So, Microsoft has unveiled a new tablet PC — a prototype made by HP, dubbed (not coincidentally) a Slate. Fake Steve Jobs suggests it ought to be called the “meh,” and he’s dead right, while the UK’s Telegraph said it could be a “major blow” to […]

So, Microsoft has unveiled a new tablet PC — a prototype made by HP, dubbed (not coincidentally) a Slate. Fake Steve Jobs suggests it ought to be called the “meh,” and he’s dead right, while the UK’s Telegraph said it could be a “major blow” to Apple, and they’re just dead wrong.

I’d like to laugh at this crazy last-minute pantomime display of “Me too!” (all dressed-up, it seems, as “Me first!”) but I can’t because the whole thing reeks of desperation.

In my personal blog yesterday I made some (not particularly original) predictions about Microsoft’s new tablet. I said it would fail, and that it would fail because it would run the full version of Windows 7 and require a stylus. My stylus prediction proved incorrect (so far; just you wait for the “Microsoft Slate PC Student and Business Edition” which will likely have a stylus and fold-out keyboard. That’s right, aka “a notebook”.)

Now, I know what the first comments down below will be; I’m a shameless Apple fanboy and this is pointless Microsoft bashing, yada yada… but while the former might contain an ounce of truth, this is by no means a pointless exercise. There’s good reason to study the Microsoft slate; while it doesn’t precisely tell us what to expect from Apple’s tablet, it does demonstrate what not to expect.

Chunky Fingers, Dinky Screens

A mixture of bad timing and poor UI design doomed Microsoft’s original Tablet PC vision. The hardware available in the early 2000’s was underpowered, overpriced, and remained that way through the end of the decade. (And I should know — I owned several tablet PC’s myself!)

Ironically, it was the one thing Microsoft could have fixed, the software, that proved to be the weakest link. Microsoft crowbarred-in a mostly-unmodified version of their desktop operating system, an OS designed with a keyboard and mouse in mind. Not a stylus. Certainly not a finger. If you ever tried holding a bulky tablet in one hand, brandishing a delicate stylus in the other, while doing anything other than sitting perfectly still and you’ll know why the whole thing was an exercise in error and frustration.

Apple avoided making that mistake. The iPhone’s software might be based on OS X, but you’d never know by looking at it. Its UI is perfectly suited for a chunky finger on a dinky little screen. I expect when Apple’s slate is revealed it will employ yet another version of OS X; something that lies between the iPhone’s UI and that of the full-fat, full-sugar, carb-rich desktop Mac OS X.

And I guarantee you will not see a single control element (button, tab, scrollbar and the like) migrate, intact and unchanged, from desktop OS X to tablet OS. Apple knows not to make that mistake. Microsoft does not; it’s loading Windows 7 — unmodified UI et al — onto its tablet. But this time there’s not even a stylus to help you. You gotta use your pinkies. The result — an awkward, practically unusable UI.

Ballmer very handily (pun intended) demonstrated this by fumbling about with the thing. His fingers weren’t particularly good at hitting the UI controls on the 7-inch screen that, due to its very form factor, rendered Windows controls as little more than diminutive dots.

We can only conclude Microsoft is making the same mistakes it made nearly 10 years ago with the first tablet PC’s. At least in 2002 it was doing something innovative.

Microsoft’s tablet announcement — just weeks before Apple’s — seems a desperate attempt to grab a little media attention and be the first to announce a tablet. Only, there’s nothing to gain in rushing to make this announcement, particularly not now, while it’s still only at prototype stage. The indomitable Andy Ihantko said it best on Twitter;

Title of Ballmer’s CES keynote: “Sorry, Guys…I Panicked And Told The NYT We’d Unveil A Tablet. You Have 72 Hrs To Build One.”

Worse: Microsoft has backed itself into a corner. This summer, in the wake of Apple’s iSlate (or whatever it’s called) if HP releases this tablet largely unchanged, it’ll get laughed out of the room. The alternative — massively changing it to more closely resemble Apple’s device — will be humiliating.

