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The Always Innovating Smartbook/Netbook

Always Innovating have an interesting netbook that can be detached from it’s keyboard [1]. It provides features which are a close match for the tablet PC with optional keyboard that I advocated in my post about the Lenovo U1 [2]. Such devices are deemed to be in a new category of computer called the Smartbook – which is regarded as being like a cross between a Netbook and a smart-phone [3].

The AI system is always idling, so there is no boot up required – like a mobile phone it will respond immediately to input. It has no fans which will be a good improvement over the EeePC – my EeePC 701 is annoyingly loud at times. It is designed to replace Netbooks not desktops, the screen resolution of 1024*600 is reasonable by Netbook standards but is really poor by desktop standards, it also lacks a VGA port.

The company has a stated policy of being friendly to free software, so hopefully a community of developers will form around it. Of course this partly depends on how they develop their new systems. If they make new systems vastly incompatible with older systems then it will fracture the community and make things difficult for everyone. There have been problems in this regard in the past with ARM as the instruction set has changed.

One interesting thing about the Always Innovating “Touch Book” is that you can order the keyboard and extra battery part separately from the main computer/display unit. This means that if you break one part you can replace it without replacing the entire system (handy if you break the keyboard (the cheaper part). It’s interesting to note that their web site offers to sell me as many as 558 complete systems, as many as 896 tablets, or as many as 992 keyboards. So according to the web site anyone who wanted to buy more than 558 systems would have to order the tablets separately from the keyboards. This wouldn’t be a bad thing as the complete unit costs $399, the tablet costs $299, and the keyboard costs $99. So ordering the keyboard and tablet separately would save $1 per unit! Of course anyone who really wanted to buy 600 computers wouldn’t use a web site, they would call the sales people and get a discount that is significantly greater than $1 per unit. But these limits for the web sales seem strange enough to be worthy of comment.

It’s an interesting system, it would be handy for reading documents when on the move and for light sysadmin work (basic login to server and restart crashed daemon stuff). If I was after a new system I would probably buy one.

10 comments to The Always Innovating Smartbook/Netbook

  • Wisefool

    I am sick of carrying a diary, a laptop and a phone and wonder when someone will make a combined notebook / cellphone, that has smartbook size, say max 6″, a touch screen that you can write with a touch pen that recognises your writing (for diary and notes), a webcam, and can also be used as a phone (as well as web)with a built-in mic (with an optional clip out bluetooth mic/earpiece).

    That would make life easier – dose anything like this exist or is in the pipeline?

  • steffen

    Yes, I would really like to by such design with the PixelQi screen(pixelqi.com). I told them several months ago. PixelQi will have a DIY project, but their screens are of different size and wont fit.

    If you ever used eInk or the OLPC XO, you’ll appreciate the much more comfortable reading experience with high resolution and no backlight. Also, everything below 9″ is too small to read A4 pdfs comfortably, which sort of is my personal killer application.

  • Corsac

    Russel: oh and, I own one (didn’t precise that in the previous comment). Those are fine machines (though the software is still a bit beta-ish). The “Always Innovating OS” is based on OpemEmbedded, and images for Ubuntu and Android are provided (no Debian because I didn’t really took time to do it, and because Debian armel is armv4 while the TB has armv7)

  • etbe

    Wisefool: It would surely be possible to make a Netbook/Smartbook device you could carry in your backpack that connects to a bluetooth headset and permits most phone functions. But I don’t think that would provide a great benefit. Apart from the issue of EMF into the head there’s no reason why a mobile phone couldn’t be worn on the ear after a couple of years of technological development.

    Making a PDA/phone type device that has a comparable size to one of the cheaper mobile phones of the late 90′s (which didn’t properly fit into a jeans pocket) would probably be a reasonable option – you just need something bigger to have a more useful keyboard and display.

    Personally I have absolutely no interest in pen based UI, humans tend to have great difficulty understanding my writing and computers find it impossible (this may be an Aspie thing). Also I find it painful to write (part of the same thing) so my aim is to avoid writing anything other than signing my name (which doesn’t mean much as I can’t write the same thing twice).

    I’ll write more about this in a future post.

    Steffen: That’s interesting about PixelQi. I’ve never seriously used an OLPC. The keyboard on the OLPC really sucks for my use (I’m a touch-typist), but it is ideal for it’s design market.

    Corsac: That’s an ongoing problem with ARM, they keep having different revisions of the architecture that can’t run the old code. Hopefully they are starting to get to the stage where it does everything they want and doesn’t need significant changes.

  • Coucouf

    Just as a note, for what I understood, the graphic chip in the Touchbook is a PowerVR conception, similar to what can be found in the Intel Poulsbo chipset.
    Given the PowerVR records on the matter, it’s very unlikely that we will see a free software driver for this chip anytime soon.

  • Corsac

    @Russel: armv7 sure can run armv4 code, but software build for armv4 won’t benefit the architectures improvements and be really slower than code built for armv7.

  • etbe

    Corsac: I guess we just need to do what we did for i386, i486, i686, etc. We could have different kernels optimised for the various processors, different versions of performance critical libraries such as libc, zlib, video encoding/decoding, ssl, and GPG. Maybe have some custom assembly for things like zlib and video encoding/decoding where a small amount of assembly can make a noticable difference.

  • etbe

    http://www.christoph-egger.org/weblog/entry/29

    Christoph Egger wrote a good review of the AI Touchbook at the above URL.

  • Классное устройство. Очень понравилось! :)
    Вот статья на русском языке – http://mini-portal.ru/news/innovating_smart_book.html