Thoughts on GBM and What We Cover

It’s time for some conversation. Yesterday some tensions that we on the GBM team think have been bubbling for awhile boiled over in the comments to this post. So, I’d like to address them. It’s not just addressing the comments, it is more about addressing the mission of GBM, how I see that mission, clearing the air a little bit (hopefully) and putting some context around some of the things that some of you may be feeling or thinking. If some of this sounds defensive, I apologize in advance. I don’t intend it to. That said, if its sounds passionate, well, that is intended. Most of the thoughts below are my own, and if it is combined thinking I’ll try to make that clear.

I, and all of us care deeply about our readers and their opinions. We always have and always will.  We even care about those who like to toss hand grenades into the mix, or those who love to live behind the anonymity that the web affords. Everyone’s opinions are valid and while that might sound a little kumbaya we believe it to be true. We only come down on someone if they violate our policies about being civil when they choose to disagree. Trust me when I say we wouldn’t be doing what we do if you weren’t reading or watching and letting us know what you think. Opinions are like, well, like certain body parts. We all have them. We know when we state our opinions in a post, we’re potentially setting ourselves up for criticism, praise, disagreement, or just plain snarky behavior. That goes with the territory. But we value those who choose to comment in any fashion and let us know what they think.

So, let’s move on to some context. Stacey’s comments, agreed to by AP, and perhaps others, point to some general dissatisfaction with the coverage here on GBM lately. Too much Apple, not enough technology, not enough Tablet PC, not enough InkShows, etc… Yesterday Sumocat, Xavier and I talked at length about the comments and about the state of GBM. Xavier asked Sumocat and I what we thought and my short answer was a simple statement: The name and the masthead says it all. Tablet PC, Mobile PC, and Multi-Touch News/Reviews. When Dennis Rice and Rob Bushway founded GBM they could have chosen a number of names for the site that more specifically targeted Tablet PCs. But their wisdom, insight, and experience led them to choose, knowing full well even then, that the Tablet PCs we all loved were only the beginning of what mobile tech might eventually evolve into. Dennis and Rob came from a Tablet PC background, and their love for that platform was shared by many, including myself. Those were heady days, but all of us we knew that to some extent what we were so passionate about during that time was not going to be the same forever. In fact, we hoped it would change. Who knew how quickly and how rapidly that change would be?

I remember distinctly the debates Rob, Dennis and I shared when the first iPhone came out. We had different opinions about how, or if to cover it. The fact that it was the device that was bringing multi-touch into a dominant mind share position won out, and Rob begin talking about what he liked and didn’t like about the device. That happened at a time when we had already seen Microsoft try its hand and fail with the UMPC, and Intel was touting Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs). We took a lot of flack for saying the iPhone and the iPad Touch were better MIDs than what Intel was trying to accomplish. Quick, can you tell me what happened to the MID market? We covered all of that, just like we felt compelled to cover the industry changing disruption known as Netbooks. We would have been fools not to, because like it or not that is what the mobile tech industry was doing. Netbooks killed MIDs in much the same way that some think the iPad will kill Netbooks. (I disagree with that premise.) At the same time, each of us wrote countless editorials about how Microsoft was letting Tablet PC, especially pen and digital ink, slip away. The folks at Redmond weren’t too happy about that, but we always called them as we saw them. We still do.

We all know how the industry has evolved and how Apple, the iPhone, and the iPad  have changed things dramatically. To say Apple bested Microsoft is only a partial truth, in my opinion, because Microsoft’s missteps also contributed to the demise of Tablet PCs and pen and ink as well. Yes, Tablet PCs still exist, but only in niche markets. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I have certainly never viewed it that way, even though I think Microsoft missed the boat on consumer adoption.

There are three points that I would like to make here.

1. We still cover Tablet PCs when there are Tablet PCs or news about Tablet PCs to cover. Let’s face it, with a few exceptions nothing has advanced with the Tablet PC platform since the advent of dual touch and pen devices. But the industry around Tablet PCs has changed dramatically. So has our coverage.

2. We’ve never felt compelled to cover every mobile device that has been announced or brought to market. We’ve covered what interests us and what we think will interest our readers. If a review unit comes our way, we’ll give it our best effort. If our readers want to hear about a device, we’ll do our best to get our hands on it. Failing there, If we see good coverage somewhere else, we’ll do our best to point our readers to that coverage. We know we can’t cover everything and don’t pretend like we can, but there are also choices involved in what we do cover. In the end, what we choose not to cover says as much as what we do choose to cover. For those, like Stacey, who think we’ve evolved into a “shopping site” I’d strongly disagree. If we had, then we’d have a post about every one of the 40 or so Tablet/Slates that got put on display at Computex a week or so ago.

