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. 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 HDTV 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. 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.
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