A Conversation with a Reader about Tablets and Tablet PCs

This is going to be a series of posts that chronicle a series of conversations I have had with a GBM reader. That reader wishes to remain anonymous but has given me permission to use the conversation in posts here on GBM. Below is the first email I received and my first response.

Warner,

I’m very disappointed in how you have abandoned Tablet PCs for the fad that is the iPad and other tablets. Your writings about Tablet PCs were what convinced me to purchase one of those great devices. I’ve since purchased three, two convertibles and one slate. I continue to follow GottaBeMobile and your writings, but the decreasing lack of coverage on Tablet PCs concerns me a great deal. I realize that we haven’t seen much new innovation from Microsoft and that your response will most likely place the blame on them and Tablet PC manufacturers, but from my perspective we still have Tablet PCs and there are lots of reasons to cover them.

I hope you don’t take this as anything other than an expression of my disappointment and concern, but felt I needed to voice my concerns.

My response

Thanks for writing and sharing your concerns. That’s always certainly better than just being frustrated and not expressing those frustrations. Your email hits several points, all of which I’ll try to touch on here in my response. Before I do that, I’m going to make an assumption here based on the content of your email that you’ve been following my mobile journey for quite some time. If that is inaccurate please let me know, because my answers will come from that context.

First, I have to strongly disagree with you that the iPad and other Tablets are a fad. Certainly no one can predict with any hint of accuracy how long in the future we’ll be using these kind of devices. My guess is that we will be doing so for quite some time and there certainly are a lot of companies investing heavily in just that kind of future. That said, I’m not sure how you can call the iPad a fad given that it totally turned the entire industry upside down over the last two years. As I’ve said many times before, I’m not even sure Apple anticipated the success of the iPad, and while many were and are poised to follow down the Tablet path, I don’t think anyone anticipated the size of the disruption that we’ve seen. For better or worse everyone is working hard to duplicate Apple’s success with both its form factor and the implications of what that Tablet form factor means for computing in a broad context. To ignore or dismiss this is in my view a “heads in the sand” approach or simply misplaced wishful thinking.

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Second, I know it may seem like I’m down on Microsoft. In great part that’s true. You’re right that we haven’t seen any innovation from Microsoft. Microsoft allowed itself to get passed by and was trapped by its business model and now is busy trying to play catch up on a number of fronts. Do I blame Microsoft? I guess I feel I have to, but I’m reluctant to say that is where the complete blame, or rather root cause of this lies. The technology industry is built on innovation and with that comes disruption. If someone comes up with a better, or in some cases different mousetrap, that’s where the excitement and energy is going to coalesce. When that better or different idea actually works, and breaks into the consciousness of the mass market, watch out.

Microsoft had a winning lead with Tablet PCs but failed to capitalize on it on any number of fronts that are well chronicled. In my view, it surrendered in light of its own failures in marketing and its failure to recognize that technology was finally advancing to a point where it could actually come closer to fulfilling the dream that Tablet PCs pointed to. The first disruption that mattered and also heralded that Microsoft was not in control anymore was the Netbook. Remember, the early Netbook makers abandoned Microsoft and the traditional Wintel model. Unfortunately they couldn’t compete in the consumer consciousness and that allowed Microsoft back into the game on that front. But Tablets, led by the iPad were different and when the iPad caught on, I’m sure Microsoft felt it could follow the same path it did with Netbooks. That was a mistake and a big one.

That’s why we’ll all play wait and see until Microsoft is ready to show us something late this year and into next year. But traditional alliances have been fractured and the rules of this new game are still being written as we speak. HP purchasing Palm is another huge indicator of this. Meanwhile, while we play “wait and see,” Apple, Google, HP, Samsung, and others are moving on and advancing not only the hardware (although I argue strenuously that we won’t see much ground shaking hardware innovation for some time) and the software and cloud services that we will use on these new mobile devices.

Put it this way, Microsoft’s first answer to the iPad, which came to market in 2010, won’t be ready to go until 2012. That’s simply an eternity and a gap that should never have occurred.

Third, I agree with you that we are lucky that we still have Tablet PCs. And we have some good ones from the likes of Lenovo, HP, Motion, and Fujitsu. There’s much good those devices can still do and for those who swear by them, they are a great solution. But unfortunately, what was always a niche has become an even smaller niche, and I don’t anticipate seeing anything really new here until Windows 8 rolls around, if then. Why do I say if then? Well, it is conceivable to me that any potential gain from bringing a Tablet PC to market has the potential to continue to diminish. Face it, these companies are not going to continue investing in the Tablet PC form factor if they can’t make money from it.

