Posted by: Ed Tittel
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I’ve been reading a whole spate of reviews on various Windows 8 tablets lately, including the Dell Latitude 10, the Acer Iconia W510, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2, and so on and so forth (for a nice synopsis on why Windows tablets might actually make sense in the enterprise see Adrian Kingsley-Hughes 3/14/13 post entitled “New Windows-powered tablets threaten iPad’s enterprise dominance, claims analyst“). All of this has got to me to thinking about why I’m not willing to buy the current Surface Pro, or any of these other models at this point in time. In so doing, I hope I’ve formulated a nice list of design goals for the OEMs and system designers to ponder as they design a next generation of Haswell-based tablet PCs for business users like me:
- More horsepower: most of the successful tablet designs right now rest on the latest dual-core Atom processors, and simply don’t have enough oomph for me. Those that do have oomph — like the current Surface Pro — don’t have enough battery life (see next item).
- Longer battery life: the tablets with oomph can’t generally manage to squeak more than 5 hours out of a fully-charged battery. I want at least 8 hours, preferably 10 hours or more. Here again, those tablets that can do this (the Dell Latitude 10 is an excellent example) currently lack the processing power I want.
- More pixels, please: Far too many tablets still sit at 1366×768 resolution, which isn’t enough pixels anymore, even on a smaller screen where that form factor looks acceptable. I want at least full HD (1980×1020) or better, please, with a pixel density of at least 200 ppi.
- User accessibility: Though this may mean slightly thicker enclosures, I’d like to see the next-gen high end-tablets with underside ports to access memory, mSATA SSD ports, WLAN ports, with a user-replaceable battery receptacle. Storage and RAM are growing too fast to force buyers to accept soldered-in components for the 3-5 years that’s typical for the life of a modern notebook PC (or a valid tablet replacement); WLAN modules must often be replaced for overseas travel; and a user-swappable battery makes it possible to keep computing on long flights (or very long days).
- Multi-factor authentication, plus: Go ahead, put a fingerprint scanner into these units, or add both a front-facing camera and facial recognition software, so that enterprise users can add biometric authentication to the more usual account/password or image-touch-sequence login methods. Let installers add a “nuke the drive” option after a large number of failed log-in attempts (10 or more is good), and make sure the device works with remote wipe facilities included in most Mobile Device Management (MDM) platforms nowadays.
- Smart virtualization: Make sure the units support virtualization (as both client and hypervisor) to permit clients to remote into their data centers quickly and easily on the one hand (acting as a client), and to run various VMs locally (acting as a hypervisor) as well.
- Good accessories: Provide strong, durable cases with keyboard/mouse modules that don’t add too much to the overall size/weight equation of the tablet itself. Docking stations for work at the office are also very nice: make sure you put lots of ports, video options, and GbE Ethernet into these babies, and make it way easy to dock/undock the tablet for high-speed entrances and exits.
- Fast peripheral and storage ports: At least two USB 3.0 ports, and a reliable microSD port, please. The former lets me use all kinds of high-speed peripherals and storage, the latter lets me extend my storage space by 50% at a modest cost (64GB microSD cards go for about $65-90 these days). A mini-DisplayPort would be nice, too, but not really necessary if you add another USB 3.0 port for video access.
I know, I know: it’s a LOT to ask, and I’m hoping that Intel will fix its chipset USB3 issues with the Haswell chipset quickly, so technology can jump on that bandwagon sooner rather than later. Given the lower power consumption of the Haswell CPUs, we may even see something like what I’ve described late in 2013 or early in 2014. I would happily pay a premium over Surface Pro costs of about $1,200 at the moment to get everything I’m after — say $1,600 for a Surface-Pro like tablet with a 256 GB mSATA SSD, 16 GB RAM, and an LTE WLAN module? Here’s hoping this might actually come to pass!