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Microsoft Talking Tablets and Others Talking Silly

Of course Steve Ballmer’s statement yesterday that Microsoft was “hardcore” on Tablets and that we’d see some Microsoft Tablets in 2010 was going to prompt a lot of discussion. Heck, even before he said it there was talk, most of it not too pretty. There is a decided lack of confidence from many quarters that a Windows 7 Tablet just isn’t going to be that competitive for a number of reasons, as Microsoft tries to play catch up after finding itself trailing the pack when it started the race in the pole position.

One of the early responses to this (and I’m sure there will be many, many, many others in a similar vein) comes from Gary Marshall on TechRadar. He’s buying into that “if it has a stylus it’s a failure mantra” that Steve Jobs (the guy who popularized the “Death Grip” as genius engineering) made popular.

Well, Gary Marshall is dead wrong in my opinion. And Microsoft probably is too. I don’t have much confidence myself in a Windows 7 Tablet at the moment, but I’ll keep my mind open to see what happens. What I won’t keep an open mind on is this: Microsoft’s only chance to compete with a Windows 7 Tablet is to embrace the pen/stylus and digital inking and market it as a key feature. Forget it will run FLASH. Forget it will have ports. Forget all of the iPad doesn’t have this feature nonsense. Don’t come up with some silly UMPC like tough interface. It is a waste of resources and everyone will turn it off within hours of turning on the device. Use the semiotics that Tablets and Slates embue and focus on the one thing Microsoft came lose to getting right and that’s digital inking. And yes, that requires a damn stylus. There is your differentiator, and you own it, Mr. Ballmer. If, Microsoft is going to put effort into a Windows 7 Tablet, then it needs to take advantage of digital inking (and force the OEMS to build with screen technology that can handle it), AND every single Tablet needs to come with OneNote installed out of the chute. Any teenager who has used a Tablet PC and OneNote could design the advertising campaign for Microsoft and certainly would do better job than those responsible for Microsoft’s marketing and advertising efforts in the past.

I know, I know, I know. Who wants to bog down a device with Office software? Who wants all that overhead of Windows 7? I may be decidedly wrong here, but I have to believe that there is a market out there of users who actually do want an iPad like Tablet that can really and truly handle Inking as a part of their daily computing chores and could care less about the media madness.  They can’t get it in the US reliably anyway because the broadband pipes are so clogged and insufficient to handle the load and the caps and restrictions are too draconian. No one but the bean counters care about the advertising revenue that these platforms are targeted to reap. Microsoft’s only chance at any success with a Windows 7 Tablet (note I’m not talking about any thing else here but Windows 7 based Tablet/Slates) is to focus on what they’ve done well with Digital Inking in the past and push that segment further and into the market.

Anything else and we’re looking at a repeat of the Kin disaster.

I’ll be honest, I don’t hold out much hope here for this to occur. Microsoft has been playing catch up for far too long and if you aren’t using the word “defensive” to describe its actions the last several years, than you aren’t being honest. Sumocat has already posted that Microsoft is looking for some iPad users to test out some things here in the near future and that points to where things are probably going.

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48 Comments

  1. James Kendrick

    07/13/2010 at 6:11 am

    The problem is that the mass market has decided it does not want, nor do they need, inking with a stylus. I like it and you like it, but we have never constituted a large enough group to make the technology take off.

    Touch is what everyone likes, it’s what they want and why even MS is embracing it. It’s not as capable as we both know, but no one I talk to wants (or cares) about pen and ink on a tablet.

    That’s just the reality, and I’m no longer sure marketing it right will change that. :(

    Reply

    • Warner Crocker

      07/13/2010 at 6:38 am

      James,

      I would argue that the mass market has never been mass marketed too successfully or otherwise. The masses need to be told what they want (Apple proves this every day). Microsoft is beyond poor at this as we all know.

      I would also argue that Microsoft has lost this race and might just want to let it go (the only reason I think they are in it is for the advertising dollars.) Again, although I’ll keep an open mind, Windows 7 Tablets aren’t going to sell like the iPad (I’d say the same about Android Tablets too). In my view, that’s why Microsoft needs to do something different and now follow the pack.

