Acer brings dual-screen laptop to reality

Acer jumps into the tablet PC fray with an innovative dual screen tablet that sports a touch screen keyboard.

Are physical keyboards soon going to be a thing of the past? At a splashy event here in New York City, Acer Tuesday announced its new concept for a laptop: The Acer Iconia. The name's gravitas is appropriate given that it's the first laptop to ditch a physical keyboard in favor of a two touch-screens attached by a hinge, just as with a standard laptop.

The Iconia runs Windows 7 Home Premium, and features two 14-inch, high-definition displays packaged in a clamshell design. The upright display acts as the primary display, while the display that remains parallel with the surface generally serves as a navigation panel, alternatively displaying a roomy on-screen keyboard, a touch-wheel and other on-screen touch controls, or even an extension of what's displayed on the primary display. The latter option effectively provides a dual-monitor mobile device for presentations or studying complex spreadsheets across both monitors, or viewing one document in one monitor, and another on the second monitor.

Think of it as a Star Trek: The Next Generation control panel come to life. Acer designed the interface overlay, dubbed Acer Ring, makes it easy to access document and Web pages, resize pictures, and navigate your content library; an SDK for it won't be available until December, so for now you'll be limited to whatever customized software Acer has designed.

From the demo presentation in New York, it appears as if Acer has put a lot of effort into providing touch-optimized experiences, though. For example, put five fingers on the display that's flush with the surface, and up comes the Acer Ring interface for accessing your photos and music, and for browsing the Web.

In particular, Acer is emphasizing consuming and accessing your multimedia content easily, especially given its introduction of its own content store, Alive, due in the U.S. in Q2 2011, and Clear-fi, a device networking intiative to make it simple to access your content across devices and popular Web services like Facebook and Flickr.

I'm still waiting on the official specs from Acer, but in the meantime Techradar.com is reporting that the Acer Iconia sports a Calpella i5 processor, Intel HD graphics, 2x DDR3 memory, a 4 -cell battery (for about three hours of battery life), and a not-especially-portable 6.1-pounds weight. It also has three USB ports (one USB 3.0), Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, and HDMI out.

At this writing, the event is still ongoing, but we haven't heard dates and availability for the Iconia in the U.S. market. Reports on the Web say Iconia is due for release in January 2011 in the United Kingdom, for 1500 GBP.

While Iconia's unique design captured the bulk of attention, Acer also introduced 7-inch and 10-inch Android tablets, a 10-inch Windows 7 tablet, and a 5-inch Android smartphone the company referred to as a "mini-tablet." Availability for those will be further into 2011. The Windows tablet will likely be by February, according to Acer CEO and President Gianfranco Lanci. "For the others, it's less under our control. It depends on when the Android tablet operating system is available," says Lanci. "We don't want to release a tablet with a phone OS."

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