind paying a lot of money for a book if I think it's worth it, but I really can't understand why an ebook should ever be more expensive than a printed book.

    I sympathise with your thoughts on DRM, but ultimately that's your problem. For me as a consumer, DRM is still a pain, and I won't be buying ebooks while DRM is the norm. You as a publisher can do 3 things with that information. You can stick with DRM and hope that people like me are in a minority and that it won't matter if we don't buy your ebooks. You can abandon DRM and hope that you won't suffer from significant loss of sales from copyright infringement. Or you can try to be creative and figure out some other way of protecting your copyright without annoying your customers. Entirely up to you.

  • Comment number 27.

    I too don't understand why an ebook should be more expensive than a printed copy. But then I've never, ever, seen one that is. Every single ebook (where there is a hard copy alternative) I've ever seen has been significantly lower in price, sometimes as much as 90% less. If you're paying such high prices, you're shopping in the wrong stores.

    And as for protecting from copyright infringement, as long as digital goods are as easy to transfer as emails, there has to be some way of protecting them. You presumably don't object to methods of preventing you stealing goods from shops, so why should you object to the same online? Sadly, while I do believe most people are honest and honourable, the activities of the minority force us to restrict the activities of the majority. Most people don't pirate hard copy books because it's simply too much trouble, and takes time and expense. But pirating an eBook takes a few clicks and less seconds, so more people do it; and because it's so easy, even people who would never steal any physical object will still do it. As I said, until something better than DRM comes along, we are stuck with it. Admittedly, "weak" DRM is better than "strong" DRM, for the consumer: if you buy a text/eBook, you should have some freedom as to what to do with it. But there are always going to be some limitations, not least the eventual obsolescence of the device you have to read it on. Hence the low price of eBooks: it's not merely a reflection of lower production costs, but also of the shelf-life. Frankly, I don't understand the gripes I've read from some bloggers who complain they've lost a book they only paid 5 or 10 dollars for: they'd spend more than that on beer, and if the book is that important to them, they'd buy a hard copy anyway. Most eBooks available are generally ones that will be read only once or twice anyway: the digital equivalent of your local charity shop's stock. Only a fool would buy an eBook they intended as a work of reference for years and years. The small price you pay (or should be paying) is not really to own the book forever, but for the convenience of reading it right now in that format, just as you pay less for a DVD than you do for the full-blown cinema experience, and even less to watch it on terrestrial TV.

    And no, I don't have to be creative about coming up with an alternative to DRM: I'm a publisher, not a developer or programmer. You're talking to the wrong guy. So it's not "ultimately my problem": we will continue to protect the copyright and income of our authors and staff, by the best means available, and that's the right, moral, and proper thing to do. Rather, it's your problem as a consumer: some protection will always exist, whether by DRM or something better in the future, so you choose whether to accept it or go without.

  • Comment number 28.

    You really need to talk to your marketing guys. If customers choose not to buy your product, than that most definitely is your problem.

  • Comment number 29.

    Re the prices of ebooks: maybe I am shopping in the wrong stores (well, looking in the wrong stores, because I'm not shopping at all). Can you recommend somewhere that sells ebooks cheaper than printed books?

    I've just had a look at Waterstones. The first book in pride of place on their ebooks page is Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol", at £13.59. It's available in hardback for £11.39. The next most prominent one is JD Robb's "Fantasy in Death", £10.39 for ebook or £6.99 for paperback.

    Mind you, I probably wouldn't buy either of those. More to my taste would be Andrew Ross Sorkin's "Too big to fail", £12.24 for ebook or £8.99 for paperback.

  • Comment number 30.

    Oh, and one more thing:

    "Only a fool would buy an eBook they intended as a work of reference for years and years."

    Well, I agree that as things are at the moment, only a fool would buy an ebook. However, it seems to me that one of the advantages of ebooks, at least in theory, is that I should be able to keep one for years and years without any deterioration in quality, torn pages, etc. If I have a file electronically, I can make sure it's securely backed up and then I can keep it for ever, and know that it will always be identical to the condition it was in on the day I bought it.

    Of course, if the DRM means that I can't back it up, then that rather defeats the point.

  • Comment number 31.

    @28, 29, 30.
    This is turning into a private conversation LOL. But as both a producer of books and a consumer of books, I'm disgusted at the prices you quoted. If I'm selling a hardback book for £12.00, the digital version would be something around £2.50. But the lion's share of the price of any book goes to distributors: they will demand up to 60% of the cover price. Then the bookshop takes a cut. The author will get around 20%, leaving the dregs for the publisher. At least, that's how it works for paper versions. For digital, you don't really need to go to bookshops: cut out the middleman (and their profit) and see if the publisher allows direct downloads at a cheaper price. If they don't, it might mean they're tied into a distribution deal they can't get out of. I have to say I completely disagree with the idea that you should pay more for an eBook: what you're actually buying doesn't really exist, and so the price should reflect that. You're buying the convenience to read it right now, that's all.

