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Will Portable All-In-One PCs Be the Next Big Collaboration Tool?

One product class you'll see in the consumer space a lot next year is the portable all-in-one device. Sony has one available today, while Dell quietly launched one at Dell World earlier this month and Asustek Computer previewed a few at Computex earlier this year.

While these products clearly focus on the consumer market and digital board games, the fact is that we in the business world often conduct strategy sessions while sitting around a table, and no PC technology has embraced that concept like the portable all-in-one could. The old Surface Table that Microsoft used to sell comes closest to that collaborative ideal. The TV show Hawaii Five-0 uses a table for collaboration in exactly this way, though everyone could have just saved a lot of trouble by using the Microsoft Surface Table instead.

Given that most collaboration technologies suck at enhancing collaboration, it would be fascinating if a technology designed for a completely different purpose did a better job.

Sitting Around the Table

To foster collaboration King Arthur created the round table so no one person, not even the King, was superior position to anyone else. Hundreds of years later, we seem to be unable to recreate this simple concept.

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Today's presentation tools put the presenter in front of the group, standing in a clearly superior position to the audience. Either only a few folks are brave enough to ask questions, validating the speakers' informal or formal relative power and authority, or the questions do their best to belittle the subject or the speaker and challenge that authority. Next time you're in a meeting, there's one person presenting and he or she is seen as a peer, you'll likely see this behavior.

This is likely one of the primary reasons, though far from the only one, we tend to have lots of meetings where nothing really gets done-the events focus on either affirming situational power (and leader of the pack mentality) or showcasing that it doesn't exist.

If folks could sit around the table, have equal access to the technology and use the presentation or medium equally to share ideas and suggest changes, this could offset somewhat our natural tendency to compete for status.

All-In-One PCs a Bit More Portable Than a Table

I've spent a number of years playing with the Microsoft Surface Table and thinking through use cases largely because I've been trying to buy one for years and need to justify it. The Hawaii Five-0 Podcast Blog showcases the table's use: Detectives working through a case have equal access to the technology and can work through ideas on the surface of the table collaboratively. Imagine this same capability if you were working to design a car, a building or a marketing campaign. In fact, there are few collaborative activities that this might not help with.

The issue with tables such as this is that they are pretty expensive and not at all set up for the activities I'm talking about. But take a PC, give it these capabilities, make it portable and give it a touch screen, and suddenly you have a device that can sit in the middle of the table, get passed around, be seen and encourage collaboration.

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This could work for bigger groups, too, by connecting this new class of PC wirelessly to a projector so people can still follow along. Even people working remotely could connect to the room through video conferencing and then share in the work product through linked tablets that let the groups interact. This would allow the experience to transcend geographies and, properly integrated, get people to use these expensive video conferencing systems more often.

The Next Big Thing for the Enterprise?

There is a lot of potential for this new PC form factor to dramatically change the way we collaborate in the enterprise. Since AMD was the core technology in the Surface Table, this may be one of the company's best near-term opportunities to create a new market for its wares.

Regardless, I think this class of product is worth exploring as a collaboration alternative, especially since you could use it after hours to play some interesting and unique games-though using a Surface Table for traffic control would be a bad idea.

Rob Enderle is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. Previously, he was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group. Prior to that he worked for IBM and held positions in Internal Audit, Competitive Analysis, Marketing, Finance and Security. Currently, Enderle writes on emerging technology, security and Linux for a variety of publications and appears on national news TV shows that include CNBC, FOX, Bloomberg and NPR.

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