Why Tablets Flopped (and How They Can Unflop)

TabletPCFloppyOn their Bits Blog, The New York Times has posted a follow-up to their previous story on the “elusive” tablet. The comments come from Conrad Blickenstorfer, founder of Pen Computing Magazine, a clear expert in the field of tablet computing, who points out the key reasons why tablet computing hadn’t taken off: lack of commitment from manufacturers to make a great tablet, immature technology, the ever-present specter of price, and software, specifically the lack of a truly pen-centric operating system.

The writer posting the entry spins this into reasons why tablets flopped. I see them as reasons why tablets haven’t taken off yet and how they still can.

First, commitment and price are intricately intertwined. Once a manufacturer makes the commitment to build a great tablet, take the lead in the industry, they can drive down the price by producing in volume and aiming for the consumer market. This is one of the reasons people are excited over the prospect of an Apple tablet. They know how to make a great device and get it to consumers (just need to talk them into tightening their profit margins).

As for technology, handwriting and voice recognition have come a long way, but it’s touch input that has made the biggest strides recently. Multi-touch enables a number of gestures and allows a computer to recognize more than just cursor control. On-screen keyboards work as well as physical keyboards in mobile settings.

Advanced as Windows 7 is, it is still a desktop-based operating system with advanced touch and pen input options, so we don’t have that magic tablet OS just yet. I don’t think the iPhone OS is quite right for a tablet either, but it demonstrates the type of customization a great tablet needs. An overlay like the Origami system for UMPCs could get the job done, but it needs strong application support to make it viable.

Blickenstorfer was spot-on about what kept the format from taking off, but what’s reassuring to me is that solutions to those issues are here or drawing closer. The pieces are there; they just need to be put together the right way.