In addition to buying a Bumper while bumming around the Apple Store yesterday, I spent a good chunk of my time there drooling over iPad accessories. No, not the iPad itself, which were looking lonely on the floor next to the new hotness, the iPhone 4. Rather, after spending years with a slate Tablet PC, rejoicing over any accessory discovery, I’m envious that the iPad has more third-party support in half a year than the Tablet PC ever had.
My Electrovaya Scribbler didn’t hit the market with the same accessory support as other slate Tablet PCs. It wasn’t designed for a dock and was pretty much as plain a slate as possible. As a result, I maintained constant vigilance in spotting useful cases, stands, and docking stations. To this day, even though I’m now using a big convertible, stands for dishes and books still catch my eye as potential tablet stands. With my Toshiba, I’m pretty much stuck with either the dock-enabled port replicator or a USB dock solution, and even those are intended for notebook functionality. Real Tablet PC accessories are few and far between. Oh, but for the iPad, there are already several different stands, a ton of cases and screen protectors, and power options galore.
The real kick in the pants is that it wasn’t always this bad. Once upon a time, Cross made a Wacom Penabled pen for Tablet PCs. The HP Compaq TC1x00 series could swap between a swiveling keyboard and a desktop dock. There were arguments over which screen protector was the best. PC card and ExpressPort accessories were our best friends because they didn’t stick out like big USB dongles. While specialty vendors, like Motion Computing, are still keeping the faith with fantastic accessory options for their own lines, and we still have access to the breadth of notebook accessories out there, third-party support and the validation it implies has dried up. All the would-be iPad competitors out there should take heed. Line up accessory support or risk looking less customizable than the iPad. It may look one-size-fits-all, but that accessory support coupled with a giant library of apps allows users to easily expand it how they want and make it their own.