The Always Innovating Touch Book does something I've never seen from a netbook: it has a fully detachable keyboard dock and transforms from a standard looking 8.9-inch netbook, to a stand-alone tablet.
Spearheaded by Gregoire Gentil, the man behind the Zonbu Desktop and Laptop, the Touch Book is his latest project, and a promising one at that. Gentil says the Touch Book's hardware and software are fully open source and ready for modifications. While the device will come preloaded with a custom Touch Book OS, Gentil says this machine is capable of running mobile operating systems such as Android or Windows CE.
The hardware I saw wasn't quite complete—the software was demoed on a prototype, and the final hardware above were just empty shells to give an idea of the design—so I cant comment too much on how well the end product performs, but I saw enough to consider this thing more than vaporware.
The Touch Book is the first netbook powered by a 600 MHz TI OMAP3 processor (built around ARM technology), 256 MB RAM, 3-axis accelerometer, an 8-gigabyte microSD card for storage and two batteries providing up to 15 hours of usage between charges. The 8.9-inch screen can display resolutions up to 1024x768 and uses a resistive touch panel.There's also the usual offerings of 802.11b/g/n wi-fi and Bluetooth.
As a standalone tablet, the Touch Book is roughly 9.5"x7"x1" and weighs about a pound. When docked to the keyboard, it is about 1.4-inches thick and weighs 2 pounds. All of the Touch Book's guts, except for one of the batteries, are housed in the tablet portion of the device, so that it's fully functional while detatched from the keyboard.
The chipset fits on a motherboard about the size of an index card, and is heavily optimized to get the best performance out of the hardware. Part of this involves stacking the RAM directly on top of the processor in a package on package configuration. The lid of the touchbook also pops off, so you have easy access to the hardware and it's two internal USB ports you can use for dongles you dont want hanging off the side of the tablet.
As far as software goes, the OS is based around the Open Embedded Linux platform, but fully customized for the Touch Book hardware. As such, the Touch Book has the power to handle full screen video, and render OpenGL 3D graphics. Gentil says the Touch Book can run some of the same games found on the iPhone and plans to offer them in the future.
The Touch Book UI design depends on what configuration the hardware is in. When docked to the keyboard, the Touch Book uses a standard, cursor-based UI that looks like other Linux desktops. However, when in tablet mode, it uses a custom-designed, touch-based UI. The touch UI is based around spherical icons that rotate in a circular fashion as you swipe to the next one. Content is divided into three categories: web, apps and settings.
On the apps side, Touch Book will ship with both Firefox and Fennec (Mobile Firefox), games that will make use of the accelerometer, plus various sorts of web and productivity apps, such as word processor and spreadsheet-type programs.
Always Innovating plans to start shipping the Touch Book in late May or early June, priced at $300 for the tablet alone, or $400 for the tablet and keyboard dock combination. Pre-ordering will begin next week, and you can order the Touch Book in either red or dark grey colors. Gentil says he would also like to release future iterations that include support for GPS and 3G mobile broadband. [Always Innovating]
NEW TOUCHBOOK COMBINES NETBOOK AND TOUCHSCREEN TABLET; PROVIDES THREE TIMES THE BATTERY LIFE AT UNDER TWO POUNDS
PALM DESERT, Calif. March 2, 2009: Always Innovating today unveiled the Touch Book, a versatile new device that works as both a netbook and a tablet thanks to a detachable keyboard and a 3D touchscreen user interface. The Touch Book, previewed at DEMO 09, weighs less than two pounds as a netbook and has a battery life of 10 to 15 hours – three times longer than most netbooks.
"The Touch Book is perfect for these tough economic times because you can use it in so many ways," said Gregoire Gentil, founder of Always Innovating and creator of the Touch Book. "You can use it as a netbook computer, a hand-held game device, or a video player. You can even reverse the keyboard to prop it up on a table in an inverted ‘V'. Finally, because it is magnetic, you can remove the keyboard and put the tablet on the fridge to serve as a kitchen computer or digital frame."
The Touch Book combines the best of open source software and open hardware with a sleek industrial design by designer Fred Bould. The innovative design includes internal USB plugs. "I hate having dongles hanging from my laptop – I often end up disconnecting them accidentally – so we opted to put the USB inside," said Gentil.
The Touch Book is the first netbook featuring an ARM processor from Texas Instruments, resulting in outstanding battery life, and a fan less, heat-and-noise-free system.
According to Chris Shipley, executive producer of the DEMO Conferences, the Touch Book's innovative architecture and industrial design earned it a spot on the DEMO conference stage. "The longer battery life is a boon to netbook users. But the Touch Book's versatility – its ability to function as a netbook as well as a standalone touchscreen tablet – makes it a breakthrough product," said Shipley
The Touch Book is expected to ship in late spring and will start at $299. Advance orders can be placed at http://www.alwaysinnovating.com/store/.