The three-in-one Aussie device that could kill the PC

More than 30 years ago, Terry Crews invented one of world's first laptops. Now he's back with the 'Swiss army knife' of communications systems, the Unity tablet.

A little-known Melbourne company is aiming to take on the big guns with a new, three-in-one tablet that promises to revolutionise businesses’ ICT systems and replace the need for expensive desktop PCs.

More than 30 years ago, inventor Terry Crews was responsible for arguably the world’s first laptop, the Dulmont Magnum, and travelled the world showcasing the product.

Now chief executive of Vixtel, the computing pioneer of 51 years and serial inventor is pushing the boundaries once again with Unity -- the only tablet designed in Australia.

A 10.1-inch widescreen tablet that combines two operating systems powering three devices in one (tablet, PC and phone), presales of the Unity are currently available via crowdfunding platform Indiegogo for $US645 ($A692.662) -- that’s including a handsome $US350 discount. SMEs can purchase the device from major retail outlets come July, while bigger businesses will need to set up an account with Vixtel.

The Unity is decked out with a custom built quad core processor, 2GB Ram, 32GB storage, a 5 megapixel dual-facing camera and a full suite of PBX phone software. As a standalone tablet it runs Android’s latest OS, KitKat; when docked it runs on Linux-based OS Ubuntu and can be connected to a monitor, keyboard and mouse. It also comes with a snazzy-looking Bluetooth handset for mobile and VoIP calls… or for talking to your smartwatch.

Graph for The three-in-one Aussie device that could kill the PC

With businesses now expected to have everything from PCs and laptops to tablets and mobile phones -- all of which eat up precious capital -- Crews says there was a need to consolidate clients’ tools more effectively. So Vixtel, which supplies phone services, PBX systems and network solutions for businesses, decided to build the “Swiss army knife” of ICT systems themselves -- something that could run as a fully-functioning PC with a solid OS, and run as a standalone tablet as well.

Back in February 2012, Canonical -- the maker of Ubuntu -- said it was working to make the Linux-based OS compatible with Android devices, but recent reports say the project has been shelved in favour of the company developing its own mobile device OS, Ubuntu Touch.

“We’d been waiting for the last two years for Ubuntu for Android to be available and were becoming increasingly frustrated with their slow progress, and reached the conclusion that they were never going to achieve that,” Crews told Business Spectator.

“One of the major drawbacks with what they had was you either had Android running or Ubuntu running, which meant your tablet had blank screen and you had Ubuntu running on a monitor – it was a complete waste.

“The other problem is none of those devices talk to one another effectively. You can open a spreadsheet on a tablet but can’t do much with it other than perhaps look at it.

“There are also a whole range of security issues -- how do you kill data if a tablet gets lost or stolen? That’s why you need to have a solid operating system like Linux, as well as Android.”

The Unity’s dual operating systems run simultaneously and users can easily toggle back and forth between them, giving them access to the full range of apps and software available on both Android and Linux. For those unfamiliar with the Linux interface, Vixtel has created a user interface that looks like Windows 7, as well as an Apple-like dock at the bottom of the screen for the Mac devotees.

“Added to that we’ve also developed a cleaner and simpler device for Android, which automatically categorises all the apps so it’s easier to find things,” Crews says.

Graph for The three-in-one Aussie device that could kill the PC

The Unity is aimed at the enterprise market as an all-in-one communications solution, and to this end Vixtel has also developed a telephony app based on a new standard called WebRTC -- a browser-based, real-time communications system that enables direct communication from browser to browser.

“You can actually bypass all the telco infrastructure and that will allow you to have a normal voice call, video call … and have those running simultaneously,” Crews says.

Users can also collaborate simultaneously on documents -- for instance, one person can move their cursor around to point something out on their screen, and it will be visible to other people.

The idea for building the Unity was spawned in October last year and, amazingly, Vixtel has managed to fast-track the product into the production phase within eight months, with release scheduled for July.

“I don’t believe any other company in the world could have done it that quickly, but that’s one of the advantages of being a small, agile company,” Crews says.

Vixtel has 44 staff and is headquartered in Melbourne, with offices in London, Seattle and Jersey. The tablet is manufactured in China.

But while Vixtel may be small it's definitely thinking big. The company made it into Anthill Magazine’s SMART100 Australian innovations list for 2014, announced last week. And with infrastructure already in place in the US and Europe, Crews is confident the Unity will “absolutely” serve as a cost-effective desktop PC replacement for enterprises. One client has already put in an order to pilot 1000 tablets.

With more than $2 million being pumped into the Unity's marketing campaign upon launch, if and when Crews’ big punt takes off he’s hoping the manufacturing doomsayers will finally sit up and take notice.

“Everyone whinges and moans about what we can and can’t do in Australia,” he says. “We can be very innovative and do what we’ve done. While we haven’t manufactured the device, we have produced it.”