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Tablets: Will Technology Ever Live Up To Our Fantasies?

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Unconfirmed numbers are that Apple has pre-sold northwards of 120,000 iPads. During the buying frenzy, other OEMs are watching closely, as are those who just wouldn’t go near an Apple product if you gave them one, hoping that other Tablets/slates will emerge and offer embraceable Tablet goodness.

Some are questioning their own sanity for jumping on the pre-order train. Some are calling those who jumped on the bandwagon idiots. There’s certainly no question that there are those who succumbed to Apple’s magical hype machine and willingly jumped in the pond with both feet. Apple is a master at that game. There are huge bets being placed all over the tech sector and several other industries that Apple is going to create a market for these devices and hence a consumption model for content that will save/resurrect/create business models that are bleeding, due in some part to self-inflicted wounds.

But all hyperbole of “magical” and “revolutionary” aside,  Apple didn’t really hit the resounding home run everyone hoped it would on iPad announcement day. The reaction was decidedly mixed. So, why did over 120,000 pull the trigger on pre-order day? What is the juju (joojoo?) that draws us to Tablets/slates and allows Apple, the hype-meister, to create such a firestorm?

Regardless of whether you pound keys at a keyboard in a cubicle, or run through airport concourses thumbing through emails, computing is a very personal experience.  For the most part working on playing on a computer (of any size) experience that shuts out the rest of the world around you, even if you spend a lot of that time communing in the virtual social spheres set up by gaming and social networking. I could say that Stall Surfing is more than a metaphor here, but I won’t. But then maybe I just did.

We’ve heard the catch phrases about the PC being personal again, and to a large extent I think that’s part of the pull of Tablets/Slates. The other forces, beyond sheer shiny gadget lust, that pulls us towards Tablets/Slates include the freedom of mobility and the paradox that we all want a simple experience from these very complex and complicated machines.

Those of us who bought into Microsoft’s early Tablet PC vision largely set aside many of the compromises of that era, that by and large were forced on us by a technology that couldn’t match the vision. But we got it. Yes, there was Inking that held many of us in line, and still does, but I would argue that Inking in and of itself, while important, was equally a part of the mobility and personal appeal.

I’m as excited as anyone to see how close or how far Apple has come with the iPad, but I harbor no illusions that they’ve solved the riddles that will make Tablets/Slates become as ubiquitous as everyone seems to think they will be (or wants them to be.) I don’t think any Tablet/Slate device we’ll see this year will necessarily solve them either. We’ve heard from Apple and others that the technology has finally gotten to the point where these devices now make sense to bring to market. But I think we’ve still got some distance to travel and this leg of the journey is just getting started.

To be honest, the most exciting thing I’ve seen this year has nothing really to do with Tablets necessarily, but might have everything to do with them in the future. Windows Phone 7 Series UI and the approach it takes to how the user interacts with his/her data/livestream/media/whatever holds great promise because I think it has the potential to bring a user closer to what they need when they need it and scoop up a small device to go looking for it.

The iPhone/iPad metaphor is centered on apps. Android’s experience so far points that way as well, as do the other Tablets we’re seeing promised. But the Windows Phone 7 Series UI… actually change that to user experience instead of user interface, seems to be aiming towards a future where the apps become more transparent as the data is prevalent. When I take a long view, that seems to make more sense from a Tablet user’s perspective than an app based metaphor does. If you look closely at the mocked up demo views of Microsoft Courier, and also go back and take a look at InkSeine*, you’ll see that whether or not it succeeds it has promise.

I have no idea, and I keep saying that no one else does either, how all of this will eventually work out. I also keep saying that I find it fascinating to watch and participate and I do.

*Sidenote: Intriguingly when I went to link to the InkSeine web pages, none of the links I’ve relied on seemed valid. It may be me, but I wonder what that means.

Warner Crocker is a professional theatre director, producer and playwright and also a Tablet PC enthusiast. He is also a Microsoft MVP for Tablet PCs. Send email to Warner. You can follow him on Twitter or Google+

11 Comments

  1. Robert Sawyer

    03/14/2010 at 5:51 pm

    We will be there when we can get the Windows Phone 7 Series on a watch. Microsoft was so pleased with it’s 3 screens idea, but with human interaction it should be segmented into personal, shared, party size UI elements. For personel size, the hub UI can go for watch through phone and netbook size screens (with a watch only having 1-4 hubs up at a time). For shared, the zune pc ui style is for netbook up to tv size, and for party it goes from tv to movie theater to jumbotron size.

