Let’s hit the instant search first, since that’s what Splashtop users will see upon startup in September. The main Splashtop screen will show a search box prominently in the center. Users boot up Splashtop and can immediately begin to search the web, as the software will quickly initiate Wi-Fi or 3G connectivity, depending on your device specifications. Note that when I last chatted with the DeviceVM folks at CES in January, connectivity was only supported through Wi-Fi. Right after CES, DeviceVM added 3G support for specific devices like those from LG and Lenovo. Since connectivity is key for a web-based product, I expect to see 3G support for HP, Acer, ASUS, and Sony devices in the future, since DeviceVM has deals with all of these computer makers.
The new search box can be customized to different providers, but initially DeviceVM has configured it with search partners around the world:
- Yahoo! (s yhoo) in the U.S. and Japan
- Baidu (s bidu) in China
- Yandex in Russia
Quick boot and search align with Splashtops’s “instant anything in seconds” approach says Dave Bottoms, Sr. Director of Product Management. Users aren’t locked into a boot and web search pattern with the new feature — icons for other functions are available, but less prominent. One click fires up a Mozilla browser, media links, or Skype, for example.
I asked if the new feature competes with the hot smartphone market as I see similarities. Today, a handheld in sleep mode offers instant-on with connectivity for searches and web use. Bottoms sees the similarity, but does’nt see the scenario as competition. He feels that “a smartphone is good for three minutes of browsing,” while netbooks are better for longer stints, like 30 minutes. Notebooks offer optimal browsing when talking about a few hours of use, he told me. So it’s less of a functional comparison and more of a situational difference to DeviceVM.
Inevitably, I had to ask about the recent Google Chrome OS announcement that’s sure to affect the future of computing. “Google validates the space,” Bottoms says, which lends credence to DeviceVM’s early approach. “We’ve been around for a couple of years, across six of the 10 major OEMs.” What Google is looking to deliver in the second half of 2010, has been available in the form of Splashtop for some time. Phoenix Technologies (s ptec) Hyperspace product is similar and has also been available since last year, so Google isn’t setting new ground here just yet. While Splashtop and Hyperspace both solve the same problem, the business model is clearly different.
Hyperspace is a user-paid subscription, which I’ve said is a tough sell. DeviceVM’s Splashtop is a business partnership through an OEM, so the consumer doesn’t see any tangible cost. However, consumers can’t simply download and add Splashtop like they can do with Hyperspace. I asked about this model because I know some of our readers have inquired about adding Splashtop to their own systems.
“We do get requests and it’s on our wishlist,” says Sergei Krupenin, Senior Director of Marketing. He explained the testing and support challenges that come with software on vast numbers of unique configurations. Having been a full-time software tester myself in a past life, I can sympathize. For now, the company smartly is focused on deals with OEMs in controlled system configurations. And that seemingly limited approach hasn’t hurt growth rates in their user base.
Bottoms said DeviceVM runs on 10 million devices today and expects their product on 30 million devices by the end of 2009. I suspect that there are plenty of additional or expanded OEM deals in the works too — the company figures to be on up to 130 million netbooks, notebooks and nettops by the end of 2010. That’s no small number. I thought perhaps that DeviceVM might achieve some of that growth by supporting ARM systems instead of x86 only. The company is taking a wait-and-see approach because ARM systems, like netbooks, are still maturing. The broader base is still x86.
Before leaving my conversation with the DeviceVM team, I asked about an observation I made earlier this year about the “instant on” space. I’ve watched these products add more features as web applications and standards mature. As a result, I’ve thought that perhaps a solution like Splashtop or Hyperspace could eventually be a standalone OS instead of an add-on to a traditional operating system. Although it’s nice that Google validated me too, I wondered what the DeviceVM folks thought about this idea. “It depends on how usage behavior shifts,” said Bottoms. “As folks get familiar with these environments, that could happen.”