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Summary:

So much discussion about the Wendland / Dvorak articles has flown around the Tablet PC community that it has me thinking about what a Tablet PC really is.  And once I get started thinking, well, here it goes again.  Mike Wendland has been chided because he […]

So much discussion about the Wendland / Dvorak articles has flown around the Tablet PC community that it has me thinking about what a Tablet PC really is.  And once I get started thinking, well, here it goes again.  Mike Wendland has been chided because he chose a surfboard of a Tablet PC to use to determine whether a Tablet PC would work for him.  Everyone who uses a Tablet knows that was a wrong choice for that purpose and Wendland has reportedly admitted that error, once the hubbub was raised.

I don’t blame him for that choice.  It shows a fundamental flaw with the image most people have of the Tablet PC, and that improper image has been thrust on the market by the very people responsible for the Tablet PC.  So what image should a Tablet PC convey to prospective users?  The single most important trait of a Tablet PC is the creativity that is possible on this above any other platform.  It is lighter and thinner than any other computer and throws in the ability to work with ink on top of that.  It must be lighter and thinner or it can’t be easily carried around, and you must have it when you need it or you can’t use it.  There is no other mobile computing platform that lets you free form your ideas, create beautiful artwork, personalize your email with handwriting, and even conduct IM sessions in your own handwriting.  Everything about the Tablet PC says take me anywhere and "create nice things with me" and  "let your creative juices flow when you use me."

At some point in the Tablet’s short history we’ve lost a very critical point and that is that the Tablet PC must be very mobile.  You MUST have it with you when you need it or it is useless to you.  But we have gone the other route, and instead we’ve taken the svelte Tablet PC and stuck a full keyboard on it, and in some instances an optical drive.  That means it’s much bulkier and heavier than the original slate form.  "But it’s more useful with a keyboard."  That point of view is just so WRONG that it shows people really don’t get it.  And the Tablet is something you must GET to want one.  Having the convertibles around clouds the purpose of using a Tablet and guarantees it is less mobile than it should be.  And the message that sends out to prospective owners who WANT to get a Tablet but are sitting on the fence is counter-productive.  "OK, it’s a laptop that happens to be a Tablet.  So why do I need both.  Oh, I see, true Tablets aren’t useful by themselves, you have to have a keyboard."  No wonder sales of Tablets are so low.  The target market is CONFUSED about what a Tablet is and who can blame them.  What’s wrong with a nice slim Tablet PC with a small portable wireless keyboard for those times when you need it.  That correctly relegates the keyboard to its proper role with the Tablet.  "Don’t use it much but it’s easy to carry if I do."  Once it’s permanently attached it becomes a necessity, and it’s much harder to convince the prospective customer that he really doesn’t need it.  And that is a very mixed message.

Don’t believe me?  Hand a light, small slate Tablet PC to someone who’s never used one and watch the wonder in their eyes as they feel the ink.  It’s a wonderful thing and as they play around with it the first time, feeling how light and MOBILE it is, you can see it click.  And most of them get it right away.  Now hand them a convertible and try the same thing.  You never get past how heavy and bulky it is.  It’s just a laptop at that point that, sure you can write on the screen but why would you.  It’s got a keyboard for that.  It completely eliminates the advantages that Tablet PCs offer the user.  And I’m sorry, but to me that’s just plain wrong.  I think the convertible will be the death of the Tablet PC and that’s just a darn shame.

  1. that’s it, why is it so hard for other people to see it that way. Tell them to step away from the keyboard. It slows things down. A mobile device has to be well mobile, fast on the draw (no pun ..), the faster you can draw it, the more mobile

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  2. James, you are right on target! I have not bought a Tablet, yet, but wish I had bought one instead of the last laptop I bought, and I think it would have been smart of me to get one that is very, very portable: no keyboard.

    Perhaps true Tablets will be around by the time I’m ready to retire in two years, so I can buy one as my “last” device.

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  3. As a very happy convertible owner, I respectfully disagree. There are indeed times where the pen is absolutely the right way to go. There are also times where the pen is a pain in the ass. Yes, I could use my regular laptop for those times I need a keyboard, but the convertible has both and so I don’t have to consider what machine to take with me.

    As to being too bulky, at a hair over 4 pounds, it is easily light enough to carry; and because it is a convertible, the screen is protected when I carry it. Just because the slate side has a great value doesn’t mean that the laptop side doesn’t have value as well.

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  4. Hi Ken, good points all. My article is not intended to bash the utility of the convertible at all. I am certain that some users like yourself get good use out of a convertible. My point is that adding a keyboard to the slate sends a conflicting message to the prospective buyer that a keyboard is mandatory for all Tablet users.

    I too use a keyboard often but I would rather carry a tiny, light portable wireless keyboard that will fit in my shirt pocket than add 2 pounds and bulk to a Tablet. But that’s me and it’s important to remember that when it comes to computers there is no one solution perfect for everyone.

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  5. James:

    Great post (as usual). Like Ken, I respectfully disagree that there’s anything wrong with convertibles in helping tell the Tablet story. You have to remember that most folks (unlike you and me) generally have a single PC. They don’t have the luxury (or desire) to pick which PC to use at any given point in time for a specific task or environment.

    The reactions I get to my convertible (Toshiba Portege M205) when I’m out an about are universally positive. The duality of having full laptop functionality *and* the Tablet goodness in a single lightweight (relatively) package blows people away. They get it – immediately.

    I usually show off three apps: GoBinder, MindManager, and Zinio Reader. All three take great advantage of the Tablet and demonstrate how the rotating display and digital ink features provide a new level of creativity and flexibility.

    The real problem is not the form factor. The issue facing the Tablet is abysmal marketing and there’s plenty of blame to go around. Loren’s written about and so have I. Microsoft has done an awful job of selling the Tablet. So have all of the key OEMs. And those failures translate to a near invisibility in the retail channel. If folks can not lay hands onone of these devices, they won’t buy them. Simple as that.

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  6. Marc, yeah, I have ranted mucho about the great marketing for both Tablets and Pocket PCs. Can I borrow your Toshiba for a month to see how I like it? :)

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  7. Although not a Tablet PC user, I’ve been researching them for a few months. I think there’s room for both form factors, Slate & Convertible, but it comes down to 2 things:

    1. They need to be marketed separately (and better!)
    2. They generally appeal to different types of users

    I liken this to another of my hobbies: backpacking. I always see what I call “the minimalists”; those folks that cut the handle off of their toothbrush to save the weight, for example. As much as I admire “the minimalists”, when it comes to backpacking, I don’t mind a little extra weight in my pack for a little extra benefit. My 50 mile trip in the White Mountains a few years back was captured on a video camera I took, something that would be scoffed by others. My point is: it depends on what kind of user you are.

    For the record, as a backpacker I’ll never be a minimalist; as a future Tablet PC owner however, make mine a Slate! ;>)

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