Toshiba Talks About the Next Quarter Century of Computing

Toshiba hasn’t just been selling laptops for 25 years. The company has a history of out-innovating the competition. The Japanese upstart was the first to roll out a mass market laptop back in 1985 (a 9-pounder running MS DOS and equipped with a black-and-white screen). Since then Toshiba has been first to market with a variety of technologies—including color displays and CD-ROM drives—on its way to becoming one of the top five PC makers. During the past few years alone Toshiba has wowed us with 2007’s Portégé R500 (the world’s thinnest notebook with an optical drive) and a netbook so good it became our measuring stick.

To kick off the next 25 years, Toshiba is introducing a special anniversary concept notebook, the libretto W100. It’s a clamshell with dual 7-inch touchscreens that can easily slip into a coat pocket. It’s also a bit of a risk (See our hands-on video of the W100) to create a device running Windows 7 when other tablet makers are choosing Android (or buying their own OS, like HP). Does the latest libretto send the right message about where Toshiba is going? To get some answers, we sat down with Phil Osako, the company’s director of product marketing.

So, we hear you have big plans for your 25th anniversary.

Phil Osako: We want to kick off the next 25 years with a really cool, innovative concept product. The libretto W105 is an ultramobile companion PC that’s designed to push mobility forward. It’s a content product that opens people’s minds to a different way of thinking when it comes to laptop computing in a futuristic way. The really cool thing is that it’s a concept product you can actually purchase. Unlike other concept products you might just read about, this is one we’re actually going to put on the market and sell. It’s great for content consumption, and really good for multitasking. It’s got the performance of an ultrathin laptop, but the mobility is much closer to something like a smart phone because of its size and weight.

When you say content consumption, with what sort of content does it specialize?

It’s a full Windows 7 PC. It has an Intel Ultra Low Voltage Pentium processor, so anything you could do on a laptop PC it can do. The reason we say consumption is because of its size; it’s really not intended to be a heavy input or creation device. So it’s great for pulling up and editing spreadsheets or documents.

Why did you chose Intel’s ULV processor instead of Atom?

We wanted to deliver the full Windows 7 experience, and we wanted to put in the technology and performance you would expect. We wanted it to be a lot more than a netbook.

What about boot time?

There’s still a lot of work going on. Microsoft did a great job with Windows 7 on resume times. We’ve taken it even further, and have had some phenomenal resume times with our BIOS optimization. Because of the nature of this form factor, a lot of people are just going to be using sleep mode. I couldn’t tell you what the boot time is; of course, we always optimize for the quickest boot possible.

Do you have any doubts about Windows 7 as the right platform for this device?

No, because of the performance and what we expect people to do. It’s intended to be an ultra-mobile PC. We’re targeting this for people to run their everyday applications, such axs full Office software and a media player—not simplified but complete versions of the applications. Take a look at the libretto heritage; it’s always been an ultra-mobile PC with complete PC functionality.

So you added an interface on top of Windows 7 to make the libretto more touch-friendly?

Absolutely. When you first boot up the system, you’ll see Windows. And on the bottom display you’ll see the Toshiba home screen. It will bring up our Bulletin Board software, where you can drop in shortcuts to applications, files, or do your project management. As an example, it will be very easy to access your favorite web pages with large icons that bring up different apps or web links.

You can set up multiple boards for different people who are using it—maybe one for work, and one for personal use. You can flick one bulletin board off to the side, and the next one will slide in.

What about just opening and closing apps with a finger, which can be a challenge in Windows 7?

There will also be a zoom feature, because on a 7-inch display something as simple as closing a window via the X in the corner by zooming in makes it that much easier.

Can you use the libretto W100 as an eReader?

There are different modes: you can use it in a traditional clamshell mode where the bottom display sits flat, the base sits flat on the table, and you’ve got it opened up like a traditional laptop. Then it will have a 3D accelerometer built in, so as you move orientation, it will switch automatically. We’ll have an eReader application with it—Blio—but instead of having just one page you’ll have two in front of you.

What other benefits are there to having two displays?

It’s helpful for navigation on a device of this size. If you use a small touchscreen smart phone, for example, an icon will bring up a virtual touchpad in the bottom screen. [Dual screens] will help you navigate if you want to use the traditional touchpad method.

It also gets tricky sometimes switching between applications, moving things around, and seeing all the information you want. Having two displays gives you a much cleaner, easier way to navigate, as well as the ability to multitask. Even if it’s just two websites, comparing two sets of information, or two spreadsheets. For example, in MS Word I’m reviewing material every day at work, and it’s great when I’m at my desk and can utilize two displays.

What about typing?

We’ll have four virtual keyboards that you can switch between. There’s your standard, full QWERTY keyboard with a lot of icons and all of the keys in there like your F1 and numeric keys. And there’s a simplified QWERTY keyboard that actually enlarges the keys, sort of like what you see on touchscreen smart phones. It makes everything a bit bigger and easier to type on. The bottom display has haptic feedback for the virtual keyboards.

We’ll also have a split thumb keyboard that goes to the outer edges of the display, and you could use it like a thumb keyboard. We’ll have a ten-key numeric keyboard that you can pull up.

How quickly can you type and have the system keep up with your movements?

I haven’t been able to type fast enough to have it feel like there’s any kind of degradation. It keeps up pretty nicely. I’m a lot faster on this keyboard than on a smart phone.

Does the device support pen input or have any sort of inking capability?

We didn’t put in pen input. You can use your finger to draw and scribble, but it really wasn’t intended to be a pen/inking product. We envisioned it to be more of something to consume content with versus editing and note taking.

Do you have any plans for integrated 3G abilities?

Initially we’re not bundling it with integrated 3G, but it’s certainly possible, and something we will look at for the future.

At $1,100, the W105 is more than double the price of the entry level iPad. Do you think it’s twice as good?

It’s got two displays. And if you look at it from a functionality perspective, it gives you the horsepower of an ultrathin, and a lot more mobility. It’s a different kind of product. We see this as being a lot more mobile. The unique clamshell form factor allows people to take a touch device with them and feel like the display is protected, because you can close it up and have the benefit of having the casing around it. With other touch products that are slate, you have to worry about the display being damaged.

How can Windows and its partners compete against the popularity of the iPad with its 5,500-plus apps?

This is a different kind of device, because it works in a traditional mode, as well as touch mode. We’re envisioning a lot of people using their standard applications. We’ve got the largest library of applications from that perspective. What’s unique about it is now you have the ability to multitask between applications with the two displays, and touch makes everything easier.

What do you think this product says about where Toshiba is going as a company?

What it says is that we have a rich heritage of doing small, innovative products, and really working to help consumers be mobile with their computing. We have a vision for how things can evolve and change over time, and we’re really excited about what the future holds for mobile computing. We recently saw that mobile PCs were outselling desktops. [This eventuality] is why we’ve been a mobile computing company from the beginning. That was our vision. We saw it happening.

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