Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

From Stone to Silicon: The Past and Future of Tablets

The following post consists almost entirely of the thoughts of a good friend regarding the future of Tablet computers, published here with his permission. He had made the statement that tablets are a transitional technology. I responded with the offhand question: "If tablets are a transitional market, what are they transitioning to?"

His response follows:

It seems appropriate that in memoriam to [Steve] Jobs, I really consider this seriously.

You've thrown down a gauntlet, whether you know it or not. It's easy for any of us to say, "Oh, this is a transitional product." But really, it's a cop-out, if we can't describe where things are heading.

Here's my take:

The tale of the pad/tablet computer is nothing new. It's long and storied. Beginning back in 1988, I'd say, with the GRID tablet. Followed shortly by the Apple Newton. And then the waves of PDA's culminating with Blackberry. (Side Note: Blackberry isn't doing as great as either of us thought. 'They' believe they're in trouble. Are they really in trouble or has some unnatural part of their audience gone to smart phones which suit them better? Doesn't matter. RIM is panicking. They're self-destructing over this. Officially looking for a 'Strategic Partner.' Insiders have only sold stock for over 12 months.)

Previous pads/tablets ultimately failed. Why?

1) They were by nature tethered. They downloaded stuff from a real computer.

2) In the beginning, companies thought people wanted something to scribble on. Handwriting recognition became the axle everyone was hopelessly wrapped around.

3) The visual interface moved backwards in computer time. The screen was something circa 1978.

4) The tradeoff was always sophistication vs size. No way for any product line to really evolve. Phones and PDA's got bigger and bigger until they were too big to carry.

So, what's different today?:

1) WiFi and cellular Internet. Very, very, loose tether. What tether there is, has nothing to do with another computer.

2) Pads, for the most part, can replicate a computer multimedia experience, as we understand one.

What remains as an obstacle:

1) The data tether is an ongoing recurring charge. That limits the audience who can afford this.
2) They're large. Lugging becomes an issue fairly quickly.
3) The promise of Internet disguises the pain of interactivity. 'Touch screens' and 'typing' are non sequiturs.

So, what will we be left with?:

Another island of devices that the vast majority of people can never own. It doesn't replace anything. It costs too much. Don't be swayed by sales numbers. LOTS of PDA's got sold in the late 90's. How many survived? How many got put in a closet? People will get tired of buying $15 movies and books for their iPad. Then what happens to them?

People will not leave their smartphones behind for a Pad. People will not leave their laptop behind for a Pad. It's really the same boat that the Netbooks found themselves in. Neat functionality that doesn't replace anything.


I see two game changers:

1) Detachable Pad. When docked, it's a laptop. When detached, it's a Pad. Some companies are showing something like this, but they fall short. I say when it's docked, it runs Win-7. When detached, it boots into a battery friendly version of Android. That parts tricky, but very doable. It just runs counter to the thinking of the Dells, Microsofts, and Apples of the world. The people that can afford a Pad now, would prefer this. Many people wed to their laptops would embrace this. This would be a killer machine, and a game changer, if under $1500.

2) Car Pad. Just like car stereos trumped the impracticality of the portable transistor radio in the 1960's, I think car mounted Pads gets around most of the transport beefs with Pads. Most idle time in America is in cars. That's where Pads will flourish. Why not build them in? Size and weight as considerations go away. What would families give for a device that could stream Pandora in the front, and stream Netflix in the back of a minivan? Very easy to do with a tablet and 4G. Look at how close Ford and Microsoft are to this with Synch right now.
I feel I should point out the there are a couple of items on the market that are very close to what my friend describes right now. The Motorola Atrix has an accessory "laptop" dock that turns the phone into the CPU for a larger user interface with a keyboard mouse and screen. The current Windows Phone 7 is a precurser to Windows 8. My friend's fully functional, dockable Tablet is not far off.

1 comment:

  1. I think given time, pads can find a niche for themselves. A pad built into a car is a neat idea, if it's also detachable, even better. I am reminded of a time my husband's car broke down on the side of the road, he simply took out his tools and his ipad, propped the latter beside his engine with some website or something with instructions on how to fix his problems up, and got to work. Wouldn't have been very effective with a smartphone because he wouldn't have been able to see the diagrams, and a laptop wouldn't have worked either as he had to do so much of the site navigating one handed. Ah, the wonders of technology.