Last, I do feel, and both sympathize and emphasize with your frustration and disappointment. I felt much of that myself has the dawn of the iPad approached. Actually that’s not entirely true. When the ill fated UMPC got pushed forward, I felt it then as well. Keep in mind, I was a reluctant convert initially, although I saw the first iPad’s potential. But as I used the device more and more I found that it not only changed how I did the work I needed to accomplish, but altered how I thought about going about accomplishing that work. If I’m not mistaken, that’s what technology is supposed to do for and to us. It’s what the first Tablet PCs did in my case and the iPad has done the same for me.

As I always say, I’m different than you and we’re different from all the rest and what might be my or your best solution isn’t necessarily the best for someone else. What I think you’re reacting to here even more than your clearly stated frustrations is that we’re potentially going to see one of those options (Tablet PCs) which worked so well for both you and I, perhaps disappear in the future. That’s too bad and also a bit sad. But, I fear it may be the inevitable truth.

Again, thanks for writing and sharing your thoughts and feel free to come back at me with any disagreements or thoughts that you might have.

To be continued.

  

Comments

  1. Jan says

    It’s funny as I’m able to agree with your both opinions. If I can add anything it would be that that tablet pcs with digital pen technology for some reason were and still is extortionately expensive in comparison to current ipads or android tablets. I’m happy to take notice that there are coming more slates and convertibles with windows7 at more competitive price, however unfortunately creators of many of those devices don’t envisage need for pen input additionally to touch. Hopefully introduction of digitizer as in htc flayer will be next step in progress.

  2. Sumocat says

    I honestly don’t know what anyone expects here. The “Golden Age” of Tablet PCs is over (and we’re one of the few blogs that even knew there was one). Microsoft has abandoned the name and still don’t intend to make tablet-friendly version of Office. Software development has shrunk to a handful of utilities. How many stories can I write about ritePen and PDF Annotator? (Actually, I’ve done quite a few.) And now Microsoft is betting on HTML5 and Javascript for tablet development? Yeah, I don’t think we’ll be seeing the next Tablet Enhancements for Outlook spring from that.

    That leaves hardware releases, which are fewer and farther between. Josh did a list of Windows slates you can buy now, most of which were just released in the past month or so. It’s not like there’s a boom of Tablet PC software and hardware that we’re just not covering.

    That said, I just got a Fujitsu Stylistic Q550 to review, which I will dive into as I close out my extended review of the HTC Flyer. We should have another Windows slate to review shortly after that. Stuff still trickles in, and we do what we can with it. While that happens, a dozen new non-Windows tablets and smartphones with a hundred new apps and relentless OS updates will hit the market (and everyone else will still be waiting on Windows 8 for Microsoft to enter the tablet market).

  3. ChrisRS says

    I can see both points of view as well.

    There is plenty of blame to go around, but, two huge issues that rests soley with MS are 1. Not Identifying a compelling compelling reason to adopt a TabletPC and ink. and 2 not creating a Killer App.

    If there were an identifiable compelling reason, MS could have marketed teh TabletPC to the MS Office team and we would have decent touch and ink support in Office years age.

    One can argue thea OneNote is the tablet killer app, but is has been all but hidden from view. It should have been insrtalles free on every Pen/touch capable device.

    MS has totally dropped the ball on touch useability. GBM readers know about tweaks that improve the experience but it they are not promoted by MS or embraced by  the manufactures.

    The GBM “lack of Coverage” has been due to a lack of news to cover.  The lack of coverage of the HP Slate 500 and Asus EP121 is somewaht surprizing. The HP Slate 500, w/ netbook guts and active digitizer and which apparently had to be pried out of HP, and the Asus EP121, a true TabletPC with Active  Digiditizer and powerfull processor, but no cat 5 or docking provisions, are arguably the most innovative of the new TabletPCs. I also miss the fGBM orums and support I got there.

    Threre is no recognition od teh Prosumer market. The Windows/TABLET PC/Active Digitizer scene is nuts. HP makes consumer and professional convertable systems at different price points, but the descrete graphics are only avilable in the consumer line. Some of the best features come on tablets with netbook guts. Motion and Tablet Kiosk come put with nice products for entrprize only. The price premium is too much to apeal to teh prosumer. Wacom will not introduce additional digitizer sizes, N-TRig – is still N-Trig — maybe next year.     

    • Xavier Lanier says

      Thanks for your comments Chris. We do cover Tablet PCs as we get them in and as companies make announcements, but we’re hearing less and less about Tablet PCs from the industry. 

