The tablet wars have taken a turn for the smaller in recent weeks, with Apple taking aim at gadgets like Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Google’s Nexus 7 with its new iPad mini. But a quiet buzz has developed at CES in Las Vegas this week as several manufacturers are showcasing Windows 8 tablets that are substantially bigger than the iconic iPad. And while some of these upcoming slates may seem laughably large, I think a few of them are likely to find room in the market.
Vizio made headlines this week with an 11.6-inch device that Consumer Reports called the “biggest we’ve seen so far.” Intel took things a step further when it trotted out a slate that can switch screens from 11.6 inches to 13.3 inches, and Panasonic upped the ante demonstrated a 20-inch tablet aimed at business users.
And while devices are scarce regarding pricing and availability of those gadgets, All Things D offered the lowdown on a 27-inch, 17-pound monster from Lenovo. Dubbed the IdeaCentre Horizon, the Windows 8 desktop/tablet hybrid is expected to come to market this summer with an equally hefty price tag of $1,700. The sheer size prompted Gizmodo to call the device “very, really, incredibly silly and dumb,” and Lenovo’s demonstration video doesn’t exactly paint a picture of practicality.
Making the (use) case
But while some of these oversized tablets may not exactly be “mobile” – the IdeaCentre Horizon seems barely portable – it is easy to see where some of them might be superior to, say, the iPad. Lenovo’s gadget could be ideal for family gaming, enabling users to sit around it the way they would a traditional game board. (Lenovo is clearly marketing it as a gaming device, touting its ability to support touch-screen play “among several players.”) And while the iPad isn’t an ideal platform for two or more people to watch video, it’s easy to see how the IdeaCentre could essentially serve as an additional family TV in addition to its computer functionality.
There are other possible scenarios for oversized tablets as well: As Lenovo’s video illustrates, they might be perfect for video calling among multiple family members or business associates. They could serve as digital canvasses and drafting tables, enabling artists, designers, and architects to ply their trades on a next-generation platform. And they seem wells-suited to support the kind of next-generation journalism demonstrated by the New York Times recently with its captivating Snow Fall piece.
Must-haves for oversized tablets
Because they are so much bigger than the iPad, though, these new slates must include some superior features. While they typically won’t need 3G or 4G connectivity, they will need to be as portable as possible – which means they must relatively lightweight and easy to carry, either by hand or in a briefcase or tote bag. Consumer-targeted gadgets will have to be far more rugged than more traditional tablets, and must be water-resistant to be truly family-friendly. They must offer high-quality screens as well as high-resolution cameras for video calls, and they must offer most – if not all – of the functionality of a basic laptop. And they must somehow include all those things at a price that’s closer to $1,000 than $1,700.
Don’t get me wrong: Lenovo’s massive tablet will never find much of an audience at that size and price. But as tablets evolve they’re sure to fill a wide range of sizes and form factors, and that evolution will include the emergence of some larger devices. That’s a trend that is already occurring in smartphones with the success of devices like Samsung’s Galaxy Note, and it’s a trend that will hit tablets beginning this year. App developers and others who deliver content to tablets should be paying very close attention.