InfoWorld’s Randall C. Kennedy thinks not. Sounding a sour note about Apple’s anticipated tablet plans, InfoWorld’s Randall C. Kennedy says that even clever engineering can’t overcome fundamental limitations of tablet computing, “Tablet PCs suck,” says Kennedy, categorically, elaborating that tablets are underpowered, only marginally portable, and […]


Source: Piper Jaffray

InfoWorld’s Randall C. Kennedy thinks not. Sounding a sour note about Apple’s anticipated tablet plans, InfoWorld’s Randall C. Kennedy says that even clever engineering can’t overcome fundamental limitations of tablet computing,

“Tablet PCs suck,” says Kennedy, categorically, elaborating that tablets are underpowered, only marginally portable, and awkward to use in anything but a traditional seated position at a desk or table.

Fundamental Realities

Kennedy observes that Microsoft and various PC makers have been trying for years to create market traction for the tablet computing experience,  and have failed miserably. He contends that to believe Apple can somehow succeed where all others have failed is to ignore some fundamental realities of tablet computing.

“The lap doesn’t work as a desk,” declares Kennedy, especially if you’re in motion on a train or aircraft, and he suggests that typing on the anticipated onscreen keyboard would quickly degenerate into an exercise of hit or miss.

The Problem With Touchscreens

I work with clipboards a lot, and still do a lot of my composing longhand with pen and paper before using MacSpeech Dictate to enter it as computer text, but he’s got a point about touchscreen keyboards, which I personally revile. As he notes, with a real laptop keyboard the user’s lap and palms act as stabilizing influences and the positive tactile feedback of electromechanical keyswitches is a distinct advantage when working in mobile environments.

Personally, I would prefer to see the iTablet feature some sort of slide-out keyboard of the sort used by various smartphone designs, but given Apple’s stubbornness about such things, I join with Kennedy in doubting that’s very likely. However, I would council Cupertino (not that they’re likely to put much stock in my advice) to at minimum incorporate Bluetooth and/or USB RF input device support.

“Prehistoric World Of Dragging And Scratching”

As for pen-based or stylus input, Kennedy says he types a lot faster than he can write with pen and paper. Me too, but I often think better with pen in hand, so I don’t agree that the “prehistoric world of dragging and scratching” with a traditional writing instrument is hopelessly anachronistic. On the other hand, a tablet screen is not nearly texturally satisfying as paper, and again I have to agree that entering serious quantities of data with an onscreen keyboard or stylus will soon get tedious.

Possible workaround: voice input. If the iTablet turns out to be a full-fledged Mac, it should support Dictate, which is amazingly accurate once you get it trained. Even the mediocrities of touchscreen would be made more tolerable in most environments, though not in trains and other shared spaces.

The Netbook Factor

However, Kennedy suggests the biggest obstacle to iTablet success is the increasingly ubiquitous netbook. Some newer examples incorporate the advantages of conventional notebooks, especially near full-sized keyboards, and Kennedy contends that compared to an iTablet, devices equipped with these advantages simply make more sense to consumers.

He may be right. I’m a tablet skeptic too, although I’m open to persuasion, and it’s a fool’s game second-guessing Apple’s prowess at product direction choices. Lots of folks predicted failure for the iPod, iPhone and iTunes as well.

What do you think? Will the iTablet prove the skeptics mistaken again?

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  1. I agree with Kennedy– the basic tablet form factor is an ergonomic nightmare. If you’re holding it so that you can type on it, you can’t see the screen, and vice versa. I suppose it’s possible that this problem is dealt with in some way– but I’ll believe it when I see it.

    1. I know and how can you hold it in one hand and type with the other? one handed typing? will they redesign the keyboard layout? obviously tablets are for point and click applications only no typing only draging clicking etc.

  2. I think that the tablet is conceived for entertainement. In this scenario the problem of the keyboard is relative. Voice recognition for me is the next interaction mode. Today in the iPhone you can see a very well done implementation: Voice Control. Probably the NeXT iteration of iPhone OS extended this functionality all top.

    thanks for the article


  3. The tablet will have a stylus.

    The tablet will have handwriting recognition. (old and proven technology)

    No more paper and pens for Randall!!!!!

    No more paper and pens for MattF.

    Stylus! — Handwriting recognition!!!!!!

