Why has the Tablet PC failed?

Recently, I reformatted and setup a Tablet PC for one of our departments, and brought it back to them, so they can figure out what to do with it. Oddly enough, they weren’t enthused about getting it back. Its not like they hated it, just didn’t care.

Here is some of the things they (department head and their assistant) said…

“What that thing? We haven’t used that in 1 1/2 years.”
“I used to take it to meetings and took notes with the keyboard, but now that I have a notebook, I don’t need it.”
“We tried it, it didn’t work.”

The problem was, they didn’t have a compelling use for it. There was no software that made it wonderful, it was almost as heavy as their laptops, so it wasn’t easier to carry around, and most often they had to carry around the keyboard so they could type, because typing was way faster than trying to write in the software.

So, what am I getting at? Well, I know that tablets can be useful, but there is a fundamental problem with them that keeps them from just taking off. What is that problem?

Is it because developers have not written the software for it?

Is it because the vendors have not backed it enough?

Are they overpriced or not powerful enough to replace other notebooks or even just a little overpriced, and the features aer not convincing enough?

While each of these do touch on problems that the tablet industry is facing, I believe the real problem is that no one has realized what tablets should, and should not be. They should be pen or touch based, but they should not be a notebook replacement. Instead of trying to cram a notebook into something just a little smaller that has a pen input, make it a pen-based system, that could, in no way, replace a notebook. Think of it as merging together an Amazon Kindle, an ASUS Eee PC and add a pen-based screen. Don’t try to make it do everything, just try to make it do it’s one thing, pen-based input.

Skip the full text recognition. When you open a document, the editing area is written on like it was paper and the pen was a real pen. Scribble notes, write updates, scratch through things with lines. Let there be either a location on the screen, or a physical button you press to switch between pen-mode and pointer (like a mouse) mode. Stop trying to make it a pen-based laptop computer, and make it a pen-based ultra-portable device.

I had a tablet and thought it was useful, but because of how I was using it. I didn’t use handwriting recognition, the notes I wrote were just images. I could erase things like pencil and paper, highlight things, mark up things, write to-do lists, anything. If it needed to be converted, that is why I had a desktop computer.

The idea should be to make a tablet that is cheaper than a desktop or laptop, so that it is used as something that works in conjunction with one of those. You don’t expect someone to buy an iPhone and dump their laptop for it, so why should you expect the same of a tablet, think of it as a larger iPhone that gives you more screen space to do stuff on.


2 Responses

  1. Interesting take on it… There are certainly lots of places that a Tablet PC doesn’t make much sense… But… Part of the problem that you descirbed here is that most people have not really explored uses for them.

    I guess people don’t like change at the end of the day. They’re comfortable with a mouse and keyboard, and that is tried and proven. That’s where we need pro-active IT people who actually find ways to do things better, rather than just responding to support calls.

    Tablet PCs work very well in projects where there is a specific task and there is software supporting that. Tablets have taken computing into places that it was not possible to go before – From meetings to manufacturing plants, aircraft to underground pipes.

    There are massive projects going on all over the place every day, but they are not in the sight of consumers, so there is a perception that Tablets have failed.

    The large iPhone idea – I think that is where UMPCs are finally going. I hope they make it there before Apple comes up with a Tablet and puts the UMPC manufacturers out of business.

    I still like the all in one, and I have done without a PC for years untll now. Now I never get to use my tablets because they’re all out on demo…

  2. This is so prophetic.

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