Experimentation has never been Toshiba’s favoured approach, but behold the new AC100, which runs Google’s Android 2.1 on Nvidia’s ARM-based Tegra 250.
Onboard data storage is a modest 8GB of NAND flash (upgradable with an SD card), with 512MB of RAM. Resembling a netbook, complete with 10.1 inch display, 802.11n WiFi, built-in webcam, HDMI socket, and (importantly) 3G mobile broadband, the AC100 is actually more like a smartphone with a proper QWERTY.
It looks like a netbook but it runs more like a smartphone, and that’s, presumably, where Android comes in.
According to Toshiba, the AC100 has location awareness which allows it to display Android apps appropriate to the environment the AC100 user is in. At home it will offer social networking apps, for instance, while at work, it will show online work apps. Users can also manually switch between the two homescreens.
The smartphone OS also allows it to turn on ‘instantly’ and survive for a number of days in standby mode before it has to be re-charged. Turned on, Toshiba’s claims 8 hours battery life in constant use for a device that weighs only 870 grams (excluding power adaptor, presumably).
You can see why businesses might be interested in such a device because it allows employees to cope with two very different environments on one device without a business having to dictate to them about what can and can’t be used and where. Employees, meanwhile, might like it because it because it works in a similar fashion to their smartphone, to which the Toshiba now becomes a new alternative.
If this is Netbook 2.0, it has obvious advantages over the more limited option of Windows-on-Atom. The latter combination can’t compete with the creativity and variety of Android apps or the relative simplicity of Android on Tegra.
Pricing for the AC100 has not been announced, and you have to suspect that this will not be a particularly cheap netbook, so the argument is far from won. But you can see how much work Windows Phone 7 will have to do to keep up against the inherently cheaper (no licensing costs) and developed market that is being created by Android devices.
After a quarter of a century making laptops, it’s interesting that Toshiba has done this at all. The last 25 years have been a story of Windows on Intel. Perhaps, just perhaps, the next 25 will be very different.
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