    The tablet will rock!!!

  4. I can only think of it as being useful as an e-reader that I can hold in front of me. With no upright screen if I’m using it to watch a film or go on the Internet then I’m either going to finish up with aching arms (from holding it between lap and face level) or a bent neck and back (from looking down on it on my lap). It’s going to be imposssible to do anything productive with it. The MacBook Air just isn’t enough to compete in the netbook space – iSlate may create a entirely new niche but there is a big wide open hole where a netbook should be. It just doesn’t make any sense not having a product in that area.

    1. Apple will not release a netbook. Why you ask? Because Apple maintains an approximately 30 to 35 percent margin on it products. Netbooks have no where near that. Apple would rather sell 1 millions high quality products at their normal margin than 20 million cheapo netbooks at slim margins. Take a look at Apple’s cash balance and you will see quality over quantity pays better. Apple sells a fraction of the phones that Nokia does yet makes a higher profit, and that is not just profit per phone but total profit. all those cheap phones gets Nokia the number one handset award but does nothing for the bottom line.

    2. Reply to kirasaw (below)

      I ask because I like Apple hardware but I am also on the road alot and would like to have some truly portable Apple hardware. The MacBook Air is great on weight but it’s still 13 inch and doesn’t cut it on size.

      Your argument about margins is spot on but they would not be entering that segment because of profitability, they would be doing so to complete their range which has a hole in it. The notebook is no longer first choice for portable computer and in alot of cases is substituting the desktop PC. From Apple’s point of view it should make no sense that I should have a MacBook Pro, iPhone, iPod… and a Vaio netbook. Why let me buy Sony when $700 – $900 I would spend with my eyes shut on a 8-10 inch MacBook Air?? Even if the margin is tighter I’m sure they could do it without being lossmaking and prevent unnecessary sales going to competitors – there is no sense that the segment is entirely left to the competition.

  5. I’ll bet on Apple over the prognosticating pundits.

  6. InfoWorld Kennedy’s thinking is limited by previous tablets running the Windows OS that he’s seen and used. Undoubtedly, Steve Jobs and company have a reputation for introducing new ideas and paradigms with new Apple products. I have no doubt that an Apple slate computer running OS X Mobile will be different — and significantly better — than all previous tablets that have been brought to market buy other vendors. It will have “surprising” input features and change people’s perceptions about tablet computers.

  7. I agree to acertain point, but Dictation only works if no one else is speaking you wont really get much work done on the subway with 150 other people speaking.

  8. I was waiting to hear more about this Apple tablet but I decided I couldn’t wait any longer. I recently upgraded from an Apple PowerBook to a Windows-based tablet PC; so far it has been a great experience. The similarities between OSX and Windows Vista are enough that I can navigate and use features in Vista that I am accustomed to in Snow Leopard. My productivity has increased dramatically as well. My next step is to upgrade to Windows 7.

  9. It is likely Apple will succeed where others failed because those other tablets didn’t have iTunes with an App Store. The other tablets failed through lack of media content. Apple also will have focused retail sales going for them. Apple has a number of advantages going for them to keep sales moving.

    The greatest stumbling block for the Apple tablet will be the cheapsters griping about having to pay higher Apple prices. The cheapsters will just have to wait for Google’s partners to produce bargain-priced Android-powered tablet devices. The Android tablet experience will be somewhat watered down since they won’t have as much ready content and the Android ecosystem is still wobbly. However, if the Apple tablet is relatively successful, the tablet market will be totally flooded with Android-powered tablet knockoffs.

  10. No one believed in the iphone before if came out and redefined our phone experience. Now look at all the copies and companies trying to catch up. No one really knows what Apple has up its sleeve with a tablet, and we won’t know until it is revealed. Apple has a way of being 3-5 steps ahead of the writers who blog their best guesses. My bets are on Apple, NOT the critics who are just taking pot shots in the dark.

    1. Chill Out, I am a mac evangelist ever since i got my first mac in 1994 but it all comes down to tastes I personally don’t find a practical use for a tablet. Apple always delivers and wow all of us and I hope it is the case. But it’s the same thing for people who like netbooks but for me they are not functional. just the same way i can like anchovies on my pizza and you might not that doesn’t make you stupid or crazy it makes you DIFFERENT.

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