AFR: Sony's 2-screen "Tablet P": a good idea gone wrong

John Gilmore gnu at
Mon Apr 2 21:33:30 EDT 2012

[Summary: 2-screen laptops need fairly deep software support because 2
 screens don't look like 1 screen.  I excerpted freely below; see
the link for the entire story. --gnu]

Sony's tablet a good idea gone wrong
PUBLISHED: 30 Mar 2012

The best thing that can be said about Sony's new $729 Tablet P is that
it means well.

The central idea that must have led to the construction of the Tablet
P -- that iPads are too large -- is pretty sound. iPads are too large,
at least for a lot of users (the staff here at the Digital Life Labs
included), and at least for a lot of applications.

So, yes, Sony was trying to solve a genuine problem when it came up
with the Tablet P, a tablet that folds in half so you can slip it into
your pocket or purse, that's light enough to read e-books on
for hours without your hand cramping, and small enough that you can
use it as a camera without looking like a total tool.

The trouble was, they couldn't make it happen, not with
today's technology. To have a tablet fold in two, you either need one
screen that folds in two, or you need two screens with absolutely no
bezel, so that one screen blends seamlessly with the other screen when
they're placed side by side. Neither of those technologies are
available today, so all Sony's engineers could come up with was two
screens, each with a modest 4 mm bezel that, when placed next to the
other bezel, creates a whopping great 9 mm-wide black bar right in the
middle of the display. (The other millimetre is the gap between the
displays, which can be quite irritating if there's light behind the
display, shining through.)

Now, that wouldn't be completely fatal if the Tablet P were running an
operating system that knew how to handle two screens with a black bar
and a sliver of light in the middle of them. But the Tablet P is
running Android, and neither Android nor most Android apps have a clue
how to use the dual display.

Some apps on the Tablet P, chiefly the ones Sony has rewritten
specifically for the device, work quite well. The email app, for
instance, uses one screen as a virtual keyboard, and the other screen
as a display, when you're creating emails. When you're viewing emails,
one screen is used to list the items in the inbox, and the other
screen is used to preview the highlighted item.

But trouble arises when you use apps other than the ones written to
cope with the black bar. Most apps will just curl up into a ball and
display only on one of the two screens. Neither of those screens is
very large, so you end up with apps displaying little bigger than they
would on a mobile phone. Worse yet, they're both very long and narrow,
far more so than many apps seem able to cope with, and as a result
many apps won't even fully utilise the one small screen they're
on. Amazon's Kindle app, for instance, an app so well written that it
can usually cope with any screen you throw at it, uses only 83 per
cent of one screen, and zero per cent of the other. Almost 60 per cent
of the Tablet P's display is left blank.

It's such a pity, because a tablet that folds in two is such a good
idea.  Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the Tablet P is
not that it means well, but that it's simply ahead of its time.

More information about the Devel mailing list