If we lived in Bizarro World, and Apple’s tablet turned-out to be just like Microsoft’s prototype, I’d be devastated. I’d question Apple’s creative strategy. I’d wonder if Jonny Ive was out of his mind. I’d definitely question Steve Jobs’ sanity. But you and I both know that when El Jobso takes the stage on the 27th and unveils his shiny new toy it will be breathtaking.

In the entire tech industry, the company with the requisite financial and engineering might to even come close to challenging Apple’s tablet is Microsoft. So, is this tired-old slate the best they can do? C’mon. For even the most ardent Microsoft fan, that’s simply embarrassing.

Who will buy this? The curious? Microsoft fanboys? Those who can’t afford an Apple slate? Or just masochists? Disagree vehemently with my fanboy ravings in the comments below.

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  1. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Microsoft is the only one who really could have went toe-to-toe with Apple on slate computing. However, they continue to show that they are still playing catchup. Hopefully, this HP slate will be salvaged with Android instead of Windows 7. Yes, 7 has touch built in, but I’ve been using it on an HP convertible laptop and it’s still a bit horrid. The OS isn’t made for REAL touch! The LEAST Microsoft could have done was make a new theme for Windows 7 with bigger control elements.

  2. I agree with your statement…I have one question, do you think the OS for the tablet will be able to work just like my macbook does now? i.e. word document readable, spreadsheets etc. Just wondering.

    1. I know you didn’t ask me, but I’d say that fo’ sho’, because you can do that even on an iPhone/iTouch (QuickOffice, anyone?). So if the tablet turns out to run something more like iPhone OS than OS X, there will surely be an office suite anyway. Also, who knows, Apple might even make a touch-optimized iWork… ;-)

  3. “Who will buy this? The curious? Microsoft fanboys? Those who can’t afford an Apple slate? ”

    I dont think there are that many true MS fanboys out there anymore. However, apple sure isn’t cheap and I always wished Apple was affordable!!!!

    1. Geeeeeeeeez,

      You are confusing cost with worth, a common economic fallacy. They are very different things.

      During the period I used my Powerbook (eight years) it never required servicing and continued to function after every OS upgrade. All the way to Tiger.

      Are there PCs that could do that?

      Even though a MacBook or MacBook Pro may cost one or two hundred dollars more, what you are getting is a computer that will last you two and three times as long.

      Then there is the matter of tech support. Apple phone support will now call you back–if you don’t want to wait on hold for what has, for me, never been longer than 5 minutes–at a time of your choosing.

      What is the worth of that to you?

      For the extra one or two hundred dollars of cost you are getting something that is worth many hundreds of dollars more than a similarly equipped PC.

    2. oh i assure you there are MS fanboys. i live with 4-5 of them that praise MS and windows, and talk bad on apple all the time. then i usually shut them up with the array of facts showing that apple is better than MS

  4. Absolutely! This can be seen as nothing more than a lame attempt by Microsoft to ‘one-up’ Apple… unfortunately, they are small-blinding their way in with a pair of two’s, it seems. Will Apple’s slate be a wondrous, ground-breaking technical achievement? Maybe, or maybe not, who knows. But if history has taught us anything, is that Apple ‘gets it’. If anything, one can be fairly certain the the Apple product will be, at the very least, USEABLE as a tablet, and not simply a hardware wrapper for their desktop OS. Instead of digging in their heels so often and simply put lipstick on the pig called Windows, why not get a clue? Maybe MS should really stop pretending they are coming up with original ideas and just flat out recreate the entire Mac OS in a windows environment… or hey, here’s another thought Balmer… become an Apple reseller. We’ll even let you put the little windows logo on the shopping bag.

