Tablet Makers Running Scared? Or Just Lousy Gamblers.

Watching the Tablet/Slate landscape these days is like watching a classic western where the town folks slowly realize that the new shooter in town might take out the bad guys that they have been bowing to all these years. The script is always the same. You get one or two good citizens who get it early on, and the rest hang back in the shadows afraid to move. Then when the big shootout on main street happens, they all come out with their guns blazing after the new sheriff in town has already decimated the bad guy.

Chris Davies has a very good post on Slashgear wondering if the iPad has killed Tablet innovation. Regardless of the iPad’s insanely unimaginable success, I don’t think its killed innovation, but I think it has probably killed off every other Tablet/Slate maker wanna-be’s gambling instinct. By and large they’ve all been reduced to playing those good town folk, waiting for a new gunslinger to rally around. Or is that behind?

Chris, like everyone else who follows this scene, is sitting aghast at the number of delays, reversals, and mysterious silences we’re hearing and seeing from Tablet/Slate makers after the iPad. As I’ve said many times before, even back during the heady days of CES2010 when the promise of Tablet/Slates seemed to be raining from the sky, 2010 was never going to be the year of Tablets everywhere. 2011 was a much more likely target.

HP, Lenovo, Microsoft, and what seemed like a gazillion other companies, all stepped up to the table, anted up and gambled in Vegas last January. Wary of not having skin in the game they pushed out promises, hoping both that Apple would create the market, and leave an opening for them to jump in. Let Apple forge the path, then come in and follow along. Well, Apple did create a market. It left an opening or two. But, it also had success no one was counting on, including Apple. The gamble failed big time and it failed because, in my opinion, the device concepts proudly shown off in January 2010 couldn’t live up to the iPad in the minds of those making the devices. Were they all bluffing? Proudly so, and hoping that once Apple showed its cards, what they were holding in their own hands would suffice. Then Apple went all in, and the others tossed their cards on the table, folding, hoping for another day.

But now there’s another gamble brewing and most are hoping Google is the new gunslinger to back. Apple and Google, once kissing cousins, are now engaged in all out war on a number of fronts. Both big guns are firing PR shots at each other, and Google appears to be gaining momentum. Apple is on a roll but still manages to shoot itself in the foot occasionally in the minds of early adopters who don’t like its closed off policy and FLASH exclusion. HP is going it alone with WebOS, but the rest are bunched up in a clump behind Google, hoping that Android will do the trick, and praying that Google will continue on with its new found attack mode in its battles with Apple.  The stakes are high.

But keep in mind, Google still hasn’t delivered yet, and won’t until at least the end of this year. The SmartPhone market is the current battleground and all are hoping that Google’s momentum there will spill over into the Tablet/Slate sector. But as I’ve said many times before, making a Tablet/Slate is hard, and I think harder than a SmartPhone. Google is and should be content with its chances. After all they can read their own cards as the hand plays out and any false moves won’t deplete the bank it brings to the table. Google can make its play at the poker table or in a shootout when it is ready. Everyone else though, that’s a different story. If Google comes out of this a winner the others are hoping they can go along for the ride. But all that means is playing bit parts in this ongoing shoot em up.

23 Comments

  1. dstrauss

    05/29/2010 at 8:31 am

    Warner: excellent article. I think the REAL problem for the industry was in letting Apple define the market. It not only puts them in the early lead, but leaves them releasing the “next” version OS updates while the competition is at Version 1.0. This then continues several generations compunding the lead. In fact, if Apple were to buy up the Penultimate developer and fold its extensions into OS 4.1 (12/2010 or 01/2011) they would run many of the then new competitors off the table.

    Android has shown the capability to compete against iPhone, but I have to believe that Apple’s eventual entry into multi-carrier distribution stateside will put a severe crimp in Android. It’s kind of like owning a Lexus, and when you finally get the chance to go BMW/Mercedes do you hang in there with Lexus or make the jump? My bet is on the jump, both away from AT&T to Verizon and from Android to iPhone.

