Toshiba: Foldable PCs and Smart Paper soon, but for now there's luxury notebooks

Toshiba reckons there’s major, industry-disrupting change coming in mobile computing in the next 5-7 years. While you wait, they’d very much like you to buy their new Ultrabook, Kira.
At the Sydney launch of its “premium” Kira ultrabook, Portege Z10T tablet and around thirty new Satellite notebooks, Toshiba Australia’s MD, Mark Whittard spoke at length about where he sees the future of mobile computing, as well as showing off a few Toshiba prototypes that may point to where mobile computing is going. According to Whittard, “In the next three to seven years we’ll see a major leap and shift to the next major evolution in personal computing platforms. That’s a sign that we need to change our approach. We need to prepare for shift to the mobile computing platform.”
That’s very much in line with Blackberry CEO Thorsten Heins’ view on where the market is headed.
Many point to the growth of tablets as a key factor in slowing notebook sales, but Whittard isn’t convinced (although Toshiba does have its own Tablet lines), noting rather acerbically that “”If you’re looking for a browsing device in many ways a smartphone or tablet is an adequate device”, but that “New technology is not enough alone to stimulate replacement of the product. Windows 8 is a really good example. A lot of the market thought that Windows 8 would give the market a kick, and it hasn’t delivered. That’s not a problem with Windows 8; the market is mature. No longer can you back a single thing to get market. We’ve got to get smarter in grouping technologies and features. (Existing products are) “good enough”, so why do I need to upgrade? The market is saturated, so it’s just the replacement market we’re talking about.”

The next big thing

According to Whittard there’s still work to go into products before we see that next big shift.
“We’re not there yet — we’re still another 5-7 years away. To get there, we have to add cloud services, we have to deliver true handwriting capability. The current digitisers are great, but they’re not natural. we’ve got to add voice, but not just the voice packages in the market today; digital natural voice processing is what we need. So we’re not qutie there. Security is another big issue.”
Whittard figures that the current trend for multiple device usage will contract, with tablets the notable victim of rising smartphone and phablet sales and notebooks on the other side crunching that market sector. “Multi-device use will contract back; the data is what causes the headache for us.”
He also briefly alluded to the research and development being undertaken in Toshiba’s R&D labs, noting the trends for the future (the blue areas are where Toshiba is heavily investing)
And here’s the specific areas where Toshiba sees the market going:
Whittard also briefly showed a foldable computer concept that Toshiba’s been working on for some time. Quite some time; I can personally recall seeing an early prototype of this kind of thing from Toshiba as far back as 2002. According to Whittard, Toshiba has a working prototype of the foldable computer, but that’s a few years away.
A little closer to market is a smart paper product that Whittard reckons is around two years away, either in A4 or B5 sizes, waterproof and wirelessly powered at around 4mm thick.

Right now, the market is for premium laptops

Right now, Toshiba’s still very much in the notebook game, launching thirty or so models this morning. The keynote star was the new premium Ultrabook brand, Kira, which will start at around $1999 in a touchscreen capable model with a two year international warranty. Whittard noted the screen quality as a particular standout, stating that “There’s another product on the marketplace that has a similar resolution. But the software behind this will deliver the best quality you can get on any platform.”
Hmm.. I wonder who he’s talking about there?
Kira, by the way, apparently means “shining light” in Japanese, but I can’t be the only one getting a Deep Space 9 vibe here, can I?)
In any case, Toshiba reckons that premium is the way to go, noting that it’s an “Aspirational product — something that has been missing in the market for the last twelve months. It’s the style that lifts this above the technology”.
Nice marketing spin; I feel rather certain that messrs Apple, Sony, HP and others might have something to say about that.
Whittard also showed off the Portege Z10T Tablet, which Toshiba reckons is well pitched for the education market; it’s a Windows 8 laptop starting at $1199 with a detachable backlit keyboard.
In any case, I’ll have a hands-on and 30 Seconds Of Tech with the Kira shortly. Stay tuned…

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