In our home, we’ve got nearly the entire technology spectrum covered… Kelly happily carries a simple flip phone, and I rock the Droid – and I secretly enjoyed being able to claim the latest-and-greatest until today. Laptop-wise, we’ve got my beastie HP business laptop on the large end, Kelly’s svelte netbook on the small end. Our tech fits us (not the other way around, I might add) and for good measure (and good backup) we’ve even got a server humming in the office. Experience-wise, we’re no Gizmodo, but I think we’ve got a decent-enough handle on where different form-factors work.
Which is what confuses me so much about yesterday’s newly-announced Lenovo Skylight:
Lenovo are touting this new not-quite-netbook, more-than-smartphone device (creatively) as a “smartbook” – it’s small, it’s light, it’s super-portable, it has an AT&T data connection out of the box, and it costs … $500! Let me get this straight – for a little under twice the cost of an average netbook, I get about … um … 50% of the functionality, 110% of the battery life, and 80% of the weight of an average netbook. Given that an AT&T subsidy (which we note will allow you to run this media-rich, highly-connected, web-gadget-weilding computer on the same network that’s currently being crippled by iPhones) will likely bring the price to about $250 – or right into the ballpark of an average netbook – I’m curious why I could commit to a 2-year contract to obtain one?!
Let’s talk use-cases: Lenovo’s press release hypes the readiness of the Skylight for “your next flight” or for stashing in your “bag, backpack or purse”. Maybe I’m an atypical example, but I would think most folks who travel frequently enough to buy a dedicated device for music, movies and web connectivity are probably traveling with a laptop already. And I’m thinking nearly anyone who needs ubiquitous data connectivity and always-ready e-mail and web access is probably already toting a smartphone. So where does the Skylight fit in? It doesn’t replace either of these devices, and it’s redundant to certain (and in many cases overlapping) aspects of each.
Let’s face it – as an incorrigible geek and a software engineer, computing and traveling are both facts of life for me. If I needed to inject some portability into my setup, I wouldn’t toss a 2-pound “smartbook” in alongside my 5½-pound business laptop (which isn’t going away any time soon). I’d replace the whole getup with as solid a netbook as I could find – because ultimately, people who need to get things done on their computers need computers that run mainstream software. And since (as far as I know) you can’t make phone calls on the Skylight, it’s not going to replace anything in the telephony direction, either.
So what’s the upside? Well, it seems somebody’s finally taking a direct crack at something I’ve suggested in a roundabout way in the past: Linux as a mainstream, consumer operating system seems to do best when you hide it from end-users. Since the Skylight uses a [blazingly-fast, amazingly-efficient] ARM processor, it can’t run Windows – and in addressing criticism that they’re barking up a tree upon which Asus already gave up, Lenovo’s consumer marketing director assured reporters that, “There is no exposure of Linux to the customers. What we wanted to make is an interface that’s completely custom and easy to use.” While that’s a little sad, it’ll probably be more effective – and Lenovo’s execution will likely be superior, too.
That, and the cool factor is admittedly way up there…
I want to see devices like the Skylight succeed – because I’m sure they’re a good fit for someone. Heck, I might take one along if I were going on vacation – but isn’t part of the idea of a vacation often to get away from your e-mail and your web browser for a few blissfully-quiet days? The 20GB of storage in the Skylight won’t be enough to offload my camera’s photos after I pile the machine high with music and movies for the flights; so much for dreaming up non-work reasons for bringing it along! So… Would you drop 500 clams on a Skylight? Or sign onto a 2-year data contract (at a total cost of about $800) for the privilege of paying around $250 for the machine? If so, how would you use it? Hit me up in the comments – because I’m sure my narrow little view of Lenovo’s business model for this new niche of “smartbooks” isn’t seeing the whole picture!