    Reply

    • Hamranhansenhansen

      05/29/2010 at 9:23 pm

      > Penultimate

      Are you talking about the iPad app called “Penultimate”? Great app, I have it, but there are dozens of apps like that on iPhone OS. If you want a pen it is there, they are $14 from Pogo. Apple uses them at its stores for shoppers to sign for credit cards on iPods equipped with card readers. But Apple’s screens are sensitive enough you don’t need a pen. Even the developer of Penultimate says so. You can draw fine lines with a finger in any drawing or painting app.

      Reply

  2. Sumocat

    05/29/2010 at 9:09 am

    Great analogy. Interestingly, while everyone else seems to be backing away from the table, Dell is actually upping their bet. They were non-committal at CES, but they’re playing their hand now that everyone thinks Android is the trump card.

    Reply

  3. GoodThings2Life

    05/29/2010 at 9:59 am

    Well said, Warner, as usual, and sadly I’m forced to agree entirely. The problem for me, of course, is that I recognize and see more value in Android and Windows, because I know what Apple lacks beyond the smokescreen, and I’m forced to acknowledge that so many vendors haven’t stepped up. I wish I had the capital and development to really be that guy to step in and develop something truly meaningful… the tablet we all really want… but sadly I’m forced to watch as the rest of the world plays catch-up. Hopefully I can at least be one of the few rooting for and helping out the good guy when they do show up.

    Reply

  4. Nameless

    05/29/2010 at 11:02 am

    The problem I’ve had, ever since the Courier’s cancellation, is that nobody is willing to step up and make what is basically an iPad…with a Wacom pen digitizer and an interface to match.

    Steve Jobs made the pen uncool, perhaps because it was likened too much to the typical “plastic toothpick” stylus and the devices such a stylus would find itself with.

    It’s not like Apple themselves couldn’t do it. They have a handwriting recognition engine already hidden away in Mac OS X since 10.2 Jaguar called Inkwell. Most people don’t know that it exists because it doesn’t even show up until you connect a Wacom pen tablet and install the proper drivers.

    They could refine that engine some more and slip it into the iPad if they wanted to.

    Before you ask why I’d want handwriting recognition, it’s not in the fashion it’s traditionally handled. If they convert handwriting to plain text immediately, they blew it. Do it like OneNote does and recognize it in the background so it’s searchable, but leave it as handwritten digital ink otherwise.

    Yes, I already know that traditional Tablet PCs are still being made, and that old ones can be had for dirt cheap. But I want something with the portability, battery life, and wide-viewing-angle screen of the iPad, along with an interface designed to leverage both multi-touch and an active digitizer pen, which Windows with Tablet PC extensions is not. In short, I wanted pretty much what the Courier promised, but Microsoft was too shortsighted to follow up on. (Or maybe they’re holding off on the concept until they can actually deliver on the hype?)

    Reply

    • Scott

      05/29/2010 at 5:31 pm

      No kidding, Nameless!

      WinMobile7 looks close (and has OneNote) for an OS. Why not make something about the size of a bi-fold billfold (Courier-like) that is a phone but uses a hands-free earpiece (bluetooth) for all phone functions, a/b/g/n wireless, has a low power need (yet powerful) processor in it, enough battery for 10 hours, camera, and a freakin’ wacom pen/touch interface. Have a big brother (10″ or less) slate that’s true 16:9 with the same goodies. Both should be able to synch up by USB or bluetooth to your windows machine (or Mac) and maybe even be clients on a (windows) home server.

      Add a dock for the “big brother” that has USB, a keyboard/mouse AND 15-pin video interface, you have a great device for students/schools (type when you need to, take notes when you need to).

      Those two should reach a large part of the market (as Apple is betting with the iPod/iPhone/iPad). Once they’re hooked, reel them in with full-powered/full-sized slates and convertibles with a full OS with standard gestures (love MindManager) and is touch-friendly to those with fat fingers like me …mwahahahaha!