      Reply

      • Jonathan

        07/13/2010 at 8:21 am

        Has it been that we don’t want it? Or is it that the companies that make these slate devices and so forth put them in a price range so far above what people are willing to spend on a PC. The average consumer equates the pen with $2200+ PC’s running the same hardware that a 900 dollar Laptop found on Best Buy’s does shelves? most people don’t understand ULV CPU’s and Pentium 4, or core 2 duo. It comes down to the rapid fire spec sheet, CPU clock. Memory and Hard drive.

        Reply

        • Xavier Lanier

          07/13/2010 at 10:11 am

          I’d argue that the average consumer doesn’t even know pen computing exists.

          Reply

          • Warner Crocker

            07/13/2010 at 1:20 pm

            My point exactly.

          • Brett Gilbertson

            07/13/2010 at 4:41 pm

            Exactly Xavier.

            This “market has decided” rubbish (no office james) is for people who think that one failure is the end of the story (i.e. losers). If Eddison had thought that way you would not have a lightbulb! Try, try and try again until you get it right.

            You only have to look at the number of people who sit in meetings every day with pen and paper. It is not efficient, and that’s a big market to start with.

    • acerbic

      07/13/2010 at 9:42 am

      “Here, mass market: do you want to buy a nice slate for $2500 or a clunky, heavy convertible for $1000?”
      “Nah, I don’t think so…”
      “Ok, so the mass market just doesn’t want inking with a stylus. Let’s never try to sell a nice slate with pen and touch for $800 even if we could.”

      BS.

      Reply

      • Brett Gilbertson

        07/13/2010 at 6:15 pm

        Spot on acerbic. 1 + 1 = 7

        Idiots! Let them have iPads… they deserve them. hehe.

        Reply

    • MP

      07/13/2010 at 9:43 am

      James,

      I have to agree with Warner. How can we say that the market has spoken about Tablet PCs when most people (like 90+% of then) don’t even know about them? I can’t go anywhere and have people notice me inking without having to explain what it is.

      This “failure” of Tablet PCs is exclusively a failure of marketing and of long term commitment on the part of MS.

      Reply

    • acerbic

      07/13/2010 at 11:19 am

      You should also pass on this pearl of wisdom to all the developers trying to add inking with a stylus to the very mass market piece of iCrap. The poor saps seem to be totally oblivious to the fact that the mass market has decided it does not want or need their products.

      Reply

  2. Ken

    07/13/2010 at 6:21 am

    Personaly I am sick of not been able to get flash movies on
    my iphone as soon as I think there is a devise like the Iphone
    that also does flash I will move over I use Adobe a lot and would love to see adobe do somthing like a iphone or ipad

    Reply

  3. Sumocat

    07/13/2010 at 7:48 am

    I especially like how Gary Marshall makes it sound so easy to make a successful Windows slate. Microsoft has been on the wrong direction with tablets for years. It is truly silly to think they’ll turn that ship around in a matter of months.

    Reply

  4. Jonathan

    07/13/2010 at 8:09 am

    Why can’t they just have touch and pen? and Ken i agree at least once a day I find a website I can’t view ’cause of the lack of Flash on the damn iPad, its frustrating.

    Reply

  5. Feralboy

    07/13/2010 at 8:56 am

    Microsoft playing catchup? Wow, I totally don’t get how you can play catchup to a device that’s less capable? Sales, definitely, but features/functionality, no. The common “instant on” concern also confuses me, as I put my tablet to sleep and wake it — i.e., instant on — thourout the day and it works beautifully on Windows 7. I get touch AND the pen and a keyboard…my choice, but using them together, as in OneNote, is unsurpassed. Then there’s the Windows 7 being too “heavy” mantra? One of the joys of Windows 7 is that it’s fast, has lesser hardware requirments than its predecessor and has even brought old hardware back to life. But these are the “concerns” I hear over and over again, but just can’t duplicate them on my tablet PC.

    Reply

    • MP

      07/13/2010 at 9:48 am

      One area where MS does have to play catch up with Apple is commitment to the platform and especially the “experience” of using the device.

