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PC World - We worry far too much about the desktop PC becoming a relic of a bygone age. Our focus, instead, should be on the monitor that the PC connects to. Indeed, as we use more and more mobile devices with integrated screens--notebooks, tablets, and smartphones--we pay much less attention to the aging, dumb monitors sitting on our desks.
But monitor makers know the score--and now they're fighting back. Meet the monitor of the future: It's smart, connected, and in some cases portable. Inside isn't just an LCD panel, a backlight, and some logic tying it all together. Instead, it's looking more and more like a tablet, complete with a CPU, a touchscreen, storage, and a full-fledged Android operating system.
Wait-wait-wait, you say. What's the difference between a smart monitor and an all-in-one PC? Or a portable display and a tablet? Today, not much. And doesn't connecting a keyboard to a smart monitor reproduce the functionality of a docked notebook? Yes, absolutely. But as computing components shrink in size and become more modular, manufacturers of all stripes (and this includes monitor manufactuers) gain the flexibility to try out new concepts.
Here's what it means for you: Over time, manufacturers hope the smart monitor will replace the traditional family desktop PC. By itself, the smart monitor will serve as an inexpensive, casual computing environment for Web browsing and simple games. Connected to a laptop or tablet, however, the smart monitor becomes "dumb" at the touch of a button, letting the laptop or tablet's CPU and OS run the show.
And over time, as embedded CPUs become cheaper and more prevalent, smart monitors will simply push older, "dumb" monitors aside.
That's the thinking, anyway. Rhoda Alexander, a veteran display analyst with IHS iSuppli, calls the smart monitor category "experimental" and "ill-defined" as it pivots between tablets and all-in-ones. Nonetheless, she says, designing a smart monitor is a natural development for the display market.
"Instead of sitting back and waiting to see what happens in the monitor market, [monitor makers] are trying to grow share and make products to become more competitive," she explains. "They're going to try a lot of different spins on how they go to market," just like the tablet vendors, she says.
"This is the big lesson of the tablet market," Alexander continues. "If you create a compelling use case, the product just flies off the shelf. If you don't have that use case, you can suck it up the wazzoo."
Right now, smart monitors notwithstanding, that's just what the desktop LCD panel market is doing, with a steady year-over-year decline, as measured by NPD DisplaySearch. And a declining market means declining prices--great for consumers, but troublesome for monitor makers who have seen their profits disappear.
A year or so ago, some monitor makers made what they considered an obvious decision: Follow the trail blazed by connected TVs, which are packed with apps, video streaming services, and an Internet browser.A Consulting firm Deloitte predicts that tens of millions of connected TV sets will sell globally in 2013, and the installed base of TV sets with integrated connectivity should exceed 100 million. In the United Kingdom, a full 20 percent of TVs sold in the first quarter of 2012 had Internet connectivity, U.K. regulator Ofcom reported last year. Over time, the firm expects, it will be difficult to find an HDTVA without connectivity.
The first smart monitors: first-gen problems
Last September, Viewsonic launched the VSD220, a 22-inch, 1920-by-1080 LCD monitor that currently retails for $362--about double the price of the ASUS VS228H-P, a 22-inch LCD monitor with similar dimensions and resolution. Inside, however, lies a TI OMAP processor, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ethernet, three USB ports, and a touchscreen--along with Android 4.0. Just as a TV switches between different input sources, the VSD220 can switch between Android and an HDMI connection to a Windows PC at the touch of a button.
"The idea behind the VSD220 really started with the changing behavior of our customers, from PCs to smartphones to tablets," says Kenneth Mau, a product marketing manager with Viewsonic, who adds that "thousands" of VSD220 monitors have been sold to date. "Consumer behavior went from compute to consume."
That doesn't mean that the transition went smoothly, however.A Initially, the VSD220 was incompatible with the Google Play Store, meaning that apps like Netflix had to be downloaded from Amazon, an inconvenience. Viewsonic also operates its own app store, although popular apps like Spotify either didn't run or were offset 90 degrees in portrait mode. Some apps displayed awkwardly, and others were simply incompatible. Connected TVs, with a limited number of video-streaming apps optimized for large displays, haven't suffered the same problems.
"Neither Android customers nor developers are necessarily used to a 22-inch Android experience," Mau notes.
That said, Viewsonic plans to expand its Android smart monitor line this fall with two models: the VSD221, a comparably priced follow-up to the VSD220 that upgrades the hardware to Android 4.3, and the VSD241, a larger 24-inch version with an Nvidia Tegra 3 processor inside it, Mau said. Viewsonic also plans a version of the VSD221 for the enterprise, with manageability options that include locking out the Google Play app store. Both models will launch in October.
Viewsonic is also working with app developers and with Google itself to make the apps friendlier to larger screens, Mau said. And both the VSD221 and VSD241 contain a gyroscopic sensor so that they can "tell" an app how they're oriented for either portrait or landscape mode.
Native apps, Web browsing: the family PC, version 2.0
Rival BenQ has found two solutions to the app problem: Design its own apps, and emphasize the Web. BenQ has its own smart monitor, the CT2200, which it hasn't yet sold within the United States, although it's received the necessary FCC certification required to do so. The CT2200 pairs a 22.5-inch, 1920-by-1080 touchscreen with a dual-core ARM Cortex A9, 8GB of flash storage, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, two USB ports, a microSD slot, a 1.2MP webcam, and Android 4.0.4.
Bob Wudeck, associate vice president of strategy and business development at BenQ, says that the company has been forced to rethink the concept of a monitor, whether it be gaming monitors optimized for StarCraftA or adding intelligence to the traditional display.
Originally published on www.pcworld.com. Click here to read the original story.