When the Entourage Edge was revealed in late 2009 it immediately caught the attention of all the tech blogs. It had a dual screen design that hadn’t been seen before, and it was launching in the pre-iPad era where ereaders were hot news (there were no Android tablets yet). The Edge was the darling of CES 2010, where Entourage’s tiny booth was nearly flattened in the crush.
Its death 18 months later came as something of a surprise, and it wasn’t until today that I could say that I really understood why it died.
This was a tablet that launched before its time, and I have the results from a pilot program to prove it.
While there have been numerous pilot programs that tested ereaders in the classroom and a huge amount of pilot and ongoing programs that use the iPad in the classroom, I know of only one pilot program that tested the Entourage Edge. This was at the City University of New York, where a couple undergraduate classes tested the Edge in the fall of 2010.
A few days ago I got it into my head to go look up the results of that pilot. It wasn’t very large, and it didn’t run very long, but the pilot continued long enough that someone documented the problems with this dual-screen tablet.
Not very many people liked it, and in fact one early feedback report says that 14 out of 18 students polled thought that the pilot should be cancelled. A number of students also reported abandoning the Edge before the semester was over because it was a hindrance to learning.
But the most interesting point about this pilot was that most of the complaints were issues that were common to a lot of Android devices circa 2010.
For example, the Edge was faulted for the software not being easy to use and for not coming with very many apps installed. Apps were also reportedly hard to find.
Nothing there is a surprise. The Edge ran Android 1.6, which wasn’t terribly user friendly. But it was about the only option when Entourage was developing the firmware in September 2009. Sure Android 2.0 came out in October 2009, but I’m not sure it’s fair to fault a small company for keeping 1.6. They probably didn’t want to spend the resources to start again. And as for the apps, everyone had trouble finding Android apps in late 2010. If you didn’t have Android Market this was a serious problem – in 2010.
The Edge was also faulted for hardware issues. It was heavy (not that there was much you can do about that). There were complaints about the Wacom touchscreen on the E-ink side (stylus kept getting lost), and the screen geometry of the 10″ LCD screen. The device was also slow and tended to crash.
Guess what? All those issues have stopped being issues as new and better devices have been released. The LCD screen, which was described as being too tall, was likely Entourage’s only option in 2009. Now they could use a 9.7″ screen with the same dimensions as the E-ink screen, but I doubt anyone was making them then. And as for the E-ink screen, a modern Edge would use Neonode’s IR touchscreen, not Wacom. What’s more, a modern Edge would also have a faster multi-core CPU.
And do you know what? If someone made an Edge dual screen tablet today they could even do something about the weight. Think about the Asus eeePad Transformer. What if someone applied the idea of removable dock to the existing design of the Edge?
The E-ink screen could be the second optional component. (I’d prefer the other way around, but I’m probably a minority.) This would let users pull one part out of their backpack and manipulate it like a tablet. They’d then pull out the E-ink side and dock them together when it was time for serious study.
But as much as I like the idea, it’s probably never going to happen. The very concept is now tarred with the failure of the Entourage Edge, so there’s little chance that a startup would want to try again.
And I don’t think even Asus will give it a shot. I know a lot of people with the Transformer, and of that group hardly anyone also bought the keyboard dock. A dock with an E-ink screen would probably fare even worse. And to be honest, I’d much rather have a pair of LCD screens than I’d want an E-ink screen. It feels like it would be more useful that way.
The Entourage Edge truly was a gadget before its time, and by the time the tech was there to build a really good device the company was out of money. As a result when a truly usable design hit the market, the brand said Asus, not Entourage. The Transformer may have had a keyboard instead of a second screen, but I can’t help but look at them and wonder if one inspired the other.