      (unrelated rant) I’m just mad that Fujitsu has abandoned the slate market just when I’m ready to upgrade (/unrelated rant).

      Reply

    • Hamranhansenhansen

      05/29/2010 at 9:30 pm

      I use a Mac and Wacom Tablet every day all day in my graphics work, and I don’t use Inkwell. Handwriting recognition is too slow. It’s faster to put down the pen and type.

      Everybody can touch type now. Many can type on smartphones. Many can type on T9 on a feature phone. Twitter is a pop culture fad that requires you to type!

      If there was any real demand for handwriting recognition, there would be an iPhone app for that already. The pens are $14 and they are almost all sold to artists and the rest are used to sign your name.

      There were like 20 years of handwriting tablets and iPad has already outsold them all.

      Reply

      • acerbic

        05/29/2010 at 11:09 pm

        Here’s real demand for handwriting recognition: I demand it. I also demand accurate drawing with a pen instead of the finger painting or crayon level that Steve Jobs allows.

        What is with you going on and on about what you DON’T want? Is somebody being mean to you and forcing you to buy products you DON’T want, or what’s the point? If it is as it seems that you think nobody should ever make and sell anything YOU DON’T want, I suggest you move to e.g. North Korea where that kind of attitude is generally found more normal and acceptable than here in America. Or are you already posting from over there…?

        Reply

        • TabletTeacher

          05/30/2010 at 5:41 am

          Acerbic,
          There you go again.

          When will you realize what is happening? The link you posted, ironically, was a decent review and recommendation about what MS should do. That is a good piece of advice.

          What you fail to realize is that people WANT a mobile device that fills the gap between being tied to a desktop and still be able to do some things.

          I would like to have handwriting and ink, but I’m not going to bash someone for not wanting it…like you have done. Nor, am I going to bash anyone for wanting an iPad. They aren’t all fan-boys, Nazis (which is a pretty immature comparison on your part—which really lends to your emotional level of thinking.)

          The “mobile” world is taking technology by storm. People want a gap-filler or niche device that meets their mobile needs. If someone wants to create and produce a full-blown OS device then more power to them. But, until it gets the battery life and cost it may have a tough time.

          It is difficult to argue with over 1,000,000 iPads sold. That will be a hard number to top by any other full-blown device or other “mobile” device using WebOS, Android, etc.

          You still have yet to show legitimate proof that states IN PRINT that Apple has this big conspiracy to destroy any competition. Implying it is not the same. You can rant and rave all you want, but the end result is the same. We see you for what you are.

          The mobile world is going to move on whether you like it or not. People will buy iPads, Android Slates, etc. People will want handwriting, ink, and not want handwriting, ink, etc. So, rather than fill the boards with the constant negativity, maybe play nice and embrace the technology for what it is.

          Reply

          • acerbic

            05/30/2010 at 10:57 am

            “What you fail to realize is that people WANT a mobile device that fills the gap between being tied to a desktop and still be able to do some things.”

            Ah, yes: that’s what PEOPLE want and NOTHING ELSE. Spoken like a true subject of People’s Republic of North Apple and follower of Kim Jobs Il.

      • Scott

        05/30/2010 at 9:42 am

        “It’s faster to put down the pen and type.”

        True, if all you’re doing is text related. If you have to put a drawing or diagram in there somewhere, you have to pick up your pen and draw it on your tablet, motions that take time and can break your train of thought (“Where is that dang pen!”).

        Does the handwriting recognition have to take place in real-time? I don’t think so, as the point is not to convert the handwriting to text (as the TIP does in Word, for instance). The point is to have handwriting that you can search, as in OneNote, or that can be indexed for keywords for searching later so you can jump to the appropriate page (such as you can do with HTML or that old HyperCard program, among others).

        If you add the above to the ability to annotate eBooks (with something like PDF Annotator) and you will have designed a device that could capture the education market in a big way.