      To their credit, Apple herd a vision and pulled out all the stops to realize it.

      Microsoft dropped their vision after XP TPC edition and has progressed only on inertia since.

      Longer rant at http://educationalink.blogspot.com/2010/05/oh-microsoft.html

      Mark

      Reply

  6. Gary Harrison

    07/13/2010 at 9:07 am

    I agree with Warner. That’s why I just bought my second TC1100 – small, lightweight, and ink-able. I replaced my first TC110 with a HP TX2-too heavy, and frankly, I turned off the touch portion.

    Tablets have NEVER been marketed – period. I only discovered them when I saw a coworker use one. Perhaps “Joe Couch Potato” may only want a consumption device, but I think there are a lot of us (I teach and train) who would snap it up in a second. I could tell stories – literally bringing the TSA security line to a stop in Phoenix when all that agents gathered around and said, “What is that and where can I get one?” Or when I lost control of a meeting of professionals when I inked on a powerpoint. It took me 5 minutes to get back on track, and afterward one of them told me, “It was like watching fire being discovered.”

    Could Microsoft ever successfully market one? After the “Bill and Jerry” show I have my doubts. More’s the pity. I guess time will tell.

    Reply

  7. GTaylor

    07/13/2010 at 10:40 am

    If I read the article and posts here and elsewhere correctly, every single great innovation in computing and communication has been hobbled by marketing.
    “If you want THIS feature, you have to forgo those features or pay this premium or accept these limitations and all of the above. All ways read all of the fine print below and elsewhere.
    The market has not been reached because the market has never been developed in the first place! No one of us is able to make use of the full range of commonly available technology, hardware and software, to address everyday tasks, for a long enough period of time to allow most of the consumer market to find out what it does want. Marketing will loose itself at the game of divide and conquer.

    Reply

  8. GoodThings2Life

    07/13/2010 at 11:16 am

    I completely agree with Warner. I don’t want a device that is simply capable of more than an iWhatchamacallit… practically every device on the market meets that requirement. I want something that I can truly be productive on but still be mobile.

    I just got an HP 2740p today, and I can’t wait to see how it works, but I already know it’s no lighter than my 2730p, and if I could slim it down into a slate and gain some battery life I’d be happier than a pig in mud.

    Reply

  9. Jeff Jackson

    07/13/2010 at 11:20 am

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, even though everyone tells me I’m wrong, but the reason Stylus based computing has never taken off is because of Wacom. The hardware they provide for Tablet PCs has been massively gimped. Tablet PCs have fewer levels of pressure sensitivity and NO pressure sensitivity in Adobe products, no tilled, less position precision, and add hundreds of dollars more to the cost of the tablet over a similarly configured tablet. The tm2t costs about $300 more than a similar notebook and has poor ergonomics with its wedge shape. All other tablet PCs have even bigger price premiums. Historically, the premium as been $1000 or more. Until we can get a tablet PC with the features and size of a Cintiq, but at a reasonable price, tablet PCs will continue to be also rans.

    Reply

    • acerbic

      07/13/2010 at 12:08 pm

      Do you really think that anyone who is not a professional graphic artist would notice or care about the difference between 256 and 1000 pressure levels?

      I do think that the tm2t was gimped on purpose with the idiotic hump so that it wouldn’t cannibalize even one sale from the 2740p.

      Reply

      • Jeff Jackson

        07/13/2010 at 12:46 pm

        The problem is that the 256 levels don’t necessarily respond linearly, especially if the user tweaks the pen’s sensitivity. You can easily get banding in paint tools then.

        Reply

  10. Jeff Jackson

    07/13/2010 at 11:24 am

    “no tilled” was supposed to be “no tilt”

    Reply

  11. dstrauss

    07/13/2010 at 2:46 pm

    As a (now) avid iPad user who has mothballed my 2730p, I feel the need to chime in. IF (the big “if”) Microsoft wants to be competitive, they need to deliver an iPad sized (INCLUDING THICKNESS) battery sipping inkable slate that caters to PC USERS, or forget about it. Yes, I have many of the media goodies (Netflix, iTunes, games, etc.) but my bread and butter are DocsToGo, email, contacts, Dropbox, iAnnotate PDF, and an unbeatable law reference library (Fastcase, Lawstack, Lawbox, TxCode09). Tax, title and license for all the software is under $100. Add Logmein and I can literally run my practice from the iPad.

