Craig Pringle has a wonderful blog entry, Now Is The Time for Tablets. I couldn’t agree more with his thesis that the cosmic forces are moving forward. Craig outlines some reasons why he thinks several key influences are aligning properly.
· Mobile computing in general is taking off.
· Connectivity is trending towards being universal.
· The limitations of battery life are being reduced.
· The range of devices available is increasing.
· The range of software written to be tablet aware or tablet specific is increasing.
· The marginal cost of a tablet over a laptop is decreasing.
· Awareness of the Tablet PC as an option is increasing.
· The distinction between “Laptop” and “Tablet” is going to be removed with Windows Vista.
While I agree with the thesis and have been thinking this myself for awhile, I’m not as optimistic as Craig is on a few of his points.
The delay of Vista to consumers until 2007 will push things off there is no doubt. I believed (and still do) wholeheartedly that the Tablet PC improvements in Vista will change the Tabletscape. The Tablet OS is still not quite transparent enough in Vista, but it is getting closer. Unfortunately, that won’t happen for consumers until 2007 now, so I’ve moved my projection of 2006 as the Year of the Tablet PC to 2007.
Battery life is improving. Good thing. It still has a ways to go. What is Electrovaya doing that is so different (you hardly ever hear of them unless you follow Sumocat’s Scribbles these days.) And while we’ve got slices and extended batteries, the technology still needs to advance further. The fact that Origami/UMPC has been introduced with such a low battery life expectation is troubling to me.
Marketing and naming challenges are going to need to be overcome. Two great examples of this. Gateway’s new Tablet PC is marketed as a Convertible PC. That makes good sense on so many levels,but it also is terribly confusing. There doesn’t seem to be any clear message coming out of the (IMHO) woeful Microsoft marketing apparatus. What are these things? Tablet PCs? Mobile Ink-Enabled Computers? UMPCs? Origamis? Convertible PCs? I don’t have that answer. No one else seems to either. Second, there is the Origami/UMPC itself. Great, great, new mobile and inking solution. Again, the marketing here is woeful, with a confused attempt at launch that caught the world’s eye, without product available, allowed for more confusion and in some cases derision. While touch is going to be a key for both the Origami/UMPC and future Tablet PCs, the push to touch is confusing the inking message. Don’t get me wrong here, the incredible new range of devices that this brings is a net positive. The marketers need to understand better what they are dealing with. No wonder we see such derision in the media and the blogosphere about Tablet PCs.
While the range of software being written is increasing, there still needs to be a push to make inking more native to the OS and therefore apps in general. Loren Heiny, Josh Einstein, and other developers are showing the way. Craig also mentions Mindjet’s MindManager and that is another key pioneer. So we have a few key pioneers pushing the envelope and that is great. More need to be on the bandwagon but I fear that is still a ways off. There also needs to be more acknowledgement of how the pen can work as an input advice. I’ve been saying for quite awhile now that the the new ribbon interface in Office 2007 looks to be more pen centric and pen aware. Kendrick and Orchant mentioned that on their latest podcast (I mentioned it on the first episode of their new show.) Anyone recall hearing Microsoft saying this anywhere? I don’t think so.
Other developments are encroaching as well. The Web 2.0 push is consuming a lot of oxygen and probably will continue to until the bubble bursts and that comes crashing down. Anybody know of any real inking possibilities there? I also think Apple’s Boot Camp and Parallels Workstation releases this week (Parallels won’t be the only VM solution on the market) will also have an effect. Again, I see this as a net positive in the long run, but a a short term delay. Dark Side or no, I’m guessing you will see a lot of cash flowing Cupertino’s way until there is more of a convergence. If Apple finally gets off the dime and releases a Tablet solution that will have an immediate impact.
So, Craig, good buddy, I think you’re right. I just don’t see it happening in 2006. 2007 will be the earliest. Unless the marketing mavens screw it up again.