    I think the mistake you (and many others) are making is to assume that "digital" somehow means "forever". It doesn't. It's more ephemeral than paper. I have books at home that were printed over 200 years ago. I also have digital files on disks, produced less than a decade ago, that I no longer possess the technology to access. So the question of choice (rather than a "problem") that a consumer makes is whether to buy a version of the text that will last (and pay more), or buy a 'read once-or-twice only' copy.

    The industry is still coming to terms with digitalisation, much like the music business. For example, I spent a fortune buying records on vinyl in the 60's and 70's. Then I spent another fortune buying the same music again on CD. Suddenly, I'm now expected to spend another fortune turning my favourite songs into MP3's? I think it would be better if I was able to buy a license to own particular songs/albums, which covered a variety of, and all future, formats. Perhaps the same idea would work for books?

    But that still doesn't solve the problem of potentially being pirated... until that's solved to the author's, the publisher's, and the consumer's satisfaction, the real book is definitely not dead!

  • Comment number 32.


    Sorry Graphis, but even as a simple consumer orientated device it hardly changes the rules of the game.

    -Overpriced for one thing.
    -Multitasking is not possible.
    -And Jobs described it as the best browsing experience ever??

    I beg to differ. For example, go to the Disney or CNN websites on your iPhone. You will get the same 'best browsing experience' on the iPad. 3G IS a must for this type of device to increase the flexibilty of connectivity to ensure that the iPad is most useful to it's fullest extent.

    Until these issues are addressed, then this device couldn't even hope to even compete with the Netbook market,let alone obliterate it as much as Jobs wants... A rough diamond I think, and in this case I really do think Apple needs to get back to the drawingboard.

  • Comment number 33.


    "I think the mistake you (and many others) are making is to assume that "digital" somehow means "forever". It doesn't. "

    True, but that's mainly because of the DRM that the publishers choose to add, which hobbles the longevity of the format. Digital could last for a very long time if publishers didn't purposefully stop it being that way.

    Anyway, glad to see you share my disgust at the current prices of ebooks. It'll be interesting to see if they come down to the sort of prices you (and I!) think they should be as the technology becomes more common.

  • Comment number 34.

    I can't disagree with you Ross, it certainly isn't the perfect device... yet. But neither were the iPod and iPhone in their first incarnations either. But by the third or fourth generation, I'm confident it will be the device of choice for millions who don't require the full capabilities of a laptop. I'm also confident that the demand for Flash will increase, and added to the demand for Flash on the iPhone, will force Apple to change their business model, which will then ensure that it really does offer the "best browsing experience".

    It's not DRM which hobbles the longevity: longevity simply isn't there, given the speed at which technology changes. How many people have a great film on video that hasn't come out on DVD yet? The video might still be perfectly viewable, but hardly anyone has a VHS player any more. I've still got vinyl records that were never released on CD, let alone made it to MP3. Playstation 1 games are unplayable on Playstation 3, only 2 generations later. The eBook you buy today may not be readable on the devices of the future, and so the expectation that you are getting something that may last a long time is false.

    DRM is meant to hobble the pirates: what we really need is a system that only causes difficulties for the individuals who try to pirate it, and yet is completely unnoticeable to the ordinary reader.

  • Comment number 35.


    There is absolutely no reason why digital copies can't last for many years, or even decades. It's true, however, that you have to be careful about the format. I doubt that I could read some of the essays I wrote as an undergraduate on an Amstrad word-processsor. However, I can still read the electronic copy of my PhD thesis, which is now nearly 20 years old and exists in Microsoft Word format (version 4 for the Mac, still readable by modern versions of Word).

    The best formats we currently have for long-term storage of documents are plain text and pdf. Plain-text, admittedly, would be lousy for an ebook. pdf, however, would be perfectly OK. Maybe some proprietary ebook format would be better, and that format might well be transient and hard to find anything to read it on 10 years from now.

    However, it would be easy enough to export the ebook format to a pdf so that I'd have something for the long term. But I expect I wouldn't be able to, because the DRM would stop me.

    I totally agree with your last sentence: "what we really need is a system that only causes difficulties for the individuals who try to pirate it, and yet is completely unnoticeable to the ordinary reader". The trouble is that DRM is painfully noticeable to the ordinary reader, for all the reasons I've described above and more. You mentioned earlier that I wouldn't object to a shop that takes security measures to prevent people nicking things. In most cases, indeed I wouldn't. However, DRM is more like going into a shop and having to spend half an hour being frisked by the security guard on your way out of the shop.

    I totally understand all the arguments about protecting intellectual property, but one of the main things for me as a consumer is I like things to be simple and easy to use. For that reason, I don't buy anything with DRM.


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