iTablet: Can Apple Succeed Where So Many Others Have Failed?


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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