      In regards to the HP Slate 500- here’s our coverage: http://www.gottabemobile.com/tag/hp-slate-500/
      Here’s a couple of videos I shot of the HP Slate 500: http://www.gottabemobile.com/2010/10/21/gbm-inkshow-a-detailed-look-at-the-hp-slate-500/
      http://www.gottabemobile.com/2010/10/21/gbm-shortcut-a-brief-hands-on-with-the-hp-slate-500/

      It wasn’t that long ago that HP’s Tablet PCs were the showcase products, ushering in new product lines. Take for example the HP 2710p, which was the first EliteBook with the new design/brushed metal look. How many years has it been since we’ve seen HP update its Tablet PC substantially? Sure, the EliteBook tablets have faster processors and a few relatively minor updates, but it’s difficult to get excited about such things. 

      With regards to forums- stay tuned… we’re working on a new and improved version. 

    • Anonymous says

      ChrisRS,

      As you say, Microsoft did create the killer app. It was OneNote. I screamed for years that it was the best kept secret out there and that Microsoft wanted it that way. Heaven forbid that it got identified as a Tablet PC app because that meant it was a niche product. But by keeping it as being identified as a Tablet PC App it became a niche product in the end. That saga is perhaps more indicative of the problems than anything else.

  4. Giacomo UCDS says

    Warner,
     
    What you say is true. The iPad is a wonderful device and Microsoft behavior whit Tablet PCs is so stupid that it is incredible.
     
    But what you, and the other GottaBeMobile members, are incredible too. Since last year, GBM was the heaven of Tablet PCs lovers. The largest group of Tablet and Touch MVP all together a great forum, lots of articles and reviews.
    Now the Tablet PC platform is almost ignored, there is only Sumocat that seem interested in it.
     
    Ok, the iPad is a great device. And the Android tablets are great too. But the Windows Tablet PCs are still perfect for students, teachers and lots of professionals that need digital ink with active digitizer. They are not the best for a lot of reason (in my opinion non only for MS fault, often the hardware is so bad that
    destroy a device otherwise excellent) but there is a difference between talking bad of something and ignore it completely.

    • Sumocat says

      I appreciate the recognition, but I don’t think it’s fair. Warner and I have both had our time consumed by other matters. I’ve focused what blogging time I have on my areas of specialty, such as inking and Tablet PCs. Warner maintains broader interests and spreads his time more equally. We both do what we can. And honestly, I really don’t have anywhere else to go in tech. I don’t even use notebooks that aren’t convertibles. I’m a polar bear on an iceberg.

  5. griz8791 says

    Today is a far cry from 2008 when I bought my second Tablet PC. Those were exciting times but now the platform is basically dormant. I still love my ink One Note pages and figure I probably ought to get another Motion tablet while I still can.

  6. Shuan says

    I think tablet computers like Android and iPad are here to stay. But almost every blog and experts miss a very crucial point about tablets. Even Microsoft miss the point as Craig Mundie recently wondered whether tablet computers are here to stay.

    This article is the only one I’ve seen that nailed the issue right to the core:

    Are tablet computers flash in the pan?
    http://cij.inspiriting.com/?p=1546

    I wouldn’t do it justice by summarising the article here. I suggest that people take a read. After I’ve read it, it just hit me on the head and convince me that tablets are here to stay.

  7. Shuan says

    I think tablet computers like Android and iPad are here to stay. But almost every blog and experts miss a very crucial point about tablets. Even Microsoft miss the point as Craig Mundie recently wondered whether tablet computers are here to stay.

    This article is the only one I’ve seen that nailed the issue right to the core:

    Are tablet computers flash in the pan?
    http://cij.inspiriting.com/?p=1546

    I wouldn’t do it justice by summarising the article here. I suggest that people take a read. After I’ve read it, it just hit me on the head and convince me that tablets are here to stay.

  8. Anonymous says

    Giacomo UCDS,

    Points well taken and I think you’ll see in the future posts in this conversation that I’m still interested in Tablet PCs. But we’re looking at an inevitable decline no matter how useful or how powerful they could be. I don’t think we’re ignoring Tablet PCs at all, I think we’re covering them in their decline in the same we covered them in the rise and brief “golden age” as Sumocat puts it. It’s not fun to hear that or write that. But from my point of view it is what it is.

    • Giacomo UCDS says

      Warner,

      thanks you
      for the reply (and Sumocat too). You are talking about the Tablet PC decline. But
      it is ten years that the world is talking about a Tablet PC decline.

