Latest in Features

Image credit:

Switched On: Fishing for the fourth screen

Share
Tweet
Share

Sponsored Links

Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:


Last month's D: All Things Digital conference saw the launch of two platforms from well-known technology companies -- Microsoft's Surface, the coffee-table PC that can be used to sell coffee tables, and Palm's Foleo. the big-screened mobile companion for pocket devices from the company that popularized pocket companions for big-screened devices.

Both products rely on recent iterations of well-tred operating systems. The heart of Surface is simply a Vista PC, whereas the Foleo is based on Linux. But their usage models could hardly be more different. Surface is a large tabletop computer environment reminiscent of the cocktail arcade tables of the 80s but which is actually filled with infrared cameras and a projector -- a new application of rear-projection TV technology.

Foleo, with its small clamshell form factor, eschews any kind of touch-screen manipulation, instead introducing a scroll bar to facilitate moving through long Web pages and lists of e-mails. In contrast, at least for its initial kiosk-like deployments, Surface will take advantage of new applications that use its direct manipulation and recognition of physical objects. However, both products illustrate the challenges that companies have in trying to introduce a "fourth screen" to compete for consumer attention beyond the three screens of television, the PC, and the cell phone.



The company that has been most successful establishing such a screen has been Apple with its iPod. Thomson, which produces GE-branded phones, has suggested that the cordless phone could take the role as it has shown a high-end model that can read RSS feeds. Other candidates include the fast-growing segments of portable navigation devices from the likes of Garmin and TomTom and digital picture frames from Philips and Pandigital. However, with the possible exception of these frames, all of these device categories are threatened by the cellphone.

Despite our increasing mobility as a society, Surface has been better received than Foleo. This could be due to Surface's novel, inviting interface, or perhaps because it attacks a new or underpenetrated usage scenario. But Surface's big screen comes with a big price. Initial installations should be between $5,000 and $10,000 and even then won't be available to custom installers whose clients wouldn't balk at that sum. According to Microsoft, consumers will begin interacting with them in hospitality and retail environments before the end of the year, but it will likely be a few years before they are aimed at the home. The company admits it's an unusual go-to-market strategy in contrast to such grand pushes in the past two years as Xbox 360, Windows Vista, and Zune.

However, it's easy to see how Surface could be used in the home given the appropriate software. Viewing photos on a big-screen TV is a relatively sterile slide show experience. Viewing them on an interactive table where they can be passed around like real photos better captures the interaction as prints are passed around. Surface could also host or spice up casual games. And Surface could even breathe more life into the Media Center PC if used for, say, navigating a television guide while the TV shows full-screen video, or by being the ultimate home control user interface.

Unlike Microsoft with Surface, Palm is struggling to differentiate the Foleo's functionality from the wildly popular laptop PC, which continues to shrink in size as it takes advantage of faster wireless connections. But with Surface offering new inputs and locations for the desktop PC and Foleo offering richer input and display capabilities for the smartphone, perhaps the key to the fourth screen simply driving more functionality from the main three.


Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group,. His blog can be read at http://www.rossrubin.com/outofthebox. Views expressed in Switched On are his own.
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Share
Tweet
Share

Popular on Engadget

TSA bans employees from making TikTok videos

TSA bans employees from making TikTok videos

View
Realme's X50 Pro is a cheaper 5G flagship with super-fast charging

Realme's X50 Pro is a cheaper 5G flagship with super-fast charging

View
Disney+ discounts yearly subscriptions ahead of its European launch

Disney+ discounts yearly subscriptions ahead of its European launch

View
Sony's mid-range Xperia 10 II packs an OLED display and triple cameras

Sony's mid-range Xperia 10 II packs an OLED display and triple cameras

View
Sony teases the Xperia Pro 5G aimed at video creators

Sony teases the Xperia Pro 5G aimed at video creators

View

From around the web

Page 1Page 1ear iconeye iconFill 23text filevr