Last-generation touch-screen technology? Check. A sluggish processor? Check. No easy way to install apps? Check. The new wave of cheap Android tablets that has reached Kmart and online retailers in recent weeks leaves a lot to be desired, but that doesn’t deter Neuros Technology CEO Joe Born, whose company started to sell $150 tablets to some of its early adopter customers in August.
“We target it as a controller, and it’s great for that,” said Born when I caught up with him by phone late last week to get some first impressions.
Born’s take on these cheap iPad copycats goes something like this: You don’t need expensive tablet hardware to remotely control the video on your big screen TV. All you need is something that runs apps, and there are a number of Android apps out there that can be used to control Boxee or VLC, two of the media players that run on the Neuros Link Home Theater PC box.
Neuros sold around 50 tablets so far, and Born just reduced the price to $99 for the remainder of the test run. The devices are based on a 600MHz VIA processor and ran Android 1.6. Something like this doesn’t even come close to the iPad experience, but Born doesn’t care. “That hardware works fine for what we are doing,” he told me.
And he fully expects the low-end tablets to become more powerful while staying true to their discounter-friendly price point. “Unauthorized Chinese manufacturers are just driving these prices”, and that’s good news for anyone who wants to address an audience outside of the high-tech beltway. “Prize is just so crucial to a mainstream audience”, he said.
However, Born doesn’t think that the hardware will be limited to remotes for long. Most cheap tablets already support a wide variety of video codecs out of the box, and it doesn’t take much fantasy to see them replace the second or third TV in a household. “I tend to look at the furniture in the house” Born said. “There needs to be a big screen to support the couch.” Head down into the basement to run a few rounds on your treadmill, and you might be tempted to just watch on your tablet.
And finally, even cheap Android hardware might be enough to run some widgets that would otherwise interfere with your TV viewing if displayed on the big screen. Designers and researchers alike have been making the case against widgets on your TV in recent months, and Born seems to agree. “It does make more sense for this to be on the small screen,” he told me, adding that he doesn’t buy into the notion of turning your TV into the be-all end-all device. “The whole idea of convergence is just a myth,” he said.
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