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Dell Streak and Others Could be Competitors to the Apple iPad

The Apple iPad is a very well designed and executed device. As I’m writing this it just passed 2M unit sales in 2 months – most PCs and cell phones can’t come close to those numbers. In fact one analyst effectively believes it will pass the Mac by year end. On the other hand, for those folks that like the Kindle and are focused on books, it simply isn’t good enough, but the Kindle is a one trick pony and the iPad should easily pass it in total sales by the end of the year as a result. The product we are waiting for is one that combines the iPad’s multimedia/app functionality with the Kindle’s eBook features and, I would argue, isn’t tied to either Apple or Amazon. Both have content limitations and neither have everything you want to read or watch. While the small 2nd generation Kindle is closer to the ideal sub $200 price point for this class, both products remain too expensive to penetrate the market broadly yet.

The Pandigital Novel and Dell Streak were announced last week and I there was more to look at during the SID (display) conference as well. Let’s talk about how a blend of these products (once they arrive) might result in a better solution than either the iPad or Kindle is today.

Dell Streak

I’ve been using the Dell Streak on and off since February and have come to love its 5” form factor. The reason it is better than a 7” or 10” form factor is you can carry it without a purse or small bag. It’s large enough to be unique, but still small enough to fit in a jacket or pants pocket.

Unlike the iPad and Kindle it has full phone service so I only have to pay for one data plan and qualify for a subsidy potentially dropping it eventually into the iPhone sub $200 range. I read my first eBook on an iPad back in the day and the experience wasn’t bad. Granted I’d prefer a larger display, but a larger display sitting on my nightstand or desk does me no good if I want to read a book while on the road.

So think of the Dell Streak as a better iPhone that does a number of iPad things better and likely a good alternative to an iPad + iPhone purchase particularly for someone that likes the Android platform.

Pandigital Novel

This is a 7” product and while it doesn’t have phone features, its retail price is under $200 and fits within the target selling price without subsidy. It uses Wi-Fi for connectivity and that means no recurring data charge but it likely should be coupled with a mobile hotspot (we’ll get to that later). Like the Streak, the Android platform will have both Amazon and Barnes & Noble readers on it shortly (as does the iPad) and the display is tuned for reading so it should be easier on the eyes than ether the iPhone or iPad is for that purpose. $200 is a vastly easier risk to take in a class of product that will change rapidly over the next 18 months than $600 is and we all aren’t as rich as Steve Jobs.

Think of it more as a tablet that is more affordable, more portable, and better for reading than the iPad and you’ve got a concept of this device. Overall the Android platform is very interesting to watch at the moment as interesting new devices seem to be gravitating to it.

Qualcomm Mirasol Display

As I mentioned at the outset, I was at the SID conference last week and got to see a number of amazing things from a gun mounted pico projector from Microvision that lets you game anyplace, to large scale TV size touch displays from elo. But what really stood out was Qualcomm’s Mirasol Display because it could address the major shortfall of all these devices, the energy hungry and outdoor vulnerable TFT display technology that all these devices use.

They have started production on the displays and we should see them in small tablets the Streak size by the end of the year; they have several advantages. One is they use a fraction of the power of a TFT which will lengthen significantly the battery life of this class and two they can be viewed in direct sunlight. In addition, their one shortcoming that they share with the Kindle in the poor low light viewing has been corrected and they showcased a careen based lighting solution for the display that provided light for your programing without lighting the user up excessively.

We should see products in the Streak class with this display to market this year and in the iPad/Nook/Novel class next year. The end result will be a vastly better experience.

Wrapping Up

The iPad has the market cornered at the moment but I’m not sure we’ve decided on the size of device we want yet and the market won’t move mainstream until more devices drop below $200. Neither the Streak nor the Novel are available here yet and devices using the Qualcomm Mirasol display won’t start showing up until late this year all suggesting this class will change a lot and argue for waiting until prices drop below $200 before buying something that may quickly become obsolete. It is also likely Apple, once faced with competition, will drop prices sharply before November providing yet another reason you may want to wait until the second generation of the iPad before buying. Amazon is also expected to have a multimedia Kindle out in a few months.

One thing, if you do get an iPad like device, unless it is a phone like the Dell Streak, I’d advise against getting the 3G version and instead buy a Verizon MiFi portable hotspot. If you get it by searching on Bing (I just tried this) you get the device for free with the $60 a month plan and you can stream video (which is handicapped on the 3G iPad) and use it with any Wi-Fi enabled device. It is a better deal than the crippled AT&T service bundled with the 3G iPad. I bought one myself a couple of weeks ago and have found it invaluable when traveling.

As a first generation product, the iPad and Kindle continue to amaze but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be improved and they are both more limited and more expensive than devices that will be coming in a few months. Most folks will likely wait until the second or third generations off all this stuff but, in the meantime, choice remains a good thing (once it arrives that is).