For a company whose products no one has actually seen or knows much about, TabCo has garnered massive buzz on the Net and a tweet-load of social media speculation. Meanwhile the firm has kept its technology wrapped in cranked-down vault that makes Steve Jobs seem loose-lipped.
We know that it has roots in the new touchscreen tablet paradigm. It's not a new Apple thing, nor simply an app for an iPad or other tablet. We know there's no 3-D or stylus, and hints the firm has released suggest it's a real product, with an SD card slot, 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity, a "predictive UI" and a "unique" design. Some have speculated that the hardware may have a circular display.
And now, Fast Company has confirmed with a TabCo spokesperson that the "main defining feature" of the tablet is the "predictive UI" that's been mentioned. Further, the operating system and a "gesture-based user interface" are designed to "provide a new way to interact with your device," the spokesperson says. No clues as to how that interactivity is expressed, but TabCo did say that "capabilities such as search and maps are directly integrated into the UI," and that implies that the user experience may be a more flowing interactive one than the staccato app-to-app experience on an iPad or vanilla Android tablet.
A further hint is that it "draws information from the semantic web and anticipates users' information needs, whether that means searching the web, buying a product, getting directions or otherwise." So: Language, possbily natural language analysis, is key to the tech, meaning it may monitor what you're up to and searching for, and go off and pre-fetch or pre-search information for you ... perhaps, we're guessing, delivering it to you as on-screen hints as you do other things (a kind of Google Instant for activities?).
Lastly, TabCo noted its UI "allows users and corresponding information to move quickly and seamlessly between applications and windows." The tablet will also have Bluetooth and USB—the 3G is optional—and it'll have "multiple language support" (an international launch, then) and a "pre-loaded suite of applications for document, photo and video viewing and editing"—hinting that it's also a productivity device. TabCo again stressed the innovations are in the UI and that interactivity on the touchscreen will be "almost entirely gesture-based" so that navigating between "windows and applications" is "very natural." Underlining its touchscreen-centric design, there are "no physical buttons on the front of the tablet."
The stress on gesture input and the hints about semantic language could be taken as pointers the tablet has excellent speech recognition skills. And the mention of "windows" could be leaped on by some that this device is actually a Windows product—something that's been suggested before, and which tallies with Microsoft's promise of a gesture-centric natural user interface. Hot on the heels of this suggestion is another that TabCo is actually a front that's part of the viral marketing, and the real company is an established name. Nokia is one suggestion for a manufacturer, because some of the early followers of TabCo's Twitter account were key Nokia names, and that Nokia's Palo Alto research center is near the site of the tech "aha moment" that inspired TabCo's tech. TabCo's emails to us definitely came from a Pacific Time zone.
We'll know more on Monday, when whatever TabCo's product is will be revealed, and whoever is really behind it will emerge from the shadows. The extra data we've gathered from TabCo suggest it's definitely an intriguing product—and that will definitely count for much in the increasingly crowded tablet marketplace, where numerous Android tablets jostle and the iPad rules.
Update: At its webcast press launch, TabCo has revealed that it is indeed a parody company. It's actually a smart PR campaign managed by Fusion Garage, the makers of the flopped JooJoo tablet. It's partly because of this history that fG decided to shroud the campaign in mystery so they could "communicate something new was coming" according to CEO Chandra Rathakrishnan.
The new device is the Grid 10, a ten-inch tablet PC that's running a new "Grid" OS, with some very neat front-end tweaks compared to other tablets. It's been born because "since the iPhone in 2007 there has been no innovation," and instead the tablet market is full of the iPad, and undifferentiated tablets running Google OS. Grid relies on a front-end that is an infinite grid of smart-organizing app folders, different to Apple's or Google's, and has a number of clever user experiences that're based on "motion picture class" animations of the device's activity. It'll price the same as the entry iPads, and will be available in September—with Amazon as one of the retail partners.
fG also showed the Grid 4, a smartphone carrying the same OS. It's coming at a very carefully-positioned $399 price in a 16GB version, unlocked unlike many equivalent devices, due in the fourth quarter.
Will either device make it to a decent market share?