    WHAT I CRAVE INCESSANTLY IS INKING AND ONENOTE! Not handwriting conversion – just the ability to replace a yellow pad for notetaking. Microsoft has got to understand that what the user really needs is an MS Office LITE ecosystem. Some of you oldersters might remember WordPerfect Shell which was a WordPerfect 4.2 compatible editor and shell utilities to fit on those early 1986 memory constrained laptops (they were not notebooks by any means). Anyway, the files you produced easily transferred to full WP 4.2 for massaging and final production. I have found that DocsToGo does a fair job of the same thing, and that is where Microsoft is missing the boat.

    Sure, flicking pages around with your finger is fun for a while, but it is the incredibe size, convenience, AND TRUE 10 HOUR BATTERY LIFE of the iPad that has captured my attention. If you can’t do all that in the Intel/AMD environment, then either give it up, or start your own subset again of WinCE on a power sipping processor (BUT KILL THAT NAME) and build your system around file compatibility with the ease of a yellow notepad.

    Reply

    • acerbic

      07/13/2010 at 3:41 pm

      “IF (the big “if”) Microsoft wants to be competitive, they need to deliver an iPad sized (INCLUDING THICKNESS)”

      Could you please try to speak for yourself only? For me, a one inch thick slate would be quite competitive.

      Reply

      • dstrauss

        07/13/2010 at 6:34 pm

        Well, that certainly is rude, but I guess that’s where “ascerbic” comes from. Just because 1″ thick is “quite competitive” for your tastes doesn’t mean that is the majority opinion, and with millions of iPad now in circulation (probably more in total than all the tablets and slates ever sold combined) I’d say the “majority” like it thin. MP is right, with today’s advances in processors, motherboards, and batteries, a svelte update of the TC1100 could be the sweet spot.

        Reply

        • dstrauss

          07/13/2010 at 6:40 pm

          My apologies for misspelling acerbic.

          Reply

        • acerbic

          07/13/2010 at 7:04 pm

          Are you perhaps the same person who was using Twitcher to send “chunkyfail!” twits when the HP Slate was specced to be 0.57″ thick…?

          Reply

          • dstrauss

            07/14/2010 at 6:35 am

            Acerbic – try not to confuse invective with intellectual analysis. I feel like I’ve fallen into a vat of Apple fanboys around here when the great Jobs is criticized in public. If you are satisfied with a 4-5 lb 2740p-like device (because you cannot get more than 4 hours on a battery without the additional slice) go for it. However, the market has clearly spoken with the success of the iPad. Even the total number of viewers (ostensibly tablet users) of this site don’t equal first weekend sales of the iPad.

            The enterprise is quickly joining teh iPad bandwagon, if you can read Businessweek:

            http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/jul2010/tc2010076_193868.htm?chan=rss_topStories_ssi_5

            That being said, I’d KILL for an iPad with an active digitizer and OneNote, but that’s not ever going to happen at Apple (Jobs can be just as stubborn as you). The capacitive stylus sucks worse than using your finger to draw crude letters, even with my hopes for Dan Bricklin’s Note Taker HD (PS – in case you don’t recognize the name, he’s the co-inventor of Visicalc; that’s the quality of programmer being attacted to the iPad platform).

            And so, only speaking for myself (but would bet good money it would be a crowded stadium of followers) I want the holy grail of an iPad’s size and performance with the ability to ink notes (leave the handwriting recognition to an off-loaded desktop). Here’s to hoping MS can see the light…

          • acerbic

            07/14/2010 at 9:29 am

            A few facts of life: OneNote is a computer program, not an ipod app. It requires a computer to run. The components of a computer require somewhat more space and weight than an ipod. If the new divine rule is, as you and irritatingly many moronic tech pundits proclaim, that nobody must build a slate computer that is even 0.1″ thicker or 1 oz heavier than the iFad because it just wouldn’t be competitive, the market has spoken blah blah, there never will be one. That would be sad and stupid.

