Saturday, August 9, 2008

Is the end of the Tablet PC era in sight?

Rob Bushway over at Gottabemobile brings up some interesting thoughts on the state of Tablet PCs.

I’m thoroughly convinced that Tablet features make a lot of sense–especially in one of my favorite areas to think about: education.

However, I’m also convinced that the numerous stumbles that Microsoft and its partner OEMs have made with the Tablet form factor have all but guaranteed that the era of Tablets as we know them now is nearing an end.

Yeah, yeah. Tablet sales are probably doing just fine. They may even be increasing for all I know. However, Tablets simply haven’t reached their potential and by virtue of the way the markets work, probably never will. Sorry. It’s unlikely Tablets as we know them now are going to just take off all of a sudden.

Here’s my working thesis though:

1) That we will see Tablet technology spread widely throughout more devices despite this “looming non-success.”

2) That the dream of Tablet PCs, like the original orange one that Bill Gates demoed at CES is still alive and well though the “dream devices” we all want may or may not be like this.

3) The dream devices of the future will improve our lives and will incorporate some, possibly many, of the core features we know now of today’s Tablet PCs.

In fact, I think we’re on the cusp of a new generation of Tablets. The iPhone being the first of them. It has excellent touch, good predictive typing via an onscreen keyboard, pretty good browser support for a touch device, and more. Yes, to me it’s a Tablet PC and a pretty good one at that. No to all of you skeptics a physical keyboard isn’t needed to make a great Tablet. The iPhone proves it.

But it’s not just touch that I think is key to making a great Tablet. It’s going to be about processors (Atom anyone?) and screen technology and other sensors (multiple screens with multi-touch?) and, yes, great software (simple, concise OS, with targetted apps). We haven’t seen enough of this from the Microsoft camp yet. Yes, Microsoft’s Tablet PC handwriting recognition is definitely beyond all others. No question. But the overall implementation of Tablets, well, uh. Let’s just say it’s not a bad start.

There’s more to do.

I’m quite excited by the possibilities. I’ve been thinking a lot over the last year about what kind of device might really make my electronic workbooks really sing for instance (see the header of this blog for sample screenshots). I’m convinced the right combination of technology will be quite enabling and valuable and make people smile.

So although Tablets as I dream of haven’t quite taken off in the way I think they should have, I’m still chugging away. The road ahead may be a bit uneven, and unpredicatable, and confusing, but I’m quite excited about the possibilties. It’s going to be an evolutionary, incremental process. I’m comfortable with that. Yes, I’m ready today for a killer Tablet. But I realize it’s going to take awhile longer. No problem.

It’s time to welcome the next era.