BERLIN — I threw a party here on April 17 in order to compare the Apple iPad tablet with the new WePad that’s being produced by the Berlin-based company Neofonie. I found that the WePad had many things the iPad was lacking — Flash support, a webcam, multi-tasking and more — but at the time, the WePad I tried had a broken touchscreen interface. So, a week later, I was back in Berlin to see the WePad in action with a working touchscreen. I got a much better feel for how the WePad would work.
The WePad isn’t due to ship until mid-summer in Germany, and probably later in other countries. There were still some glitches in the hardware and software. The unit we tested still weighed 150 grams more than the final version (which will have lighter batteries), and it crashed a few times during the demo. But it was also impressive in a few ways: It moved quickly between apps, and had helpful side scrolling menus to let you move around the large screen quickly.
One issue that came up during the demo was the downside of the WePad being so open. Without the restrictions that Apple imposes on App Store apps, the WePad apps looked like a bit of a jumble on the unit’s desktop screen. That means a more inconsistent experience between various apps. Plus, many of the apps in the demo simply brought up web sites in the WePad’s browser. And, so far, there are no apps for reading e-books yet.
An interesting feature is the option for publishers who subsidize the cost of the WePad to insert ads right onto the desktop interface. That might look annoying for users, but perhaps they will accept the ads in exchange for a free — or nearly free — WePad from the publishers. Below are a couple videos I took with my Flip camera of the demo by Neofonie CEO Helmut Hoffer von Ankershoffen.
This video includes demos of the WePad’s photo app, switching apps, the virtual keyboard, web browser, Flash, YouTube video and the SIM slot:
This video includes demos of how you rearrange apps on the WePad, the app shop, OpenOffice, the virtual keyboard vs. the iPad keyboard, and multi-tasking:
What do you think of the WePad? Would you consider buying it instead of the iPad? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
UPDATE: Dana Blankenhorn at ZDNet says that the WePad is just the beginning of various companies that will be touting iPad killers. Here’s his conclusion:
It’s fitting that the first outfit to pop up here is German. They are the tip of what I suspect may be a very large iceberg. Expect Singaporean, Indian, and even American entrepreneurs to be jumping in all summer, along with some coalitions whose provenance is murkily multi-cultural.
Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.