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Summary:

I received the following email from Ken Hong, a jkOnTheRun reader and podcast listener who has been working in Asia for the past few years. Ken wants to know where mobile technology is heading and why he does not see any Tablet PCs nor PDAs throughout […]

I received the following email from Ken Hong, a jkOnTheRun reader and podcast listener who has been working in Asia for the past few years. Ken wants to know where mobile technology is heading and why he does not see any Tablet PCs nor PDAs throughout his travels in Asia. I am posting his email with permission in the hopes we can start a discussion of benefit to all (thank you, Ken):

As a gadget fan since my TI 99/4A over 25 years ago, I’ve upgraded since then to a Compaq TC1000 (proudly the only person at my 900-employee company to successfully argue that they should replace my Thinkpad with a Tablet PC!) and PalmOne Tungsten C, among other knick-knacks. With respect to your role as a Microsoft MVP (congrats, by the way), I’m no fan of Pocket PC after having struggled with ActiveSync on my iPaq for six months before going back to Palm, but really love my tablet except for that damn Crusoe chip. What a lemon!

Let me get to the point I’m trying to make, which I’m recommending as an upcoming discussion topic on TA or TPCS — as an early adopter working in Asia, I spend a lot of time in Japan (high-tech heaven), Korea (broadband and wireless heaven), Singapore (where the weather is heavenly) and Hong Kong (business center of the region) and have yet to run into another Tablet PC user in the two years I’ve owned my TC1000! My early adopter status has turned into "only-adopter" status.

So my question is, "WHAT HAPPENED"??? Why hasn’t the TPC caught on, especially in a region where tiny and portable consumer electronics are the norm? Is the TPC destined to be stuck in only verticle application environments or will it ever break into the mainstream world of business? As a PR professional, I consult for General Motors, Philips Electronics, Shell Oil, Dupont, etc. and other large companies which employ hundreds of thousands of skilled laborers and none of their IT departments will sign off on the purchase of a TPC. What must Microsoft and its OEMs do to get TPCs into the hands of serious businesspeople?

My second suggestion for a discussion topic is as follow: The only people I see with PDAs in Asia are expat (foreign) workers. Dedicated PDAs are non-existent here, as smartphones running Microsoft Mobile OS are all that’s available. Pocket PCs and PalmOnes are very rare here, as only a fool like me would struggle to jot a note into my Tungsten C with my Samsung cellphone jammed between my jaw and shoulder. So my question is, is the dedicated PDA destined to go the way of the dodo in favor of Treos and smartphones, which in my humble opinion are too big to be sexy phones and too small to be useful PDAs? Like you, I am a fanatical ebook subscriber, having 6-8 titles loaded into my Tungsten C at any given moment. If the screen on my TC was any smaller, I’d probably have to forego this favorite pasttime.

Sorry for the length of this email, it’s not often I get the chance to communicate with someone who is as fanatical about gadgets as I am…

Ken Hong

Shanghai, China

(how many podcasters can say their shows are heard all the way in China?)

Penn State in ’05!

So, what are your opinions? Who has the best answer for Ken?

  1. This is pretty interesting. I was born in Shanghai and kinda know what is going on in the city. Most bosses are not geeky, or technology-minded in Chinese companies. Tablet PCs are still expensive in China. Also the Chinese recognition in TPC is simply messy.

    Another factor is the high crime rate in the city. People avoid showing off their lastest gadget since some people are watching and trying to steal from them.

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  2. I lived in China for a while and only saw people in a computer store with a pda. Nobody knew what a pda was, and as chinese sense of space is different from american, people would hang over my shoulder oooing. Aside from the intial interest, I don’t think many Chinese get the idea of a pda, they’d rather be on a full sized computer or playing games with their phone. (One example….some students of mine complained to me that I was always playing games on my pda in class while I taught. I was really looking at lesson plans and notes, but they weren’t buying it).
    I don’t see the pda dying here in the states soon. There are many people who like a phone to be a phone. Nobody wants to hold a brick to their face, and so I expect people will still predominately look to the pda rather than the hybrid because of pdas greater usability.

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  3. I lived in China for a while and only saw people in a computer store with a pda. Nobody knew what a pda was, and as chinese sense of space is different from american, people would hang over my shoulder oooing. Aside from the intial interest, I don’t think many Chinese get the idea of a pda, they’d rather be on a full sized computer or playing games with their phone. (One example….some students of mine complained to me that I was always playing games on my pda in class while I taught. I was really looking at lesson plans and notes, but they weren’t buying it).
    I don’t see the pda dying here in the states soon. There are many people who like a phone to be a phone. Nobody wants to hold a brick to their face, and so I expect people will still predominately look to the pda rather than the hybrid because of pdas greater usability.