    • MP

      07/13/2010 at 5:08 pm

      dstrauss–sounds like you (like me and thousands of others) really want is an updated TC1100. Slim, light, good battery for the time (I went over seven hours with judicious use of management and had battery left), ergonomic, AND ink. Plus a (kindof) real keyboard but only when you wanted it.

      MS isn’t the only company who dropped the ball with Tablet PCs by a long shot.

      Reply

  12. Dave P

    07/13/2010 at 3:02 pm

    I started in tablets with a Motion M1300. I’ve also had an OQO 02. Both were far more expensive than the equivalent PC with a non-active digitizer and it’s hard to get people to try something that they don’t immediately grasp especially when it costs more than what they consider to be a comparable product.

    If MS want’s their investment in the TIP to pay off, I think they are going to need to put out a slate themselves. Maybe advertise it as: “Thumbs are for babies. Graduate to a pen.”

    Reply

  13. leMel

    07/13/2010 at 4:52 pm

    I am a long-time tablet PC user (and am still on a Motion with XP). Microsoft basically invented the future with their Courier concept – I was saving up my money the whole time. The iPad, though wonderful on its own terms, meant nothing to me. Now I’m confused – are they trying to give us something *better* than Courier, or worse? Cause everything so far sounds worse. Why would a company choose worse? Maybe it’s more financially rewarding somehow? Who didn’t like Courier?

    Reply

    • dstrauss

      07/13/2010 at 6:38 pm

      In spite of my professed desire for iPad thinness, the Courier was the best looking solution out there. I was shocked when the tablet that never was sunk, particularly if you ever tried Inkseine – it could have been an iPad killer. My guess is Microsoft is wedded to an Intel based Win7 OS on whatever it has up its sleeve, and that is going to fail unless they can make the responsiveness nearly identical to an iPad. Watching my Dell Mini 9 sucking wind even with 2gb ram and a 128gb SSD sent it to a speedy retirement.

      Reply

  14. Osiris

    07/14/2010 at 5:17 am

    I just think at the minute you guys here want different things to what companys can reasonably expect to sell to the market.

    I get why you guys love your inking but inking comes with a cost and at the moment when Win tablet manufactuers are struggling to; hit a consumer price point, match ipad battery life, loose the weight, create an actual touch interface etc. Its just another layer of complexity that they have no idea if people even want.

    Reply

  15. Tuur

    07/14/2010 at 9:41 am

    Great post Warner. This says it all!

    Reply

  16. dstrauss

    07/14/2010 at 10:12 am

    “If the new divine rule is, as you and irritatingly many moronic tech pundits proclaim, that nobody must build a slate computer that is even 0.1″ thicker or 1 oz heavier than the iFad because it just wouldn’t be competitive, the market has spoken blah blah, there never will be one. That would be sad and stupid.”

    acerbic – I admire your stubborn futility. Whether or not you are supremely right in your opinion, it makes no difference if the rest of us “poor lemmings” follow someone other than your “superior intellect.” In effect, the MARKET makes the determination, including the IT experts at Wells Fargo, SAP, Merecedes-Benz, and other enterprise outfits that likewise lack your “superior intellect.”

    Reply

    • acerbic

      07/14/2010 at 11:53 am

      Unlike you, I recognize the reality that the MARKET has said absolutely NOTHING about any Windows 7 consumer slates with pen and touch because absolutely none have ever been marketed, so I guess my intellect is superior to at least yours.

      Reply

      • dstrauss

        07/14/2010 at 12:14 pm

        Assuming you are right acerbic, no Win 7 tablets have been marketed or sold…

        So let’s see:

        Win 7 was released in October 2009 – 0
        iPad was released in April 2010 – over 4,000,000

        Ok, your intellect is superior. However, it doesn’t alter the fact that Microsoft and its partners will never crack into the mainstream until they address the the “weight” of Win 7 (oops, wait a minute, is that Dell I see slinking off to Android and HP to WebOS?)