        Look at the criticisms that students have for the Kindle: http://education-portal.com/articles/Kindle_Found_Lacking_as_Study_Tool.html and http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2011938870_kindle24.html and you can see what I mean.

        iPad 1.0 fails just as badly (possibly worse) as the Kindle in this regard, but I expect that it will do better in v2.0 if Apple is still serious about the education market.

        Reply

        • Scott

          05/31/2010 at 2:04 pm

          “Your comment is awaiting moderation.” — ???

          Did I say something wrong?

          Reply

      • Nameless

        05/30/2010 at 11:34 pm

        I won’t question touch-typing being much faster-mostly because I am a touch-typist myself. It’s part of the reason why I buy convertible Tablet PCs. (I cannot T9, though-hate it, and I don’t use SMS. QWERTY thumbboards are more my style. Also, I hate on-screen keyboards. No tactile feedback, and worse, they eat up precious screen space-not that a handwriting recognition panel is any better.)

        However, when I use OneNote, I never use the keyboard, even though I could. I just handwrite everything, with the system in slate mode. If a math equation/formula or diagram shows up along the way, or even just a strange symbol that’s not on my keyboard layout, I don’t have to reach for the pen-I’m already holding it.

        Also, Windows 7’s handwriting recognition is almost flawless for me, though my handwriting is very legible. Others have claimed impressive results even with chickenscratch.

        As I said in my first comment, handwriting recognition in the sense of immediate conversion to text is doing it wrong. It should be more of a background process for indexing (and thus search) that only does the “convert to plain text” thing when you tell it to, like OneNote does it. I don’t need my handwriting converted to plain text anyway-I can read it just fine, and so can just about anyone else I’ve met.

        How should it work? I just write it in, and it stays there. It needs to behave less like a typical PC form application built for plain text from a keyboard and more like pen and paper.

        Also, do you expect everything ever to be typed? The memories of high school are still all too fresh in my mind. Pen and paper are used EVERYWHERE, and there were more than a few forms and worksheets that had to be filled out by hand. It’s not just the schools, either-there are still many other places that use pen and paper in some capacity. I just want to get rid of the paper, but keep the pen’s capacity for expression.

        So the iPad sells a lot more than the tablets that interest me? Good for Apple and their shareholders, and good for the people who enjoy their iPads, but that doesn’t mean anything as far as the iPad being relevant to MY interests-and, more importantly, enough so that they can earn my US$500+.

        Reply

        • Scott

          05/31/2010 at 2:03 pm

          Exactly.

          Reply

  5. acerbic

    05/29/2010 at 11:23 am

    All the major manufacturers have turned into scared little bunnies cowering before Steve Jobs’ propaganda machine. Take HP: they have no problem making a gazillion different laptops at the same time, some of them certainly niche products, and releasing new ones every other day. Why wouldn’t they make lousy TWO different slates: one with plain touch and webOS and another with touch, pen and Win 7?

    Why not? Can anyone offer any other explanation than that they are scared of the universally bad “reviews” any Windows slate gets from the horde of disgusting Apple nazi pundits before it’s even released?

    http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/197372/why_microsoft_should_never_make_a_windows_7_tablet.html

    Reply

  6. Mickey Segal

    05/29/2010 at 7:32 pm

    Have people loved the low cost and thin form factor of the iPad or its locked-down atmosphere? If it is the form factor, other manufacturers can do the same thing. If people really love the locked-down atmosphere then it may turn out to be a winner-take all environment for the next several years. But I doubt it. More likely is that innovation will come from manufacturers who give us the form factor with an open environment.

    Watch the phone market. Android is overtaking the iPhone. The same will happen in slates.

    Reply

    • Hamranhansenhansen

      05/29/2010 at 9:18 pm

      By no stretch of the imagination is Android overtaking iPhone. And the 2010 iPhone has not even shipped. Be real.

