The Tablet PC Killer App conversation


The search for the "killer app" for the Tablet PC always generates a lot of conversation and the current one started by Lora of whatisnew is a good one. The theory is that once this "must have" program appears it will drive a ton of new Tablet PC sales, as the ink-deprived decide they can’t live without this new tool so they rush out and buy a Tablet. I have spent many months thinking about this killer app and have even written about it. Let’s face it, the thought of a program so compelling that everyone will want it certainly appeals to the romantic side of each of us.

The varied opinions you get about this killer app proves that this question has no single answer. What is killer to me may very well be a program that you don’t need nor want. If you think about it this is certainly the way it is on non-Tablet PCs so perhaps we are chasing a pipe dream. Maybe the killer app is Vista, if it integrates ink handling into the very heart of the OS. You know, make both the interface and the ability to input ink anywhere so seamless that people look at it and say "wow I can’t live without that". Even lefties.

There are so many different categories of software that maybe it is worthwhile to look at each one and point out which program in each category is the best ink-enabled app. It may be the killer app for many who depend on that type of app. The list for me is quite short and sweet. For brainstorming, visual planning and outlining MindManager is already the killer app since ink handling is incorporated into the very core of the program. But there are a lot of people that have no need nor interest in that type of program so it’s not a killer app. For note-taking, organization and searching notes OneNote is close to my killer app but not quite there yet. Of course the next version of OneNote already has such essential features announced it surely will be. But again there are many who don’t depend heavily on note-taking so this is not a killer app for them. Graphic artists swear by Alias Sketchbook Pro and this program has sold many a Tablet PC to these folks. Me, I have very little artistic ability so it is just a blank scratchpad to me. The point is that killer app is in the eyes of the beholder, and we are all different so defining the one program that everyone can’t live without is just not going to happen.

Maybe the killer Tablet PC app is not a program at all. Perhaps we should be discussing what the killer "feature" for Tablet PCs might be. Maybe it’s the new mini-Tablets such as Haiku, that Bill Gates demonstrated at WinHEC earlier this year, and the Intel Ruby prototype that is being shown to folks attending trade shows. The killer feature could easily be the Tablet PC that you could take anywhere, so when you need to refer to your data, or jot a note, or look up information online, you can do it because you have the Tablet PC with you and not back at your home or office. Maybe we’d reach more people if we gave them a whiz-bang new device they couldn’t pass up because it’s full featured, it’s small enough to take everywhere, and the price is right? Wouldn’t that make for an interesting discussion?

Haiku demoed at WinHEC
Intel Ruby


Tony Ching

Your last point is well taken. I think the killer app not an app at all but rather portability in the hardware. With a web 2.0 based platform and integrated connectivity to an ink based OS the dream tablet PC would be akin to robust smartphone. Alas it would be under the knife of the carriers.


If you don’t mind — I’d like to take it one step back from a theoretical killer app, and ask the basic question if a specific application(s) influenced the buying process. Did you buy it for the application? Or because of potential of the hardware? Then, there are a lot of ink-enabled apps today, but there can be plenty more and where are those gaps.

I really don’t subscribe to the “killer app” belief — other than for instigating conversation as a devil’s advocate (honestly, truly, really) — because a PC is a generalist, not a specialist and there are MANY great applications. (A specialist, like a Smartphone HAS to be a good phone to succeed.)

Steven Mather

Now that I have one (a Toshiba Satellite RS80 ? ) they will have to pry it from my cold dead hands. My killer app is Plan Plus from Franklin Covey. I had bought many paper personal organizers over the years and trey just found Thier way to the trash. I don’t like the redundancy and trail of working with paper. It is better then One Note in my opinion and any differences should be easily worked out in future releases.


I would say Tablet PCs are killer gadgets – but then at the moment they’re too restricted to gadget orientated people.

In a recent meeting, one of my clients said: “looks fantastic – I’d love to play with one – although I can’t see myself using it on a day-to-day basis”

I guess this sums it up, with ‘play’ being the operative word – people are so used to bashing on a keyboard at their desk, and carrying around an A4 pad of paper and a cheap biro – that they don’t see the benefits. Of course, put one in their hands for a few weeks, and I think that would change quite quickly . . .


I think it’s not so much a killer app as killer usability. Right now the human cost of going TabletPC seems to be a steep curve. For a few hard to nail down benefits, you have to deal with a slightly uncomfortable form factor, docking issues, pen recognition issues, a lot of new software to learn how to use, and all the problems that go with early adapter status.

It reminds me of how iPods are a great success, but PDAs are pretty modest in sales. Is it because PDAs can’t do much? Not really. I think it’s because it’s too hard to do stuff, and there are too many problems and issues to overcome or even recover from. It’s not simple and reliable and foolproof. An iPod is an order of magnitude simpler and is marketed for something that sounds simple. The learning curve is less intimidating, especially now that everyone is doing it.

When TabletPC is as easy as a regular laptop, and as cheap, then it should do pretty well.

Colin Walker

I entered this conversation myself earlier on my blog and the way I see it one app isn’t going to do it for us. As Iggy Kin has said in the past: computing with a pen needs to become “transparent”. We need to have total integration with ink throughout the OS which will hopefully then provide the control for apps to have the same integration.

Currently, Tablets are still not “pen-centric” enough – the use of the pen is an “add-on” rather than the driving force. Get that sorted and I think you’re on the way.

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