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Toshiba Debuts 2D/3D Laptop Enigma

Of all the technology launches this spring, Toshiba Corp.'s “Dynabook Qosmio T851/D8CR,” announced last week, may be the weirdest. There is a lot about this device that's hard to understand.

There is the impossible-to-remember name. There is the fact that a notebook — rather than a tablet or smaller mobile device — was used to debut a new screen technology. Is there evidence of anyone using a notebook for experimenting with screens?

But by far the oddest part is the new technology itself: “The world's first glasses-free 3D notebook PC.” The Dynabook Qosmio T851/D8CR is apparently the first computer “able to display 3D and 2D content at the same time on one screen.” A dramatic technological advance, certainly. It's not clear what prompted Toshiba to develop it, however.

Toshiba hasn't explained what exactly it thinks consumers would do with the device. Developers would enjoy opportunities to experiment, and video game developers could presumably mix 3D scenes with text information, space ships with their controls, dragons with their vital signs, or what-have-you. Scientists might be able to mix 3D diagrams with video conferencing. Bored office workers could toggle between pretending to do their work, and watching downloads of Avatar in 3D.

That's what Toshiba expects. It sees a market for people who are willing to pay in the neighborhood of a thousand dollars to take multi-tasking to another dimension. With the 3D/2D screen, you’ll be able to “watch high-quality 3D images or enjoy 3D games in one window without any need for wearing dedicated glasses or installing a dedicated panel over the display, while at the same time working, browsing the internet or sending e-mail in another window,” the company says.

What’s not clear is why Toshiba thinks 3D laptops are the bet to make right now. Product innovation, and predicting consumer demand for innovations, is an imprecise science, but at first glance, Toshiba’s technology sounds mostly useful for generating headaches. Will developers really create split-screen 3D versions of games, for example, just for this one device? Do we see evidence of developers doing so already for LG's Optimus 3D phone, and its cousin, the Optimus tablet, released two months ago? It's not so clear we are.

On one hand, many early reviews of the iPad said something similar two years ago, and consumers ignored them. And the iPad 2 itself could be moving that technology in a 3D direction. But with these technologies, there's a feeling of the tail wagging the dog. On the other hand, consumer behavior seems to suggest that what people want are simple things that are cheaper and reliable. For example, a below-$20 smartphone for sale in parts of the world with huge populations and enormous potential demand for handsets, but where customers have little disposable income.

If tablet sales really do jump 400 percent this year, that will be a result of their small size, low price compared to a computer, and utility for doing everything from making a phone call to reading a book. The statistics we have suggest a market for doing fewer things well at a reasonable price. Not for doing peculiar things poorly, on a platform that could be dying.

Laptops aren't science — that's the message the market seems to be sending. They are tools, not objects of research. Which could mean Toshiba knows something, and people really do want a half-3D laptop as a tool for performing tasks or enjoying entertainment yet to be invented. But it's more likely Toshiba's making a bet, during a recession, on a technology with no apparent market and no apparent content.

And that makes me wonder: Do we start up a supply chain for technologies that seem only to exist because they can? And when those chains collapse, who pays?

8 comments on “Toshiba Debuts 2D/3D Laptop Enigma

  1. SunitaT
    April 26, 2011

    Marc, 2D for official work purposes and 3D for entertainment purposes makes sense. I guess Toshiba chose notebook over tablet/smartphone because notebooks support high-end games which require high-performance processors.

  2. AnalyzeThis
    April 26, 2011

    It's very hard for me to understand why so many companies seem to think that “3D” is some kind of magical technology and if they add it to any product, it'll cause consumers to go nuts and buy whatever gadgets in droves.

    Out of all the current “fads” in tech, 3D is perhaps the most annoying.

    Don't get me wrong, there are a few applications where 3D makes sense: it's fine for movies in the theater and the Nintendo 3DS at least has a decent implementation of the gimmick. But this Toshiba… thing? The 3D phones? There are very few actually useful applications for this.

    A 3D laptop is particularly perplexing: why? Will you be more productive on a 3D laptop than a regular one? No. Can you game better on it? Maybe? (And even that is questionable: 3D won't make a bad game any better from a gameplay standpoint) But who is going to develop games specifically for this? Essentially no one, and all your regular, good games will play the same on your more expensive “3D” machine.

    I'm looking forward to reading all the “death of 3D” articles that I'm sure will pop up a year or so from now.

  3. Eldredge
    April 26, 2011

    Do they think that this is disruptive technology, and can stand on it's own because of it? I wonder how much market research went into this product. It will be interesting to see how it fares in the marketplace.

  4. Jay_Bond
    April 27, 2011

    Toshiba is taking a huge risk on this release. Most people that are still spending $1000 or more on a laptop are serious business professionals or a few hardcore gamers that want portability away from their home computer.  The professionals could care less about having 3D technology and in fact might find it rather annoying. Toshiba would be better off focusing on taking this technology and installing it in their TV's. They would have more sales targeting consumers who want 3D movies at home without glasses.

  5. Himanshugupta
    April 27, 2011

    Tirlapur, would it be useless to but 3D notebook without enough content to watch or play for that matter. Some movies were and will be released in 3D but they are not enough for entertainment point of view. I am not a gaming enthusiast but gamers always want faster and faster processors and 3D games will actually be heavier for the existing processors and graphics cards.

  6. Marc Herman
    April 29, 2011

    I'm mostly stuck on the split screen. Can a person really handle, or want to handle, visual information in both two and three dimensions, at once? It seems a little like mixing scotch and vodka.

  7. Taimoor Zubar
    April 29, 2011

    Although the laptop seems to be pretty cool, I am just wondering how will the developers be able to take advantage of the 3D screen. Will Toshiba also develop a library or an interface that developers will have to use in order to render 3D graphics on the screen? Without this support, it doesn't seem likely that they will be able to have proper 3D and 2D projection at the same time.

  8. Ms. Daisy
    April 30, 2011

    You stated, “Toshiba hasn't explained what exactly it thinks consumers would do with the device.”

    Could this debut just be a toss up idea in hope that it will take on? Or is it a phase of the R & D of an idea for the bigger screen?  It is an expensive proposition though.  

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