      Outside of the closed US networks (Verizon, Sprint) where iPhone can’t run, Android hardly even exists. In spite of 2 for 1 deals on those networks, Google’s own AdMob will tell you that Android represents just a fraction of iPhone usage, even if you only look at US numbers, and 2/3rds of iPhones are international.

      A “locked down atmosphere” is PC-talk. Consumers buy an iPhone, plug it into iTunes, and in a few minutes it is overflowing with their contacts, calendars, email, bookmarks, photos, music, movies, TV shows, and books. They spend 5 minutes at App Store and install the very first C apps of their lives, without even knowing what “malware” is, let alone installing a scanner or auditing the app developer. They learn the user interface cold in a day or 2. They install system updates with 1-click the day they come out. They don’t have to stop and call the help desk. They are empowered by all of that, liberated by it. If you and PC makers don’t realize that, you will always be confused as to why iPhone OS devices sell like they do. People are not checking into iPhone jail, they are checking into a 5-star luxury hotel.

      Reply

      • Mickey Segal

        05/30/2010 at 2:38 pm

        This is the Disneyland argument – that closed environments are what people really want. This vertical control strategy is useful for jumping a chasm, but history shows that once the chasm is jumped, open environments do better.

        Much of the best innovation on the iPad will be browser based.

        Reply

  7. Hamranhansenhansen

    05/29/2010 at 9:01 pm

    > [Apple’s] closed off policy
    > Flash

    This PC industry attitude is why nobody will touch Apple in tablets for some years.

    Apple’s policy is “managed” not closed. They are providing users and I-T managers with a 100% malware-free native C app platform and they all love it. They can’t get enough of it. And they can’t get enough of the consistent and easy to use user interface, either.

    Google by comparison provides a 100% closed native C app platform, where only Google makes native C apps. And the 2005 phone-style baby Java apps have malware in spite of running in a VM and lacking the power of native apps! And the interface is ad hoc, nerd-friendly if friendly at all. Google is fine with this because they’re not a consumer company, not a device maker, they want the power to be on the server where they can watch you and target advertising to you. But any consumer-focused device maker who uses Android has cut their own legs off. On a full-size screen you need native C apps ported from real computers even more than on a smartphone. Apple has 4x the apps as Android in the same time (2008-2010, the 2007 iPhone had only HTML5 apps) in large part because you could just port C apps over from every non-phone computer.

    Yet the PC industry is so desperate to champion comfortable nerd monopolist Google over crazy designer consumer-focused Apple that Apple’s managed native apps are called “closed” and Google’s closed native apps are called “open.” So everyone but Apple is leaving apps on the table, leaving malware-freedom on the table, leaving great user interface on the table, and handing the victory to Apple because the PC industry refuse to give consumers what they want.

    Flash is the same thing for the Web. Comfortable monopolist Adobe who has no expertise or products in mobile is “open” and Apple, whose open source browser core brought the Web to mobiles in the first place, champions an open, vendor-neutral, platform-independent, mobile-friendly Web and is called “closed” for not wanting to run Flash, which also doesn’t exist for mobiles but we’re to ignore that as well.

    So the non-Apple device makers have essentially found religious reasons not to build the devices consumers want. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the iPad killers to show up.

    Reply

    • MP

      05/29/2010 at 10:47 pm

      Sorry, but you’re wrong. Apple’s policy *is* closed and always has been. It’s just getting worse lately so it is being called what it is. Save the spin for the (rest of?) the Apple marketers. Google wants to pretty closed as well. Both want tight control of the experience and, by the way, the revenue. Apple on the iPad has a clinch on that in both ads and app sales since they control the only distribution channel. They currently do a better job of this than Google, but I think Google will catch up.

      Frankly, this policy has served Apple well over the years. Their tight control of the development process, interface, and (now even more so) the languages is a key reason they don’t have some of the problems that exist in the Windows world. Not as big a reason as their death grip on the hardware, but a big one.