        Reply

        • acerbic

          07/14/2010 at 12:49 pm

          That was about as incoherent as you wanting OneNote at the same time as aggressively denouncing any hardware and OS that it could realistically run on…

          Reply

          • leMel

            07/14/2010 at 1:17 pm

            Well, hold on there. OneNote, made physical, at a low price point, IS what we want. I’m trying to replace my moleskine here, not my laptop. My android phone has an Evernote app – certainly MS should be thinking of scaling OneNote to function well in a small footprint with cloud synch. If not, then what exactly are they trying to accomplish? Just to have a few token devices out there to say ‘us too’? They’ve tried that for the last x years. The devices were great, but the needs have evolved.

          • acerbic

            07/14/2010 at 2:48 pm

            Re: “certainly MS should be thinking of scaling OneNote to function well in a small footprint with cloud synch”

            OneNote Mobile has been available on prehistoric WinMo devices since the dawn of the pda/smartphone age. I can sell you a 5 year old iPaq that runs it if that’s good enough for you. It has of course only a fraction of the features of the real one because it’s scaled down to fit on a mobile device and a mobile OS.

          • leMel

            07/14/2010 at 4:27 pm

            “since the dawn of the pda/smartphone”

            Really? PocketPC 2003 is your benchmark for feasibility? I’m talking about now. Devices have gotten better, OneNote mobile hasn’t. Also, we are talking larger devices than PDA’s/phones, namely tablets and slates.

            It’s 2010, Microsoft. You have billions of dollars, state of the art facilities, and some of the smartest people on the planet. Just do it already.

          • acerbic

            07/14/2010 at 5:03 pm

            Oh LOL. It’s not MY benchmark of feasibility but it sure seems to be that of those people insisting that you can’t have a “heavy” Windows 7 on a slate; it must be a limited small footprint “mobile” OS. Well then you get limited small footprint apps with it because full size applications would require the services of a full OS.

            My benchmark of feasibility is a slate that is just enough smaller and lighter than the current tablet pcs to be really handheld and portable. It could easily run Windows 7 and full applications and wouldn’t need any billions of dollars or state of the art facilities to develop but really just do it already.

  17. dstrauss

    07/14/2010 at 6:33 pm

    “My benchmark of feasibility is a slate that is just enough smaller and lighter than the current tablet pcs to be really handheld and portable. It could easily run Windows 7 and full applications and wouldn’t need any billions of dollars or state of the art facilities to develop but really just do it already.”

    Seems that we already had that, almost, with the multi-teased HP Slate while we were waiting for the iPad; then even HP gave up, canned the Slate, and bought Palm to retool it as a WebOS slate. Sure hope it’s not getting lonely in your intellectually superior universe.

    LeMel is right – MS needs to get off it’s dead duff and put those billions into some real products, not just retooled Vista as it should have been.

    Reply

    • leMel

      07/15/2010 at 6:04 pm

      You know how you need to do something (develop a new Windows device) but you know it’s going to be painful so you keep putting it off, and doing other things first to avoid getting started (buy a whole other company, go through a tough merger of cultures and assets, and build a device around a completely different OS)?

      Now THAT’s how you procrastinate. Respect.

      Reply

  18. Andrew

    07/19/2010 at 12:06 pm

    I’ve been using tablets for 5 years. I wish MS would put some effort into Silverlight to make inking easier to develop with. If I could get inking working better through SL then I’ll have some apps that are useful for business apps and would this would drive the need for Tablets further. iPad is interesting but really useless for work related purposes imho.

    Reply

  19. dstrauss

    07/20/2010 at 12:29 pm

    I really don’t think the iPad is useless for business purposes. Not to beat a dead horse, but the addition of only a few inexpensive apps (DocsToGo; Goodreader; Dropbox) and you are good to go at net book level. I like adding Mobilenoter and iAnnotate PDF so I can round out my arsenal. Overall less than $100 in software – far less than single copy of MS Office. I realize it doesn’t do ink (although Penultimate and Note Taker HD are promising) but it is far from useless even with the onscreen keyboard.

    Reply

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