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  4. The comments so far have related to the Asia region. Based on IDC figures Tablets only made up 1.3% of laptop sales in 2004, so I would say that the situation is probably global. In my view the root of the problem is one of perception.
    In this article (http://www.pringle.net.nz/blog/PermaLink,guid,f6016968-446d-4b82-a721-7e4c5e5bf5f5.aspx) I explored the business value of a tablet over a laptop and I stated that the two main reasons tablets have not yet taken off is that they are percieved to be 1) Underpowered and 2) overpriced.
    On the first point – early Tablet PCs used substandard components to try and keep the price down or improve battery life – such as the Transmedia Cursoe chip in the TC1000. Second generation Tablets have largely corrected this but IMHO too many ship without enough RAM to allow Windows XP and Office 2003 to run well. I would say these realisticly require 512MB RAM at least.
    On the second point I believe that the Cost Benefit analysis stacks up now in many cases.
    A third misconception I encounter often is that people believe that their handwriting is too messy to be recognised on a tablet. While I cannot comment on Chinese recognition (and would defer to someone who can write Chinese on that point) as far as english is concerned this is often not the case – as discussed on the last Tablet PC Show podcast :)

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  5. I’m not so good with Chinese writing but the Korean recognition engine is FAR superior even to the English! I’d say its recog rate is close to 99%. But even though I’ve wowed hundreds, er, dozens of people with the handwriting recognition capability over the past two years, I don’t know a single soul who actually went out and got a TPC of their own.

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  6. Let me just clarify a point here — in my original email to James, I wasn’t writing with China in mind but Asia as a whole with emphasis on four key markets: Japan, Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong primarily because these markets comparable to the west in terms of technology. I never meant for the discussion to focus on China, which is in a whole different category. Whereas in Korea and Japan most upper management all work on company laptops, desktops are still the norm even in a city as advanced as Shanghai simply because laptop prices still have not come down far enough to compete effectively in the workplace.

    Ken H.

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  7. Like Ken I am a gadget fan who spends a lot of time n Asia, so I’d like to chime in. I agree with a lot of what Ken has to say. I, too, have become disillusioned with Windows Mobile, and I also regret the slow adoption of Tablet PCs (I had a Newton 7 years ago, and only now does the Tablet PC have equivalent HRW!).

    But I sense Ken is suggesting Asia is particularly slow to embrace new IT. I must disagree with that. Slow mass adoption of Tablet PCs is a world-wide phenomenon, and any suggestion that Asia is gadget-backward seems to me flatly wrong.

    First, we have to look realistically at the US situation. When I go to Circuit City, Best Buy/Worst Service or CompUSA (which I find better) and look for a Tablet PC, maybe I will find ONE. It will probably be locked under some anti-theft device (making the convertibles impossible to appreciate). The stylus will be missing, SP2 may not even be installed. Some kid will try to sell me an extended warranty but probably won’t know much else. Under these circumstances, most shoppers naturally do not get religion about inking.

    Second, as Ken suggests when he notes Korea is a wireless heaven, Asia is ahead of the US in some areas of IT adoption, particularly with regard to mobile telephony. One great thing they do is separate hardware from mobile service. Unlocked phones are the norm. For instance, in the Hong Kong subway, you can buy a SIM card (a phone number) in a vending machine for about US$10. It will have hundreds of minutes (that last longer than the pay-as-you-go plans here), be ready to make intl calls and be a breeze to re-charge. Also, SMS in much of China is what email is elsewhere. My impression is 3G went live in HK, Japan and Korea earlier than in the US.

    Walking around Hong Kong in January (with my Sony U750 with the Tablet OS), I was actually struck by how many Tablet PCs were on the market. The U itself was being heavily promoted in subway ads, was common in retail chains like Fortress and other Sony distributors, plus lots of gray-market importers were offering U50s from Japan (HK has a big Sony Style store, too).

    In my experience PocketPCs are not that uncommon in HK. I have seen quite a few shops specializing in them, and in pleasant contrast to most US retail sales clerks, in Asia sellers often know something about their products.

    I bought an O2 mini (same as an iMate Jam) in HK long before such a device was available in the US (and it is still not available from any US carrier). The shop quickly got it working with a BT GPS receiver and a local map–they had done it for local customers before.

    There are a plenty of Chinese language magazines in HK that focus on the “digital lifestyle” (cameras, phones, games and computers). Some of these specifically focus on PPCs.

    I agree with Ken that the PRC is a special case b/c of the income disparities. But many educated elites in China are aware of TPCs and PPCs. I’ve seen Microsoft giving demos of TPCs and PPCs in Beijing malls.

    Thus I would say, yeah, some mobile technology is under-appreciated, but not particularly so in Asia.

    I used to work at Apple, and I remember the frustration of knowing we had great products that the world was substantially ignoring. For us mobile tech enthusiasts, slow adoption can be frustrating, but I don’t think the problem is particularly worse in Asian, and in some respects it is better.

    For anybody interested, I have posted pictures of several things mentioned above at:

    http://tinyurl.com/cqkc2

    Best,
    Walter Hutchens

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  8. Walter is absolutely right in his assessment that Asia is ahead of the US in many respects. My expectation, however, is that this region should be FAR MORE ahead of the US, especially in Japan and Korea where much of the technology originates.

    I agree, awareness does not seem to be the issue. Technology is easily embraced, not viewed suspiciously. High tech is everywhere — taxis in Korea even have GPS! Based on this history of acceptance I guess I expected TPCs and handhelds to be more ubiquitous than they are now…

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