Cross-system devices like the ATIV Q are evidence of ailing platforms


Last week’s Samsung Premiere event in London brought us plenty of new (or nearly new) hardware, but if you’re anything like me, you found the whole thing seriously lacking any big “wow” moment. That’s not to say that I wasn’t really interested in all this Galaxy and ATIV gear Samsung was showing off, but there just weren’t any show-stoppers. The closest Samsung came to really impressing me was with the ATIV Q – when it announced the tablet’s crazy-high resolution screen and its Android compatibility, I very well might have let out an audible “neat!”

As you may have seen, the rest of the Pocketnow guys were similarly taken with the ATIV Q, and we’ve had a lot of good things to say about Samsung’s idea with this tablet. But as I thought more about the dual-mode Windows 8/Android operation, I found myself beginning to lose enthusiasm.

I almost feel like a hypocrite as I make this point, since I’m usually Mr. let’s-divorce-all-hardware-from-software, and I always look forward to the news of the latest hacked-on OS for the HTC HD2, but when it comes down to it, I really don’t think we should be quite so supportive of cross-platform devices like the ATIV Q – or at least not for the reasons we are, since they only exist due to serious failings in one or more of the platforms they run.

Everything to Everyone

I realize I may be opening up an indefensible can of worms here, but hear me out. I always like to see manufacturers release hardware that has as many opportunities available for it as possible. When it comes to system software, unfortunately, we rarely get much in the way of valuable options. The best we could hope for is an unlocked bootloader and vibrant developer community offering us some custom ROMs, but still, that’s often taking place under the dome of the same mother platform.

In that light, an official solution like Samsung brings with the ATIV Q – that doesn’t just offer another flavor of the same OS, but grants access to a full-on additional platform – is absolutely fantastic.

ativ-q-andy-lowresAnd here’s where my issue lies: for as great as it is to see hardware like this show up, there’s the bigger problem of why we’re so interested in devices like this in the first place.

I may be an idealist a lot of the time when it comes to smartphones and tablets, but I’m under no illusion that the general public could care at all about anything like fully-documented open hardware, and instead is more interested in having access to their favorite apps.

That’s the problem with the ATIV Q. It doesn’t exist because Samsung is concerned with breaking down walls and creating open, flexible hardware, but because there simply aren’t enough compelling tablet apps for Windows 8.

In a way, it reminds me of Boot Camp all over again. Once Macs became Intel-powered, Mac users wanted easy access to Windows, since even though they might prefer the look-and-feel of Apple’s OS, Microsoft’s platform still had the superior selection of software. On the flip side, there’s never been an official way to install OS X on a PC that didn’t come from Apple.

I could easily dismiss that as a consequence of Apple’s pathological need for control, and how it wasn’t interested in anyone running its software on non-Apple hardware, but I think that ignores an important factor: there just wasn’t the reciprocal demand. Those PC users who actually did build themselves a Hackintosh may have done so for many reasons, but I can’t believe that there was a very large contingent thinking, “finally, I can get access to all those Mac programs I’ve been missing!”

Avoiding Problems Isn’t “Solving” Them

What bugs me is that the ATIV Q – or just cross platform operation in general – doesn’t do anything to solve the issue of why we don’t feel satisfied with one platform in the first place. We’re asked to buy into these ecosystems, to surround ourselves with apps and media doled-out by our platform’s storefront, and that’s all supposed to add up to some kind of platform loyalty. If those offerings don’t prove to be enough for us one day, and we want to branch out to using another platform alongside it, augmenting our experience, nothing’s been done to correct the first platform’s failings – we’ve only managed to sidestep the issue.

To put it another way: say there’s one TV channel you’re a big fan of, and it’s only available on cable. Another channel you really like is only available on satellite. A set-top box that receives both cable and satellite signals may give you a quick-and-dirty way to watch everything you want, but it does nothing to address the greater issue: that neither of these companies providing you with programing – each trying to be your one-stop-shop for content – are able to meet all your needs on their own.

Maybe as mobile platforms mature there will be less of a demand for devices like the ATIV Q. For as long as they’re around, though, it’s hard for me to think about them without being reminded of the underlying problems that aren’t being adequately addressed.

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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bits Read more about Stephen Schenck!