The Tablet PC Has Not Failed – Developers Have

My last post, which was about Microsoft’s lack of Tablet marketing, generated some really good comments and discussion – thanks to all those who joined in.

Tablets are constantly referred to as having failed to meet expectations. 


But as Hilton Locke pointed out:


Pen and touch digitizers have been around for a lot longer than Tablet, so the digitizer technology is relatively mature.

The hardware is there.  There is support for that hardware in the operating system – but there is a lack applications that leverage the pen and/or touch.  A tablet can run any application that will run on the Windows OS, but when it is running an application that is not “tablet-aware” it is just a laptop with a few extra tricks up its sleeve.

Hilton also pointed this out…


…it’s hard to convince the ISVs to Tablet-enable their apps. Without custom app support, the $50-100 cost difference for Tablets is an unnecessary expense. So the most common usage in business is still notebook with pen as “super-mouse”. Not terribly compelling.


Don’t get me wrong – I’m not pointing the accusatory finger at the developer community at large here.  It is not their fault.  I don’t think that Microsoft have done enough to promote developing for tablet PC to the developer community.

Microsoft should not only be heavily promoting pen and touch technologies to developers – they should be leading by example.

Personally I think this is one area where Microsoft have really failed. 

The ink support in the Operating System is not what it should be – the community wants write anywhere.  That alone would be a great step forward.  Office is Microsoft’s flagship product – why does the ink support not extend beyond scribbling on documents?  Why is it left to third party developers like Loren Heiny to write a tool that lets you use a pen to review and mark-up a document in a more natural way?  Or developers like Josh Einstein to make Outlook more ink friendly with TEO?


Outside of the Office suite – when Microsoft released their XPS file format to compete with Adobe’s PDF format – why did they not release a reader application that would let you write on an XPS document and re-save it ala PDF Annotator?

Will Microsoft learn from this?  Adding support for multi-touch won’t fix the problem if there are still no applications that leverage the new feature set.  Natural Input won’t change the way we work with computers if the applications running on them don’t change a bit, too.

The fact that you can touch two points on an iPhone screen is not exciting in and of itself – it is the software running the iPhone that captures those two touch points, interprets them and translates them into an experience that is natural and intuitive that makes it exciting.  Come on Microsoft! That is the kind of software we need from you for the Tablet PC.

Or maybe LPH’s take on this could be the winner – any venture capitalists out there?

A startup company, though, could blow away the market. It would take a huge burn rate for the first 12 months and plenty of blogger interactions to push the pen the right way – no hybrid keyboards, half written code for using the pen’s advantage, etc. – But it is possible. The company would need software and hardware developers PLUS a team of evangelists who listened to the community and pushed to move the market quickly.