    1. well, it’s on the apple website, the ipad is wonderful to be essentialy a ipod touch on steroids, I mean, who could have imagined they’d pull’d off what microsoft failed at the first time (got some sense knocked into them with win7 pro, not home premium) stunt so brilliantly. What they did is wrap hardware with their portable OS, with the same apps and everything. But this mean’s no piracy :(. Or OS changing, or well pretty much anything but using it for what it can do. The good news though is that I’ll be one of the first to flash it and load a customized win7 on it and change it so that icons are larger.

      Although, thats all that they need to do with the win tablet, just make the icons bigger no?

      Remember, Apple is fighting piracy, windows is promoting democracy.

      no wait linux is sorry
      ok so apple is fighting piracy and linux is promoting democracy and windows will never die because corporations (the commercial sectors) will never purchase a mac because they’re FAAAAAAAR too expensive for them. I mean not only do the corporations have to be authorized just to get them en mass (costs money) and buy them (costs money) then teach employees how to use them over the weekend (costs money) and make sure that the employees are now doing their work because theyre computers no longer crash (costs money (your paying people who just play on you computers)

      Yeah, Hp’s design and architecture is similar to the ipad, its just the crappy operating system.

      oh and if everyone switches to a mac i’m sure over a billion people would lose their jobs (fixing broken computers)

      The target audience for microsoft is corporations, not really personal computing, the target audience for apple are idiots who have horrible attention spans, impulsive buyers, trend buyers, basically the majority of the human population (only ones who are left are those who programers and game designers such as will wright, they dont even see windows or macs on there pc’s, why because apple would sue them, microsoft will make their games horrible, but they’re 10000 times smarter than the majority of us hopless losers (only stating reality) who will never truely succeed in life and just want to get stuff done (in my case thats fixing computers))

      hope one understands the sattire that is directed towards windows and macintosh

  5. Liam, if you’re going to have a blog, shouldn’t you learn how to write first?

    1. Thank you for your constructive criticism. I by “constructive” I mean, useless. :)

    2. No, Josh, I value your defense, but Seven is right. Hiding behind his/her anonymity, lashing-out petulantly, he/she makes a valuable point.
      The truth is out – I simply haven’t learned how to write.
      These words on the page? Random key-bashing. The meaning they infer? Astonishing coincidence.

      I honestly thought no one had noticed. Busted! :-)

  6. You’re right. I’m an Apple fanboy too, but what Ballmer showed off speaks for itself.

    Apple has had all hands on deck with this things for a good 2 years now. They’ve also tried putting together a “tablet” several times before and scrapped project after project. We’ve seen the prototypes. The Newton was the only one so far that was actually released.

    So they’ve had some practice. They’ve also watched the PC market get it wrong before too, and believe me, Apple learns from their mistakes. Apple know’s what’s going to work and what’s going to flop. All they’d have to do is make a 10″ iPhone and they’d be made in the shade. But we all know Apple, and they’re not going to stop there. Whatever they come out with it is going to reinvent the wheel. The user interface is going to be something that no one saw coming. This isn’t going to be just another tablet PC, or a larger iPhone. I think is this going to do for mobile computing what the iPhone did for the Smartphone market and what the iPod did for music.

    Think of all the time, effort, and resources that Apple has been pouring into this. Look at all the patents that have surfaced in the last month. There has been some serious R&D happening in Cupertino.

    HP and Microsoft got wind of an upcoming “slate” thingamabob 6 months ago and scrambled to steal Apple’s thunder. For crying out load they even stole the name. Anyone who’s anyone knows it has been dubbed the “iSlate”.

    So they threw together a pretty much off-the-shelf notebook and shoved it in a iPhone shaped case. It’s basically just another shitty netbook with no new innovation.

    It will flop. And no one is going to buy it because everyone is going to wait to see what Apple comes out with first. If anything, people will buy it because it’ll probably be cheaper, just to hop on the tablet train.

    1. While I’m sure you’re right about the preemptive announcement part to steal Apple’s thunder, accusing Microsoft of stealing the ‘slate’ name is pretty silly. The name has been around for almost a decade referring to tablets of a certain form similar to the iPhone. No keyboard, single slate like shape, etc…

      No, the iStale name was made by pundits who actually know something about the market already. Not apple. So while the name might actually be the one apple choses in the end, they did not coin the term slate.

