Last week I paid a visit to Inbrics in Seoul – you may remember them as the small (international, anyway) Korean company that showed off a quite sexy Android slider – the– at CES. As well as getting a look at some other products they have in the pipeline, I got an update on the M1′s progress – it’s now fully up to speed with Android 2.1 (as promised at CES), and the processor has been bumped from 800MHz to 1GHz – it uses a Samsung C110 processor similar to the the iPhones. Inbrics are aiming for a July launch in Korea, and a US launch by the end of the year. The price has changed slightly from $200 to “low $200 range”, but thats still a hell of a bargain for the hardware you’re getting (3.7″ OLED, non-multitouch capacitive screen, full QWERTY keyboard, WiFi, and the above-mentioned 1GHz processor and Android 2.1).
Nexus One / M1
The showpiece of their presentation, however, was a software demonstration of a product they call ConvergenceOne. Put very simply, ConvergenceOne is a DLNA-powered media streaming service, but leaving it at that would fail to do the software justice. Fire it up on the device you want to act as the “Control Tower” (for the demonstration we were using the S1, pictured above), and it auto-detects any DLNA devices on the same network – in this case we had an HDTV, a Windows Laptop, the M1, S1, and a Windows Mobile 6.5 Handset. ConvergenceOne sorts these devices into categories and allows you to select any of them and view the media they are sharing. So far, so good – now the clever part. When you choose to play a file, a slick visual menu pops up at the bottom of the screen and allows you to select any of the devices connected to push the media to – so in our example, using the S1 we were able to choose a movie file stored on the Laptop and push it to the HDTV for playback. Next we paused the video, and by going back to the playback menu we were able to select a new playback device – next we chose the M1 MID, and the playback resumed on the M1 where it had left off on the HDTV almost instantly (A video of this is coming as soon as I can get around South Korea’s unique and infuriating YouTube upload ban).
Pushing media around various devices is nothing new, but being able to pause and resume playback across a variety of devices is a killer feature, and although the UI could use some work, the core functionality that is already there is very impressive. Some features were missing – like the ability to push media to more than one device (being able to pump music around your entire house, for example, would be awesome), as well as being able to stream multiple pieces of media to separate devices at once. Inbrics refused to be drawn on whether they would release the software for other Android devices (being able to use my Nexus One as a Control Tower while wandering around my house was the first usage scenario that sprang to mind after the demo). It’s also unclear at this stage what level of integration it will have with Android – it currently runs within Inbrics’ own Android overlay, which features all their own menus and widgets, and a CoverFlow-style media player. It’d be a shame to deny this awesome functionality to people who want to use the stock Android interface.
Black & White M1s
Unfortunately by the end of a day of demoing the M1 pre-production unit’s touchscreen had pretty much given up the ghost so I wasn’t able to play with it any great amount, but for such an early unit it’s certainly promising great things. Inbrics say they’ll have an almost-final production model by May.
Bobby Cha say it was a conscious decision to position the M1 as an additional device, instead of competing in an already-crowded Android phone market with an unknown brand name; he says the market is ready for another device, citing the Kindle and theas examples. He didn’t seem concerned that both the Kindle and iPad offer significantly different user experiences and form-factors than current phones, as opposed to the M1, which most people thought was a phone. Although this positioning would seem like a sensible decision, perhaps even the only logical decision if ConvergenceOne is to make up a large part of their product (It wouldn’t work outside your home, rendering it fairly immobile), it remains to be seen if the M1 can provide enough additional functionality over any other Android device to prove tempting to consumers. Inbrics’ own Android overlay has its drawbacks – they tell me they don’t plan to make any Facebook or Twitter widgets to fill out their 7 homescreens, and the 3D transitions, although nice, were fairly slow and I imagine could become an annoyance in the longrun.
I think for avid VoIP users the S1 will be a no-brainer. It’s a sleek looking device, it’s got an HDMI-out in the back to attach it to an HDTV for video calling, a standalone handset for voice calls and will support bluetooth keyboards. At this point Inbrics is acting purely as an OEM and says it will be up to any sales partners to do the necessary deals to get Skype or iChat on the device, but if that happens and they can hit a pricepoint as aggressive as the M1′s, these will fly off the shelves.
Overall I came away with the impression that Inbrics are a company that know what they’re doing and have a very definite direction and vision – a refreshing change from the hundreds of me-too companies that populate the MID and portables space. They’ve got an excellent piece of software and a couple of excellent pieces of hardware to run it on – now will somebody please sign a distribution deal with them!