SAN FRANCISCO – Less than a month after Google announced details of a modular smartphone, Entegra Technologies debuted a modular tablet. The Crossfire Pro initially targets military and business markets, letting users choose a wide variety of options including modules it will enable third parties to make in an effort to drive the system into consumer and other markets.
Users can pick their tablet's operating system, processor, I/O ports, wireless connectivity, and accessories. One analyst was skeptical users will want so many choices.
“We want to change conversation around mobility and focus on how to help customers continually adapt to a changing business world,” Entegra CEO Steve Carpenter told EE Times. "The landscape is changing so fast that it makes buyer nervous about making a decision to purchase something. Modularity allows them to purchase without worrying about upgrading later."
Crossfire Pro supports both 32-bit ARM and x86 processors on Windows, Android, and Linux operating systems. In its launch platform, the tablet will run a quad core Bay Trail SoC with 8 Gbytes of memory. The tablet also comes standard with two antennas to support MIMO-enhanced WiFi, front and rear-facing cameras, and a variety of sensors including a three axis accelerometer and thermal sensor.
Entegra has already created 14 modules -- including a point of sale system and thermal imager for pipeline inspection -- for retail, the oil and gas industry, and military uses. The company plans to develop more but will also release its specs in a SDK for independent module makers. Developers also can create "modular software" to interface between the SoC and modules. Entegra will certify the devices then sell them through an online store.
Our goal is to enable people who have great ideas. So many people can't afford millions of dollars in engineering and investment; the hardware is too capital intensive for people to innovate. We want to break that wall down and make our [specifications] available. You can't do things at a hardware level with any of the big guys because they won't even talk to you.
To encourage innovation, Entegra plans to give Crossfire Pros and developer kits to six computer science and engineering universities. Carpenter said he hopes the pilot program will engage academics and entrepreneurs to create modules.
"We see Crossfire ending up as a mainstream device with consumers, but our focus has been around solving tasks with military and enterprise customers; now those employees are asking to use the tablets at home," said quality assurance director Doug Fowler, adding that he hopes a consumer market for the tablet will develop by 2015.
Crossfire Pro will reach full production in July with accessories available between then and September.
Bob O'Donnell, a veteran mobile analyst at International Data Corp., is skeptical about the need for a modular tablet in the consumer market. Such a device may be overkill, he said.
"There are so many different choices now available in tablets and smart phones, why do I need to make a single device to try to fit every need of the market," O'Donnell told EE Times. "The online market is basically a modular choice. Most people don't want to have five different choices; even if they do they'll end up picking five different products from two or three different vendors."
O'Donnell also expressed concern about Crossfire's price point, which ranges from $1,000 on the low end with an ARM processor and Android, to over $2,000 for a Bay Trail-based system with hot swap battery. Price will be adjusted for consumer devices, Carpenter said.
"The No.1 issue is going to be price point, it determines context. Crossfire is kind of in a league of its own," O'Donnell said. "Business has upper limits as well, and it would be very difficult to get a whole lot of businesses to spend that kind of money on tablets."
As growth in the tablet market slows, according to data from IDC, innovation becomes important. O'Donnell said he has seen mobile innovation plateau and creating the next big thing will be a challenge.
— Jessica Lipsky, Associate Editor, EE Times