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I miss the”Wow”



This coming December will be 5 years since I jumped in with both feet to the world of Tablet PC. Dennis spent a good month before then talking my ear off about this new fangled thing called “Tablet PC” and I finally gave in and bought one. And wouldn’t you know it – I got my TC1000 before he did! You should have seen Dennis oogling and aahhing over it during a conference we both attended that December.

It has been great seeing all of the new technology come out during the years. From the HP TC1100 hybrid, to the trend setting Motion Computing LS800 slate, different sizes of convertibles, slates, etc. All the great ink-enabled software, and the accessories that have built up around the technology. Seeing the inking experience transform from XP Tablet Edition to SP2 to Vista has been exciting to watch. The tablet and touch experience is now an integrated part of the operating system – that spells progress and speaks well for the future. And now, we are seeing the experience pushed down to smaller devices: UMPCs.

As good as all this is, OEMs and ISVs are getting quite comfortable with the status quo, and as a consumer and tablet enthusiast, I’m tired of it. As I see new hardware coming out, I’m like “ok – another notebook with a flip screen. Next…” Where is the real innovation? The closest I’ve come to saying “wow” in terms of hardware has been the Toshiba R400: the new hinge, the side display that seamlessly syncs with Outlook, the attractive design, and the wireless docking station. But even that was a partial ““wow.” Another example is Motion Computing’s C5 with its handle, integrated camera, barcode reader, and spill proof casing. In the same vein, though, Motion’s LE1700 certainly set the bar with other OEMs, but they didn’t push the envelope. All of the new features, except for SXGA, were expected and many folks would have been disappointed had they not delivered them. Even worse, Fujitsu has basically remained innovative-less since the beginning. As nice as the ST5112 and T4215 Tablet PCs are, they are basically the same units they were 4 1/2 years ago. Can’t Fujitsu do better than they did 4 1/2 years ago? Gateway’s new e155C is a nice convertible notebook, but again, where is that “gotta have it” trendbreaking feature? Overall, OEMs have become quite comfortable with minor refreshes to their designs, and as consumers, we need to demand more.

What kind of things am I looking for that would “wow” me? What about a big price drop instead of a steady increase? 4 1/2 years into the market and we’ve got $3000+ convertibles and slates. Why? How about dramatic weight drops with sub 2 lb slates? Instant on? What about battery life that makes the term “companion device” a reality? Dedicated 256mb video cards anyone? How about an ultra-thin slide out keyboard that will also prop up a slate? How about designing a built-in dock for a Zune or iPod that seamlessly fits in the lines of the slate? Why do we still not have integrated cameras in slates?

How about some eye-popping designs that say “I’m cool” instead of “I’m a geek”. Design wise, we’ve taken some big steps backwards since the TC1100, with the inevitable slide toward traditional notebook designs. OEMs have been content with black flip screens, and that just doesn’t cut it anymore. I want more than a black notebook. SideShow devices are beginning to make some headway to panels, but what about being able to jot a small handwritten note on them? Where is the removable SideShow device in slates? How about thin remote controls for slates like the MacBook has?  Wouldn’t that make for a great Media Center experience? UMPCs have built-in stands, why not slates? More than any of that, I want to see the stuff that I can’t even think about yet that makes me do a double take and causes some real conversation in the marketplace.

On the software side of things, innovation seems to have slowed down, too. Is it the marketplace speaking? Probably so. I think the reality for ISVs is that the market demand isn’t there to fully justify a ton of time for developing new products that revolve around a good pen / touch experience, and breaking the mold in UI areas. We’ve been talking about breaking the UI mold for years, but it still hasn’t happened. Why?

In my opinion, Microsoft certainly set a bad example by not pushing the envelope with Vista, and by also doing a minimal ink feature upgrade for Office 2007.  They didn’t follow their own marketing advice: Think in Ink. Why can’t I still not ink in Outlook Express / Windows Mail after 4 1/2 years? Hello????  And don’t even get me started on battery life with Vista – certainly not a mobile friendly experience there at all. When a consumer has to buy an extended battery to get what they use to get out of a standard battery, something is really wrong.

All in all, I’m just looking for some excitement to pop back in to the Tablet PC / Mobile PC space, and it concerns me that release after release leaves me wanting. 4 1/2 years in, shouldn’t it be the other way around? If I, a Tablet PC enthusiast, am left wanting, what does that say about the average consumer? We are definitely seeing some interesting things come in the form of UMPCs, but I have yet to see anything there that causes me to scream “I want that – I’ll make up the need, but I really, really want it”. The closest I’m seeing there in the UMPC market is the HTC Shift, but it is still a ways off from a “gotta have it” experience.

Stand with me Tablet PC community and demand more innovation. Talk about what you want and let the OEMs know about it. OEMs, give us a reason to fork over $2500 and make us proud for doing so. Better yet, deliver that same stuff in a $1500 unit! Bring back the excitement that leaves us hanging on to the next announcement, wondering what’s going to happen next. ISVs, impress us with groundbreaking UI and pen / touch applications that cause us to want to go out and buy your software. And Microsoft, give us some reasons in Vista to truly say “WOW”.

GBM readers: What would make you say “WOW”?

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