What does it mean for a tablet to have a Semantic Web inspired user interface (UI)? Following the launch of the Grid 10 from Fusion Garage – erstwhile known as Tabco in the lead-up campaign to its debut – we’re still not sure.
Brought to you by the same company that tried to make a splash with the JooJoo tablet a couple of years back, the Grid 10 aims to address complaints that were leveled around that failed product, such as being unintuitive and lacking apps. And to show good faith with those who bought the first device, Fusion Garage CEO and founder Chandrashekar Rathakrishnan said those folks can expect emails offering them the Grid 10 for free.
Fusion Garage is making its play not to conquer Apple but to be a real competitor to it, which Rathakrishnan said has been lacking given the me-too sameness of every other player in the mobile device market. He talked about the tablet’s operating system being built to leverage the Android kernel – while emphasizing that “this isn’t Android, though – it is Grid.”
Here’s where one might have thought to hear more about its having semantic technology behind it as a distinguishing characteristic, but the word semantic wasn’t uttered once by Rathakrishnan in his introduction or demo of the Grid 10 today, nor in regard to the Grid for SmartPhone that he introduced as well.
What was uttered: “This is a groundbreaking user interface built from the ground up. The Grid is smart. It has intelligence built in. The grid knows you. And the innovation goes beyond intelligence. It’s also visual, with motion picture-class animations.”
Indeed, the gesture-driven device is pretty, with a 10.1 inch screen, 1366 x 768 resolution that the company says is the highest for any tablet in the market, full-screen chromeless browsing, and collapsible and expandible clusters (aka folders for music, media, the GridFrame productivity suite, etc.) that live on the “endless” Grid Desktop, arranged as you like.
But back to that semantic tech question. Well, we do know that the Grid OS integrates Bing as its search engine – “we believe Bing is the best search technology out there, Rathakrishnan said – and we also know that Bing has semantic niceties such as support for RDFa and schema.org. We would have liked to know more about what Rathakrishnan meant when he discussed a little star feature that gives you intelligent options around search. But after dropping that little tidbit and promising to come back to it, Rathakrishnan never did.
He talked also about a seamless state experience, and demonstrated it via the ability to begin watching a video on the Grid tablet, then pick up right where he left off on a Grid-powered smartphone. “What good is content if you can’t enjoy it in a natural way?” he asked. “Seamless state eliminates that pain.” The feature certainly exhibits intelligence, but whether semantic tech plays a role in delivering it, we don’t know.
Perhaps the semantic UI inspiration is more general, in that the Grid OS seems to understand what you want – or what meanings it should interpret – when you’re engaged in an activity. For instance, tap on an attachment like a photo in an email, and it zooms in for you to view or edit in photo mode, or lets you view a slide show, all right from within the email app. Or you can opt for different grid views of email, such as arranged by colors and sizes to show their varying importance.
There’s also a wheel that’s present on both the tablet and phone versions (one with tabs, one without) that has smarts enough to know that if you looked up the movie Tron in Wikipedia and then highlight that word, that the navigation options you might be interested in would include things like watch the video or buy the DVD. “You click on buy, it splits the screen, and brings a second browser into the equation, so you can deal with functionalities in a combined fashion,” Rathakrishnan said.
Another intelligent capability: The Grid Desktop is said to find and harness all your media content, whether on iTunes or Windows Media Player, and bring it onto the tablet, exactly as you’ve already organized it.
The device also is social, he said, letting you share content in ways you didn’t think possible. “You can share from every function because it’s a social OS,” he noted. But other than a demo of how you could opt for sharing a video from the detailed view of the video gallery that appears when you choose a movie, there wasn’t a lot more discussion about just how Fusion Garage has built sharing into the OS to leverage users’ social graphs.
Rathakrishnan said users can get apps through Amazon’s Appstore or through its own Grid Shop application. And it’s accepting development apps soon. There’s a $499 version of the tablet produt for WiFi and a $599 version that offers WiFi and 3G. They start shipping Sept. 15, and Amazon is carrying the tablet too. Fusion Garage plans a $399 version of a 16-GB unlocked smart phone, but that’s not due until sometime in Q4. It will announce operator availability closer to that date.
“The Grid 10 is really different from anything out there,” Rathakrishnan promised, while adding that the company isn’t crazy enough to think it will outsell Apple, at least in the short term. But it does think it has a strong shot at the whole lot of sameness that it says exists among other entries. With the Grid 10, he said, “everything has been rethought and redone to reflect the new sensibility of users, with the intelligence, with the UI, with the animations. We’ve developed a really different product.”
Maybe even a semantic one?