      Reply

    • acerbic

      05/30/2010 at 3:31 am

      LOL! The only reason there’s less malware for Crapple is the smaller user base who never have anything left to steal as they give their every penny to Steve Jobs as soon as mommy gives them their allowance.

      Every time somebody actually has incentive to hack Macs, iPhonies or Safari like in hacking contests with prizes, Crapple gets pwned.

      Reply

      • TabletTeacher

        05/30/2010 at 5:57 am

        Grow up Acerbic. Crapple…really?

        Again, you fail to realize what you are doing, or showing others about yourself.

        I have ALWAYS been a PC person, we use PC at school, I have a pc at home, and two MACS. I’ve had numerous tablets…HP TC1000, Motion 1300, ls800, Acer, and lastly Gateway. Have I had issues all of these? Yes. Have I had trouble with Windows? Yes. Have I had issues with Apple? YES.

        None are perfect, but I am growing to like the Mac a lot more. When I uninstall a program…it is gone. Nothing left to fragment the directory. I don’t have to worry about virus issues. And, backup is a lot easier.

        Was it more costly than a PC? Sure, but, I’d pay for the quality IMHO, than go with Dell, etc. HP is a good PC, but Dell, Gateway, etc. are not worth it.

        Put it this way, I had some trouble with my Mac when I first bought it. I took it in to the Apple Store and it was the System DVD’s that were not working right. They opened another set up and put them in…and they worked right away. All the DVD’s are the same…it doesn’t matter what computer you buy…the system is the same, the drivers are the same, the equipment is the same (i.e. – sound, video, memory, motherboard, etc.)

        If you go to Dell, you could buy a laptop there, and another at Best Buy. If you have something go wrong….well….the computers may be the same model, etc….but they will have different innards. So, the system CDs/DVDs will not work. You can’t open another laptop and just put them in and expect everything to work w/o going to the website and downloading drivers, etc.

        I’ll take that consistent approach, or “Closed – Locked Down”, as you put it. If you have ONE approach the end user experience is going to be better should you have problems or need tech. help. But, you will spin that and say it is just a blind-following or burying a head in the sand.

        Face it. Apple is doing something that others have struggled to do. But, once again, I find myself talking to someone who doesn’t want to see the whole picture.

        It sounds as if you need some time with a Guidance Counselor, or a Time-Out. Maybe Mommy can do that after she takes your allowance away for being naughty. LOL.

        Reply

  8. Scott Miller

    11/22/2010 at 6:27 pm

    I agree. I don’t want a super sized phone. I want a full sized tablet PC. I have owned 3 generations of tablets and am overdue to get my 4th and new tablet. My latest was the Fujitsu ST5032D and I was ready for the next one after the ST5111. These were called stylistic for a reason. They were stylish. Then in some bizarre move Fujitsu went to the ST6012 which looked like a post apocolyptic technician in the mud on military manuevers was to use it. Ug, what school are thier industrial designers coming from. I recommend the Pasadena Art Center College of Design if you can’t seem to find a good industrial design team, or pony up and use IDEO although they might be expensive. So I waited for someone to come up with a newer design, and I waited, and I waited. Nothing.

    Worse yet Fujitsu gets out of the Slate market all togher!!! Give up leadership position because a new upstart uses similar names but there product is in no way in competition with yours!?! Does the board even know what their product line is? The ipad is not in competition with the full size slates from Fujitsu or Motion etc. I suspect very few companies are deploying fleets of ipad to their mobile technicians and can absolutely guarantee that they are not being used by artist or technical professions that use pen based computing to draw (like myself). I have wrote all this directly to Fujitsu, but just like here I doubt they are even listening. Too bad. I guess I have to wait a few more years until someone realizes that not everyone on the planet is drinking the Apple cool-aide (oh like most people that need to connect to coporate file servers, excahnge and live meeting servers, and uses the pen to draw and write and not just poke, etc. etc.) Meanwhile my $3000 set aside will just earn interest in the bank HAHAHAH)

    Reply

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