My biggest complaint with most of the tablets coming to market in 2011 -- especially most of the Android Honeycomb tablets -- is that they all start to look alike and many of them are just poor imitations of the Apple iPad. Six months from now, the Android tablet market is going to look a lot like the laptop section at Best Buy, with a whole bunch of nearly-identical systems sporting different logos.
For that reason alone, I like that Sony is experimenting with something a little different -- now that it has announced its official tablet plans -- and it's also reviving a concept that deserved another look.
On Tuesday, Sony unveiled two devices, the Sony Tablet S1 and the Sony Tablet S2, both of which will be available globally this fall in 3G and Wi-Fi models. The S1 and S2 monikers are just codenames; the whizbang product names will be announced later.
The S1 is a 9.4-inch Android Honeycomb tablet that looks a lot like the Motorola Xoom and the T-Mobile G-Slate from the front, but the back has a sloped curve design that's meant to make it easier to hold with either one hand or two.
However, the S2 is the one that really piqued my interest. It features dual 5.5-inch touchscreens that can be used together as one screen, used for two separate tasks, or used in partnership with one screen serving as the viewer and the other as the control mechanism. The dual screen tablet concept has generated excitement before with the Microsoft Courier and the OLPC XO-2 (neither of which ever materialized). Products such as the Acer Iconia have kludged together attempts at the concept, but haven't nailed it. Meanwhile, Sony has now committed to deliver a real, dual-screen, multitouch tablet in the coming months. And, while it may be limited to 5.5-inch screens for now, if it's successful it could certainly expand into something closer to the Courier.
View the full gallery of S1 and S2 photos. Photo credit: Sony
One of the reasons that Sony could succeed where other would-be iPad competitors are failing is that Sony appears to understand that tablets are about user experience and not about hardware specs. When I got Sony's message earlier this morning about its tablet announcement, I was thrilled to see that it didn't waste a bunch of time talking about the camera megapixels or processor megahertz. Instead, Sony's message emphasized "optimal usability and performance" and "smooth, quick touch-screen operations" and "fast and efficient website loading" and an on-screen keyboard that's optimized for the screen size and the tasks.
Sony has been reeling lately and not competing very well in consumer electronics or computers, so the company has a lot to prove. Nevertheless, none of the iPad competitors are knocking anyone's socks off, so the door is still wide open. And, Sony is approaching tablets the right way by doing something a little different and focusing on the user experience. These two tablets are worth keeping an eye, especially the S2. While the S1 and S2 are aimed squarely at consumers, the dual-screen productivity of the S2 could certainly trigger
Take a look at the Sony video below to get a quick glance at the S1 and the S2.
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).