    Then let them take the idea of playing games between devices, and allow programs to jump between each screen, e.g. You get a notification that on of your friends is ‘live’ (you find out from vibration or noise from your watch, or phone), you glance at the watch to see who and decide to text them. You grab your phone (or speak to a speech-to-text capable watch and send them a message. They respond that they are available for voice or video communication, so you move over to your phone for voice(which has already connected to a voice service like skype or 3g) and start voice session. After talking for a while you mention that you are now in front of your computer (tv w/ webcam) and you can upgrade to video, so the computer already seeing that you are communicating live through voice preps for upgrade to video communications, you start video session. Friends start stopping by (both real and virtual) so you decide to take the party to the “live” room, where there are multiple cameras, microphones and speakers from assorted angles that are feed to the virtual participants in video, audio and text form based on identifying the speaker and video subjects. So weather the person on the virtual end is live texting, on a live voice call, or live video, the screens dynamically show who’s connected and what they are saying.

    It makes 2012-2015 not seem so long a wait.

    SawyerIII @ asstd

  2. Dave P

    03/14/2010 at 7:04 pm

    I’m still seeing InkSeine at:

    http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/projects/inkseine/index.html

    and MS Research shows it as an active project (although its pages don’t mention Win7).

    I still hold out hope that faster, more economical processors and more efficient batteries will resurrect the UMPC before this OQO 02 I’m using dies. What I fear is that the concept of a computer in your pocket that can handle multi-page content is being twittered down to a phone that can text and surf real well.

  3. turn.self.off

    03/14/2010 at 9:27 pm

    heh, i keep being reminded about newton.

  4. SAM

    03/14/2010 at 9:54 pm

    I’m still waiting for the Tricorder to come out…

    As more software is written for handwriting, it
    will help the tablet pc to become more popular.

    Hopefully, the price will align with a standard laptop,
    then people will be more willing to try a tablet pc.

  5. Paul Harrigan

    03/14/2010 at 10:55 pm

    I tend to agree with your analysis of Winphone 7 — enough to have put on hold my purchase of an iphone for my wife until we have a chance to see the new Microsoft ecosystem in action.

    With that said, I don’t think that purchase of an Ipad is a mistake. Its form factor is exciting, and the hinted competition is either FUD right now (HP, Courier) or misses key elements like storage and the ability to operate without the web being available (Juju). It isn’t that expensive, so why not get some use from it while seeing what else hits the market?

  6. Sam

    03/15/2010 at 4:00 am

    I spent a lot of time looking over the lists of Apple iPad alternatives, and thinking about them really brought out that existing desktop operating systems, e.g. Microsoft Windows and the full Macintosh OS X, not to mention various X desktops, have poor user interfaces for mobile computing.

    Were mobile user interfaces any good until Apple upset the cart with the iPhone? I have not spent any time on BlackBerry, but I have several Windows CE/Windows Mobile devices. After the iPhone, we get two new platforms (WebOS and Android) and Windows Mobile phones got new finger friendly shells.

    The lists of iPad alternatives were filled with products that weren’t shipping (many listed were CES show concepts and most likely will never show up), in rather different categories, or not very interesting.

    • Sam

      03/15/2010 at 4:02 am

      Oh, I’m not the same Sam as the person with the name in all caps! Maybe I better refer to myself with a different name…

  7. Rob

    03/15/2010 at 6:45 am

  8. Techni

    03/16/2010 at 4:31 am

    PSP exceeded my fantasy handheld I designed as a kid, where Nintendo has always disappointed me

  9. Ken Hinckley

    03/16/2010 at 10:54 am

    InkSeine is still be up there. It is not going to be taken down for any reason. It is hard for us to do as many updates as we’d like given all the other stuff that is on my plate and Raman’s plate right now. I have a couple of upcoming public talks at research conferences which I’ll post about soon on my blog.

    I do need to embed a new video on the home-page though. I was a good corporate citizen and hosted it on MSN Videos “soapbox,” but now that service is defunct.

    • Warner Crocker

      03/16/2010 at 11:03 am

      Ken,

      Glad to hear it. Maybe I caught a glitch in the system when I was writing the post.

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