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    Hands-On with WePad Touchscreen Interface

    by Mark Glaser
    April 29, 2010

    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.

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    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:

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    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.

    Tagged: apple apps flash ipad tablet touchscreen virtual keyboard wepad
    • Robb Montgomery

      Ach so, herr Glaser. Das verstere ich noch nicht!

      I think this approach wins in one key area. USB modem connectivity. Can’t be understated that USB modems is the way many Europeans and people in the developing world get on the Internet. Netbook users like their USB modems and Skype face cams.

      It loses in other areas. Junky, cluttered design, susceptible to viruses and short battery life.

      You should get these guys to let you see it work out in the real world: Try using it a cafe at the Hackescher Markt and tell me what you think.

    • Hi Robb,
      Great points all around. Actually I saw it in a restaurant not that far from the Hackescher Markt. This WePad did not have a SIM card for a 3G connection and relied on a poor WiFi network setup. So it was slower and hard to judge. But like you said, it has a lot of potential.

    • Ben

      I thought the customization of the apps screen was great, and the reliance on many open source tools; but I think that may prove to be an achilles’ heel. Open Source is great, and for the most part, I’m usually a fan of small pieces, loosely joined, but when I pick up a consumer-level product that I expect to use for a god portion of the day, everything needs to “just work”, much like Apple’s philosophy.

      Not that this needs to work like an Apple product, and I imagine many of the bugs will be ironed out before release, but the reliance on the open source products in that form factor may not produce the same user-experience as a device with applications tailored for it’s interface.

    • Jens Best

      the WePad climbs to position number one of the german Amazon bestseller charts for computers! http://bit.ly/bf1XNu

    • Linux touchpads have been around for years and the WePad, which runs Android on top of Linux, is not even the first Android pad. Why so much attention for this unfinished product that does not yet seem to know what it wants to be when it grows up?

      If publishers have gotten the idea they will be able to cram print products into a touchscreen distribution channel and preserve a paid-content business model, they’re in for a disappointment.

      The other thing that puzzles me is Robb’s claim that it’s “susceptible to viruses.” What viruses would those be? There aren’t any Android viruses or Linux viruses in the wild. This isn’t Windows.

    • Steve,
      True enough there have been previous Linux touchpads, but I don’t think with the ease of use and features of the WePad. I agree that it still is an unfinished product, but why does it get attention? Because it’s taking on the iPad by offering everything the iPad doesn’t have, and taking a more open approach — as well as partnering with big publishers like Stern. I’m not convinced it will change the game for media companies, but it’s worth watching.

      Plus, I just happened to be in Berlin so it was convenient to see it there.

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