      In the last
      year we see the iPad and LOTS of other tablets. They are great devices, the
      iPad is very good, the Android devices are good or bad. All the world is
      talking about Tablet Computer devices. But we have the same number of Tablet PC
      of five years ago. Fujitsu is on the market whit the T900/T901, T580, T730/T731,
      TH700 and Q550; HP with 2740p/2760p, tm2 and Slate 500; Lenovo with X201 and
      X220; Panasonic with CF-C1 and CF-19; Dell with XT2, XT2 XFR and, in the next
      tree weeks, XT3; Asus have the T91MT, T101MT, EP121 and, soon, the B121; Motion
      have the C5v, F5v, J3500 and CL900. There are tablet pc from Tabletkiosk,
      ARMOR, Intel (with Classmate-rebranded devices), MobileDemand and others. And
      this I have mentioned are only the pen-centric devices, there is LOTS of
      capacitive Tablet PC.

      As said Xavier
      Lanier, the great part of this devices are only refresh. But this doesn’t mean
      that they are not extraordinary or good, since a “minor” refresh can change
      everything. An example: some month ago I tested the 2740p and a T730. Same i5 processor,
      same RAM, same OS, same screen. The only difference was the disk drive (SSD in
      the 2740p and 7200rpm in the T730). The difference was so great that the T730
      seem Atom-powered compared to the 2740p. And the same thing is between the
      2710p and the 2760p. They look esthetically similar but the difference between
      this models are the same between a real Ferrari and a full-size paper model Ferrari.

      There is a
      Tablet PC decline? Yet, there is. But this is not a news: it is since 2001,
      since the convertible form factor is relegated to a small number of professional
      devices that people cannot see before purchasing, since the OEM produces entry
      level configurations with a too high price. You say that there is no news, but
      in my very little I’m the admin of a small tablet PC blog and all I write is
      windows tablets related: no Android, no iPad, less-than-possible coverage on no-pen
      Tablet PCs. In 2010 I wrote 500 posts, and this year I write 236 posts,
      articles, reviews. There is a whole world out the Tablet Computer world.

      In my
      opinion there is not a so-great Tablet PC decline. It is not the “golden age”
      of Tablet PCs, but there has never been this era. If you think about the Tablet
      PC marketing strategies in the last ten years, it is incredible that there is
      so many models and so many people that buy them at these prices. In my opinion,
      the problem is that with iPad everyone knows about the existence of Tablet
      devices. Actually I can find tablets REALLY everywhere: in stores, in TV shows,
      in newspaper ads… if I go to a supermarket I can win iPads whit lots of
      products. The reality is that if you live in US or in Europe there is no way
      you have not seen an iPad. But when I go somewhere with my Windows 7 tc1100, or
      with some of the test unit I use, the people are astonished with the potential
      of my PC. When I go as volunteer in a child-protection institute the kids love
      Angry Birds and want to play with touchscreen devices but FIGHT for my Tablet
      PC with Wacom pen and ArtRage. When I go into my university lots of student and
      teachers are amazed of the digital ink potential, and they never seen or used
      this devices before. When I went to CeBIT this year with a CF-C1 in the
      Microsoft stand I was taking notes on the screen and there is lots of professionals
      that looks at me like I was doing something magical.

      In my
      opinion there is a Tablet PC decline, but only because, after ten years, only
      few people knows about the existence of this devices and only few journalist or
      blogger knows about the existence of non-capacitive digitizers. But they know
      all about iPads and Android devices, since there is a marketing behind this
      product. Android devices are great, iPad is no less than wonderful. But in my
      opinion the success of these
      devices is largely due to the fact that no one knows that there is better
      devices (yes, I think that a 2740p with SSD can be FAR better than an iPad, if
      only there were someone who gets to make touch-friendly Windows applications)
      and this is why it is four years that I write about Tablet PC. To create, in
      the students, in the teachers, in the professionals and in the common users, awareness
      of a better way to use the PC. And not a month goes by without I am able to change
      the way a student study or the way a professional work. When I created my blog
      I took inspiration from GMB, Hugo Ortega’s blog, jkOnTheRun, Student Tablet PC
      blog. You and the other MVP have changed my life and my way to use technology.

      Microsoft doesn’t
      support this platform. The OEM doesn’t support the platform. Even the MVP doesn’t
      support the platform. But there is a lot of tablets to talk about and lots of
      people who want to hear this type of news. And there is a lot of people who don’t
      know what a Tablet PC can do, people who discovery tablet world only with the iPad
      since no one talks to him about Tablet PC before.

      There is a lot of
      iceberg whit a lot of tablet pc lovers or potentially tablet pc lovers polar
      bears. We only need a Greenpeace to protect us.

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