Web Tablets Are Coming


Wow, I have become a believer. In the past few days of using the new PSP 2.0 firmware which includes a web browser, I have become completely convinced that this is going to be The Next Big Thing. A couple months ago when I first saw the news of the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet, I couldn't figure out why anyone would want the thing - it's not a PDA or a phone or a computer. But that's all changed now - using my PSP as an instant-on Web Tablet has completely opened my eyes.

Over the past few days I've used my PSP constantly - probably 25% for gaming and now 75% for reading websites. Any time I want to get away from my computer and still have something to read, I snag the PSP and within seconds am browsing away. I've tried this before with other devices such as my Tapwave Zodiac, but nothing compares with the convenience of this device.

Here's why it's so good:

1) Instant On: The PSP sleeps and comes out of sleep instantly. This was pretty great for games, but makes web browsing super convenient. No waiting for boot ups, or having to load a web browser and navigate. If the last thing I was doing was browsing the web, as soon as I pick it up again it's right where I left off, no waiting.

2) Instant Connect: It's one thing to turn on instantly, but how fast is it to connect? Really fast. As soon as you click a link, it re-establishes a connection with your last access point - it takes literally less than 5 seconds to do so. If you changed APs (like you went to work) it'll look for your last one, timeout quickly and give you a choice of APs to choose from. Perfect!

3) Good Web Browser: The PSP is powered by Netfront's Mobile Browser and has support for all the basic functionality you need to browse the web - including JavaScript support and frames. It's not perfect - Yahoo! News pages for example don't show up well, but 90% of the web sites I've used it with are usable and readable. This makes literally "browsing" - bopping from site to site - enjoyable, unlike just about every other mobile web experience I've had. It even has three tabs, so you can quickly move between sites with a click of a shoulder button.

4) Great Screen: The PSP's 480x272 resolution and physical screen size means you don't have to squint to read a website. Using the Just Fit resolution and small font, just about every page out there fits on the page - and if not, scrolling is convenient and easy. The fonts are also anti-aliased, so its really easy on the eyes as well.

5) Multimedia Support: The PSP is a *great* Podcasting client as well! It's super easy to browse over to ITConversations or any of the other great podcasts out there, download the MP3 to your Memory Stick and start listening to a podcast right away. More importantly, you can do this with MPEG videos as well, making video blogs (VODcasts) as convenient and portable as Podcasting is now.

6) Price Point: I get all this, plus an amazing game machine for $250. The Nokia internet tablet is (IMHO) going to be initially priced too expensively. I think much of the reason that TapWave went out of business is because they never dropped their price to a reasonable level. We all wanted a Zodiac - it was lustworthy from the beginning, but always just a little too expensive - I finally bought one when it went on sale for $200. The fact that 5 million PSPs have been sold so far show that though $250 is high - its not too high.

Now, there are plenty of things to nitpick about as well. The current PSP browser has some funky controls (paging down requires two hands for example), and entering in text or URLs is painful at best. Also, though the PSP is light compared to a laptop, it's pretty chunky to have in your pocket. It's also not a multi-tasking device. If you want to start the music file you just downloaded, you have to close your web browser to do it. But still, even with these problems it's an amazing web tablet. Really!

There are tons of opportunities here! Just like when the Wipeout Pure browser hack was first found, people started automating a bunch of household stuff to make the PSP into a sort of universal remote. This is a great idea: Anything with a web front end can now suddenly be "remotely controlled" by this device and others like it. I envision that Web Tablets are going to replace the "laptop on the lap on the couch" and the morning newspaper quickly. It's just a REALLY convenient way to read the web without the bulk of even a Tablet PC - it's so light and convenient and quick to pick up and start using. This is soooo key.

The instant-on part can't be over emphasized. It's what really separated the experience of using the big-screened Zodiac as a tablet and the PSP. Being able to grab your breakfast and sit at the table reading my morning news without hassle is so important - having to fumble with a stylus and navigate around an interface only to get a sub-optimal browsing experience just didn't do it. I'm now a lot more bullish on Nokia's Internet Tablet - it has instant on as well, has better screen resolution than the PSP (though I think it's physically smaller overall) and though it does have a stylus, hopefully this will be a good thing as it'll let me tap in URLs without so much trouble. Also, it's Linux Debian based so it's going to have a ton of neat apps ready for it as well...

Someone commented the other day that these sorts of thoughts seem in contradiction to my love of mobiles, but they're not. 1.6 billion devices out there are much more of an opportunity than 5 million PSPs, so that's where I'll still be concentrating my attention. I'm just blown away at the utility of the PSP's browser, and I'm extrapolating from there, thinking about the opportunities available once these devices are more common in homes and offices. I'm actually at a loss to come up with more ideas - I'm still in that "wow!" mode where I'm just amazed at the basic functionality, but I know there's more that can be done. Like hooking up the PSP to your TiVo or your iTunes or who knows what else.

If you haven't upgraded your PSP yet, I'd do it. Very cool stuff.


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