Vizio plans tablet/smartphone/TV ecosystem

Vizio will show an Android tablet and smartphone at CES, both of which offer feature-pairing with the company's TVs and Blu-ray players.

Vizio is best known as a low-cost LCD HDTV maker, but the company is jumping into the tablet and smartphone business with plans to offer an Android tablet as well as an Android smartphone dubbed the Via Tablet and Via Phone respectively (can't help but wonder if they had to negotiate the trademark of the name with either Starbucks or the Canadian rail service).

Vizio teased the tablet in an ad during the Rose Bowl this Saturday, but without offering much detail. While there isn't a huge amount known about either the tablet or the smartphone, the details that have been announced as a precursor to CES are certainly intriguing (I'll be making a point to check them out while I'm at CES – so check back for more details later this week).

Both devices will share the following specs:

  • 802.11n Wi-Fi support (the only network/Internet access for the tablet)
  • 1GHz processors
  • MicroSD card slots
  • HDMI
  • Front and rear facing cameras
  • GPS (presumably phone-only)

The tablet will ship in only an 8-inch version (a slight shift from the 7-inch and 10-inch sizes that seem to have become standard) and the phone will feature s 4-inch screen.

Both devices will be skinned with a Vizio-specific interface on top of Android (something that many Android device manufacturers have taken to using). Unlike other manufacturers, however, Vizio has a significant reason for adopting a custom interface. The company is planning to pair the devices with its line of home theater solutions to offer tablet/phone-directed playback similar to Apple's AirPlay with both its HDTV models and sets connected to its Blu-ray players.

In addition to adding AirPlay-like support, Vizio is also adding Google TV to its lineup of both HDTVs and Blu-ray players, though it appears to be including its own widget-based skin on top of Google TV (still a coup for Google given the recent concerns that its TV platform wasn't succeeding).

Aside from the other Google TV features, this means that any iOS or Android device will work as a Bluetooth remote with Vizio's new offerings (the company will also offer Bluetooth remotes with touchscreens and QWETY keyboards with some models). Vizio is also expected to feature an all-3D range of TVs this year – clearly showing that it is planning to offer consumers every possible entertainment option it can pack into its products.

Details on pricing and availability haven't been announced yet.

Last week, I considered whether Samsung was going to be the next Apple in terms of developing an entertainment/mobile/home theater ecosystem. It seems clear that Samsung isn't the only company thinking along those lines. In fact, by adding a solution that takes video from a tablet or smartphone and "projects" it onto a TV, Vizio may be getting a step ahead of Samsung on at least one front.

Whether you're interested in Vizio's products or not, the major point here is that companies are learning from Apple's model that creating an complete ecosystem of solutions rather than individual products offer a much greater chance of success and more value (for both the manufacturer and the customer). Hopefully, they won't all turned their lines into completely walled gardens that preclude any interoperation between devices and services from different vendors.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at www.ryanfaas.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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