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.


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.

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.