Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to be last to market, especially when you can learn from where your competitors have stumbled. And that goes double for notebooks and tablets powered by Windows 8, an operating system that’s so different than its predecessor that it has left many shoppers scratching their heads. “Microsoft, I think in hindsight, would probably admit that it could’ve done a better job of introducing [Windows 8],” said Rob Kermode, Vizio’s director of product and development for computing and mobility.
On the other hand, Kermode says that Vizio is “all in” when it comes to the new OS, as the company prepares to launch not only touch-based versions of its thin and light laptops but also the first AMD-powered Windows 8 tablet for consumers. Here is Kermode’s take on why Vizio chose AMD over Intel for its slate, the challenge of making a Windows 8 hybrid consumers actually want, and where that new Tegra 4 Android tablet fits in the product mix.
LAPTOP: We’ve seen a lot of companies say Windows 8 has had a sluggish start. What’s Vizio’s perspective?
Rob Kermode: I think first of all you have to remember we’re still new in the PC segment, so pretty much every sale is an incremental sale. It’s a brand-new market for us. Windows 8 is a dramatically different user experience, and it takes time for people to learn about it. Microsoft, I think in hindsight, would probably admit that it could’ve done a better job of introducing it. But all in all, we’re putting touch on every single one of our products. So we’re definitely all in on Windows 8.
What makes your Windows 8 tablet different than the competition?
Kermode: Number one, we wanted something that is full HD. And then we also wanted something that is bigger productivity-wise and also entertainment-wise than a 10-inch. That’s why we went with 11.6 inches.
So why opt for an AMD processor instead of Intel?
Kermode: AMD offers the only solution that allows us to deliver full HD in a fanless tablet PC design. Plus AMD’s expertise with graphics performance and battery management makes it the ideal match for a tablet PC geared for those who want to have the full performance of Windows 8 and powerful graphics performance for the best entertainment experience on a tablet.
Do you think you’ll get longer battery life than what a Core i5 chip would provide?
Kermode: We’re seeing strong performance in some of the early tests especially considering the screen resolution. It’s always a slippery slope to talk about battery life, because the usage model is very wide. You’ll certainly get through one full-length movie at full HD. So we’re very pleased.
We’ve seen pretty mediocre endurance from Windows 8 laptops with touch screens. Will your notebooks be any better?
Kermode: We’ve gone and examined our battery requirements. So with a high-res screen, in both the tablet and the laptop, it sucks a lot of power. In addition, in the case of laptops, we’re putting a standard volt processor in there, so that requires more battery life. So we actually doubled the battery capacity from previous versions, and in the tablet we have a pretty hefty sized battery compared to other devices like it.
We noticed that the new thin-and-lights still don’t have an SD Card slot. Did you get any complaints about the lack of a memory card reader last time around?
Kermode: Frankly, most of the feedback like that comes from people who are in the industry. And those aren’t always the best proxy for what consumers want. We find that people are pleased with our product. Anecdotally, when I handed some people an SD Card from one of my cameras and said “Could you put this in the laptop?” they said I don’t even know if my laptop has one, even though they had a laptop that did have it. So I don’t think it’s very commonly used.
Kermode: You see a lot of these convertible products or hybrids out there. And we think there’s definitely room for improvement, to be honest with you. In many cases you end up with a bulky docking mechanism that makes me feel like I’m snapping into my bindings of my skis. On the other hand, you see others that only have a fixed position, which is cleaner, but I don’t always want to look at the same angle.
The lines are blurring between small form factor laptops and more feature-rich tablets. And I think you’re going to see consumers expect more of that blurring. What we’re trying to provide is—How do you design something that doesn’t have that sort of compromise? We’re very close right now, I feel like. But it’s also going to be an innovative process as consumers learn and we learn from consumers what they want.
Vizio was one of the first companies to show off an Android tablet running an Nvidia Tegra 4 processor. How do you plan to harness the chip’s potential?
Kermode: The Tegra 4 performance demonstrates its features and speed in some of the most simplest tasks such as flipping through large pictures, rendering complex web page as well as gaming, HD movies and other more taxing tasks. So, it’s not one specific feature or use case that will harness it’s potential.
We will always try to stand out in our design and consumers have been extremely positive on our designs – they are elegant, simple, and optimized in terms of form factor. Additionally, we excel at providing performance and user experiences at prices that our competitors can often not match. For example, we’ve optimized the bezel (screen border width) on our 7″ tablet to make it dramatically smaller than other similar screen sized tablets on the market, such that you can easily fit it into your jacket pocket without sacrificing screen size.
How do you see the target audience breakdown for Android vs. Windows 8 tablets?
Kermode: Traditionally, Android devices have largely been consumption devices. However, this probably has less to do with the operating system and more to do with the form factor. In general, smaller screen sizes are desired by consumers of entertainment, social media, email, etc. Whereas, larger screen sizes with some sort of keyboard are used more for productivity. So, we expect to see even more blurring of these use cases as more choices in terms of form factor and operating systems become available.