Gates will shepard Tablets; here’s what I would do as the sheepherder

One_note_mob_pool_1Right off the bat, I’ll admit what we all know: Bill Gates is infinitely smarter than me. Now that I’ve become a master of the obvious, I wanted to point out a recent comment from Bill and expand it with my thoughts. Loren caught the Gates comment to CNet about Bill’s future with Microsoft: "I’m around even after mid-2008. There’s some things that I’m closely associated with, like tablet (PCs) and WinFS, that people will expect me to shepherd. I want to do that."

That tidbit of news bodes well for the entire Mobile PC platform, which includes Tablets, UMPCs and even Windows Mobile. The real question is: how does the sheepherder plan to do that? Of course, I have no knowledge of that since I haven’t asked the esteemed Mr. Gates, but I know what I would do….

1. Show people that they can get by without a keyboard or a mouse. We’re so stuck on typing 60 WPM (or more) that we can’t get past inking, which can indeed be slower….at first. Highlight the auto-complete features of the new Tablet Input Panel in Vista, for example. Show the one-touch click settings of a touchscreen for quick navigation and application execution, for example. If we don’t show people how easy and intuitive it is to interact with a PC sans keyboard and mouse, why would they embrace it?

2. Put Tablet design features in the front of application development. Is it me or does it appear that Tablet PC features in software are placed late in the software design cycle? This is getting better in newer apps like Office 2007, but it feels like the Tablet functions of an app are thrown in at the end and simply to say "you can use this with a Tablet!" Let’s shift the approach: when designing new software, let’s focus on input methods along with features; we might end up with a stronger feature-set in the end because we flipped our approach to add greater value.

3. Where’s the marketing? Yes, I know that Tablet PCs make up such a small overall percentage of computer sales and there are many reasons for that. Guess what: you can’t expect sales success if you didn’t put in the marketing muscle. I’m not trying to slight Microsoft’s marketing team here, I’m looking to complement it with real world Tablet PC users. There’s a number of us out there that evangelize the Tablet every day, but we don’t have the means to reach every potential consumer. Most of our readers are folks that are already interested in a Tablet PC and I say we target everyone else. Let’s work together with focus groups, marketing idea submissions, videos and more. If we build it, they will come.

Tablet_pc_homework 4. Start with the kids. Never in my life have I see kids pick up a technology change as fast as they can with a Tablet PC or UMPC. Why is that? These kids haven’t gone to typing class yet and they’re very "hands on". They’re the perfect base to glean marketing concepts and feature ideas. Don’t believe me? Check out how I got my son to enjoy doing homework or Rob Bushway’s kids usage of the eo UMPC.

5. Change the focus of the message. I have a gut feeling that your average consumer doesn’t see the benefit of a Tablet PC. I expect it’s looked upon as "cool and different" type of platform, which it is, but that’s the not compelling reason for migration to it. The message has to be changed to one of "productivity". When combined with the marketing item above, showing the productivity boost from using a Tablet PC will get the consumer to stop regarding it as "just another techie toy" and get them to see the benefits. We can’t just say "Look, I can write on my screen!"; that’s not a compelling reason to switch for your everyday consumer. We have to say "I can write on my screen to quickly share information and solve a problem quickly" or "I can almost instantly find what I wrote 6 months later thanks to the technology". This is why you’ll see articles like this one that show how to use the ink and search tools, OneNote and search features. That’s a compelling reason that opens up people’s minds to the paradigm shift.

I could add a few more, but these are my top five items. Maybe Bill plans these and more, I simply don’t know, but if the shepherd needs any assistant sheep-herders, we’re ready and rarin’ to go. If you were the Tablet PC shepherd, what would you do differently?

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