Android gaming tablet Wikipad sheds 3D, grows to 10"

Remember that Android gaming-tablet, the Wikipad, that we talked about last May? No? I don't blame you, I'd forgotten all about it too. But when last we heard about it, it was a 7" glasses-free 3D enabled Android tablet that had an add-on that gave it physical controls for gaming, and it was going to be powered by cloud-gaming service Gaikai.

I was more than a bit skeptical about the Wikipad but I'm slowly coming around, based on new information and some changes in the gaming-scape.

First, on the hardware itself, yesterday VentureBeat shared some exclusive specs. The hardware of the tablet (setting aside the controller attachment) seems solid. The Wikipad is now a 10.1" tablet with a 1280x800 IPS display. Inside is a Tegra 3 T30 chip running at 1.4 Ghz. That makes it a bit faster than the Google Nexus 7 and a bit slower than the ASUS Transformer Prime Infinity 700. The Wikipad includes a gig of RAM and at least 16 GB of storage; that last figure might be adjusted upwards before launch. The Wikipad will be lighter than the iPad 3 (560 grams vs 652 grams). It'll run Android Jelly Bean.

So it sounds, on paper, like a pretty nice Android tablet. Of course that depends on the price, which we don't know yet.

The controller, which adds a standard set of gamepad controls (dual analog stick, triggers, bumpers, face buttons, a d-pad, start and select buttons) will come standard with the Wikipad but it detaches for when you don't need it.

The glasses-free 3D aspect has been jettisoned at least for now. That's one change that brings me closer to believing in this product. I don't think any of us want to pay extra for a gimmick feature like glasses-free 3D at this point, do we? It's one thing in a closed ecosystem like Nintendo's 3DS, but how many Android developers are going to consider 3D when building their games? Almost none.

Back in May, the Wikipad was going to be powered by Gaikai for its games. The VentureBeat story doesn't mention Gaikai and considering that Sony has purchased the cloud-gaming service, I'm going to guess it's no longer part of the Wikipad system (though let's not forget that Onlive has an Android client which ought to work on the Wikipad).

But let's assume the focus is going to be on native, locally running Android games. That would've seemed risky back in May, but gaming on Android has been improving since then, and devices like the Nexus 7 are going to help that continue.

And then there's the Ouya factor. Ouya is a $100 Kickstarter-funded Android-based gaming console, meant to hook up to your TV. The folks behind Ouya needed to raise $950,000 to get the hardware created. They're at something like $5.8 million so far. They've pre-sold 43,000 already (via Kickstarter). That's a pretty good head start but not really enough to get developers flocking to support the device.

However, combine the Wikipad and the Ouya (which is also based on a Tegra 3 chip) and maybe you have an audience. Gamers can play the same games on their tablet and their console, using physical controls with both. Add cloud-based storage for game saves and you've got an interesting niche building; hopefully enough to entice Android game developers to support physical controllers in their titles (some already do thanks to the Xperia Play and the fact that Android supports gamepads, either via Bluetooth or a USB port).

Of course it'll all depend on the price of the Wikipad. We're seeing that $199-$249 is a price point that sells 7" Android tablets. What price will sell 10" tablets? $349? Can Wikipad sell both a tablet and that big plastic chunk of controller for that little? Is $399 too much? Might be. Certainly it can't be more than $400 and I really think it needs to be $349, tops. They were aiming for $199 back when it was a 7" device, and the controller was going to be an additional $50.

Anyone interested? And do you think Wikipad and Ouya will compete with each other or supplement each other? I think the latter, just by creating a bigger audience of gamers using physical controls on their Android devices.

The Wikipad is supposed to ship this year. Stay tuned.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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