T3's "Netpad" puts a few new twists on the tablet format

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Product differentiation is getting more and more difficult these days. The lozenge-shaped, touch-enabled, all-purpose computing device is fast on its way, and while things like the Courier are still serving up surprises, you could be forgiven for thinking most of these big blank screens are pretty similar. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to see some smart additions to the tablet form factor in this concept design by T3. While I think a lot of these additions might be very difficult to get right, I don’t see why we shouldn’t give them a shot.

KeyboardA slide-out keyboard, for instance. It’s going to be a battle over the next few years whether to include a hard keyboard or not. I personally like a hard keyboard smaller devices like mobiles, but it’s possible that a soft keyboard will be perfectly usable on larger tablets like the CrunchPad and that Apple one. A slide-out keyboard would have to be a compromise, because there’s almost no room for key depression. But a little give is better than none.

The “control strip” is a great idea. With little OLED displays like those the Optimus Maximus and G19 keyboards becoming more common, I don’t see why we shouldn’t have a little context-sensitive strip like that. You kind of saw what it could do in that four-screened laptop from a few months back, but that was pretty over the top. We’re talking media controls, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth toggles, that kind of thing. Putting it on the slanted edge there separates it physically but not visually and really is a great solution.

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Multi-purpose, convertible casing: if someone can pull this off, it’d be awesome. An integrated screen protector that doubles as a stand? God damn, sign me up. If it’s reliable, it’d really simplify the accessory situation.

The trouble, of course, is that this little “Netpad,” as they call it, would cost a mint. The many moving parts, expensive materials (carbon fiber, magnesium), and multiple touchscreen surfaces would probably propel the final price to… I’d guess about $2000 at least. And since part of the selling point of tablets is their simplicity and low cost, you’d have trouble making money with the thing, cool as it is. Still, if any of these features make it into the next generation of tablets, I’ll be pumped.

More info over at T3, where hopefully they’ll continue updating this thing.

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