      So careful what you accuse companies of in ignorance.

  7. I think that this has got to be one of your best analyses yet. Great job! I was thinking the same thing while watching the video. I’m wondering why Microsoft insists on showing off “prototypes” and concepts all the time. Apple has done this a couple of times, but the demo is much better.

  8. I too am a shameless apple fanboy ( I’ve gotten 3 of my friends to convert to mac) and I am not surprised that microsoft has done this. Over the past couple of years Apple has grown more popular and as a result microsoft is at a loss of what to do because they know they can’t compete with Apple’s products.

  9. Bill really knew when the right time to leave Microsoft.
    Even if you make billions it must feel really humiliating for the CEO to do pathetic acts like this Iphone mimicking box stuffed with Windows “slate”.
    God have mercy!

  10. It is not surprising given the name of your blog that you would be a little biased – but at least get yoru facts straight.

    First of all, the slate PCs shown in the keynote were not “coincidentally” called slates. If Apple uses the name “slate” for its tablet, it will be because Apple stole the name (and the whole product idea) from Microsoft, which has been using the term “slate tablet” for years (I have been using one for 5+ years).

    If you used several Tablets over the years, and found none of them useful, you are just not very talented. I have nee using Tablets since 2002. Some were crap. Some were pretty good. Some were great (the Motion Computing LE1600). The current generation of convertible tablets with multitouch and running Windows 7 are outstanding. I have an HP Touchsmart now, along with the Acer model MS gave out at the professional developers’ conference last fall. Both wrok very well, and I use them almost exclusively in tablet mode.

    As for the need for a stylus, well without some form of handwriting input, a tablet with nothing but touch will be nothing more than a glorified iPhone – a toy, a gadget that can read ebooks and waste time. Yes, you can do away with the keyboard and mouse, but you need some way to input words other than an onscreen keyboard (unless the only words you ever enter are for texting or tweeting).

    Unfortunately, we are in a place no where nothing released by Microsoft will be recieved positively by either the biased (or bought off) media or the flocks of Steve Jobs worshipping fanboys unable to think for themselves. Anything released by Apple, and given a cutsie name with a little “i” in the front will be hailed as a major breakthrough for humankind, whether it is crap or not (like the iPhone, which can do so many things, except be a decent phone).

    Just for the record, though, Ballmer’s keynote was complete crap, and totally uninspiring. I know technology, and I know Microsoft’s technology. It is for the most part very good (despite the wailings of the Apple fanboys). They are doing many very good, very innovative things. But that man (Ballmer) could make the second coming sound dull – he should NOT be allowed to speak in public!

    1. You mean:

      “Unfortunately, we are in a place no where nothing released by Apple will be recieved positively by either the biased (or bought off) media or the flocks of Microsoft/Bill Gates worshipping fanboys unable to think for themselves.” don’t you? ;-)

    2. So tell us, how well does the built-in spell/grammar checker work on whatever POS you used to write that useless diatribe? Learn to write before you spout off and you might come across as somewhat intelligent rather than a serving of “troll’s delight.”

    3. “If you used several Tablets over the years, and found none of them useful, you are just not very talented.”

      And your comments, full of typos (yoru, nee, wrok), speak volumes of your talent. Or maybe you were posting this with your tablet which “wroks” great.

      Back under your bridge troll!

    4. Actually, one of the reasons I like my tablet is because I cannot type worth sh*t :-)

      In all honesty, though, most grown ups in these discussions are mature enough to see PAST typos and look at the actual content…

      But, you go ahead and enjoy yourself training for a good job as a spell-checker ;-)

    5. You must have said something right because the MacNuts are out in droves :)

    6. I would spell check next time before TOTALLY embarrassing yourself. Bill Gates pays by the word. You just lost three bucks.


    7. @cc – very clever – don’t you hate people who have to LOL at their own jokes, cuz no one else will?

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