3. I’m still a big believer in the original Tablet PC concept, no matter how much Microsoft botched it. I also firmly believe that is not dead, but merely hibernating. I’ve said here more times than I can count that I think once we’ve gotten past the point were touch is ubiquitous that we’ll see a resurgence of pen and ink. I’ve also said that I bet Apple is the one that will make it happen for the masses. I would also offer that most of our coverage comes from the perspective of folks who love the original Tablet PC concept. And not just because of digital ink, but also because of the mobility. Quite honestly, I’m proud of the vast majority of our coverage because I think we have a slight edge in perspective and offer a viewpoint of the Tablet/Slate craze we’re in at the moment that is a little different than most of what you find out there. Keep in mind, we were reading eBooks and magazines on early Tablet PCs before most folks even knew they existed, much less thinking about saving entire industries with them. We’re also the only site during CES2010 that told you that 2010 would not be The Year of the Tablet, pointing instead to 2011. Everyone else bought the hype, but I think in the end we’ll be correct.

I hope those who follow us closely can see that we’re evolving just like our industry is evolving. By “we” I mean the bloggers who blog here, and also the site. We may not do it gracefully, but then the industry we cover doesn’t necessarily evolve with grace either. Our coverage has branched out a bit in the last few years, but in my opinion, that is because of the evolution of the mobile tech sector and what drives it. It used to be all about the devices, the software that ran them, and the tricks and hacks we discovered to make them run better. Now, mobile tech is as much about things like content, advertising, copyright, net neutrality, broadband caps, and a host of other issues that affect what we do with our mobile gadgets. And so, we cover that as well. One thing that hasn’t changed or evolved is that mobile tech is also about companies and personalities. While the predominant players and companies may have changed, the fact that companies and egos that drive it hasn’t. If you think these ecosystem issues don’t affect the gadgets we love to fondle, then you’re not paying attention.

Could we do better? Yep. And even the harshest critic isn’t as hard on us as we are on ourselves. One of the complaints that hits a bullseye is the decline in the number of InkShows. We feel that as keenly as you do. One of reasons for that is simply the lack of new devices or software to cover. It isn’t that they aren’t out there, but we’re not going to waste your time looking at another Netbook, or another Tablet with a processor refresh and nothing else of note. Tablet PC software has been scarce since the early days of GBM and it has gotten even more so. We could certainly do quite a few InkShows on iPhone or iPad apps, but that’s the domain of other sites, and the ones we do choose to do, usually relate back to Inking or Touch.

Another reason we have fewer InkShows is simply a personal one, at least in my case. My real life job has me trying to keep a small professional theatre alive in tough times and at the same time helping my Mom fight through her final journey in life. Life isn’t fair and you play the hand you’re dealt and move on accordingly, but the quantity of what I’ve done in the past has certainly suffered as I’ve altered my priorities. When I’ve shared those things with our readers, I’ve been grateful for the support many have shown, and cognizant of the fact that I might be crossing a line that some would rather I not. For those who take offense I apologize. For those who respect that kind of personal coverage, there will be more of it when I feel it is appropriate.

As to the not so subtle hint of Apple bias, let me say this. I’m platform agnostic, a phrase made popular by the late, great Marc Orchant. We all have our prejudices there’s no doubt, but mine is to find the best tool I can afford to get the job done. I’m not wedded to a particular technology or company. I use both Apple and Microsoft products every day and wish I had the resources to explore more of what Google’s Android offers currently. I’m not a Linux fan and have made that plain. To be honest, I don’t have much patience for blind fanboyism of any stripe, and I don’t think the site, or the current bloggers here do either. When I see a gadget or a technology that I think is going to improve my life, I get passionate about it and will spend time sharing that passion. When I see the opposite, well, I usually let you know that as well. By the same token when I see something that I think is going to change the industry I’ll blog about that, whether or not I find it suitable for my own personal needs. For better or worse, Apple is not only leading the market and mind share in mobile tech, at the moment it is crushing it, even with missteps and a lousy partner. Every manufacturer bet that Apple would succeed and carve out a market and then they could worm their way in. They bet correctly, but also with not enough skin in the game and are now playing catch up, and we’re all the beneficiaries (dupes?) of those events and actions.

Currently, my evolving involvement with Apple’s products is bringing me the same joy that I experienced when I first inked on a Toshiba 3505 Tablet PC back in 2003. And if something comes along tomorrow from any corner that offers me that same enjoyment, you can bet I’ll be sharing my passionate thoughts about that as well. I guess the best way to describe it is this. I was really excited about the new car my wife and I bought a few Christmases ago. I still like it very much and drive it every day. But in the end, its the car I drive every day, even when I’m looking at newer models and lusting over which one to buy next. I still Ink on a Tablet PC every day too.

What do I think we need to do better? Quite a bit actually. I think we’re behind the curve on Android and we need to work to correct that. I think we could go more in depth with some of our posts, and we’ll work to correct that. Now that Office 2010 is officially out, (although it has been on everyone’s computers for over a year) we need to do some InkShows on the Inking features and bring the ones we were first out of the chute with up to date. I also think, as do Xavier and Sumocat, that we can benefit from some guest posts from our readers, so if you’d like to give that a go, we’re game if you are.

We’re always looking to improve and we take constructive criticism to heart and incorporate thoughts and ideas as we deem appropriate. You are certainly free to disagree with this next statement and you can use the comments to do so. Maybe I’m biased, but I think in the final analysis we do a decent job of living up to the original vision as articulated in the site name by Rob and Dennis when they founded the site. Let us know your thoughts.