Blog Post

Microsoft’s Slate: Exactly Unlike Apple’s Upcoming Tablet

So, Microsoft (s msft) 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.

107 Responses to “Microsoft’s Slate: Exactly Unlike Apple’s Upcoming Tablet”

  1. John Loach

    Used HP, Fujitsu and, now, Thinkpad (X61) tablet PCs for five years. Absolutely fantastic, and the best ever with Windows 7. Gave Mac OSX a really hard try about a year ago and, with relief, went back to tablet on Vista. OneNote is a program with no equivalent on Mac.

    • They did not “rush” anything to beat Apple – they beat Apple on release timing 7 years ago!

      That said, there was certainly nothing inspiring about what they showed at the keynote. i have been using a slate that looks better than that for 4+ years.

  2. I am curious how many of the people commenting on how the Windows-based tablet PC is a failure, and cannot work, have actually used one?

    I have been using one as a core tool every single day for the last 6 years. Beleive me, I have no patience for stuff that does not work – if it did not work, I would not use it.

    So – show of hands – how many of you have ever actually USEd a tablet PC for more than a couple of hours playing with it? I mean really USED one?

    If you haven’t, you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

    • ComputerHound

      I have owned two Windows tablet computers over the past 6 years, buying the best Thinkpad models I could find. I wanted a tablet so that I could read documents in a more natural manner (such as while in an airplane) and draw on the screen while giving presentations.

      However, the bottom line is that they were simply unpleasant and annoying to use. Everything was slow, as it seemed to use additional layers of software on top of the already slow Windows interface. Whenever anyone asked me whether they should get a tablet, I told them it was not worth it, and now I use a non-tablet Windows machine. It seems most other users agree, as Windows tablet sales have dwindled to almost nothing.

      By comparison, my iPhone is spectacular for reading and every other tablet-type task. This is all the more amazing since it has a much smaller screen and much more limited processor.

      The mystery is why Microsoft, with all its money and many smart people, seems to produce such sluggish software without any real success in creating pleasant user interfaces. It must be a failure of organization. It seems the software design responsibilities are divided between different groups, with no person looking at the complete user experience from the ground up. If Microsoft can’t fix this problem, they won’t survive for long.

      If Apple’s tablet is just a bigger iPhone, I would find it infinitely more fun to use than the Windows tablets I have owned, and I’m sure I would buy several for work and home.

  3. Liam. What’s all this ‘wanna’, ‘kinda’, jus sayin’ dudu-speak? You speak English and you say you live in England. Are you planning to go pond-hopping or looking for some AmeriCred? May I suggest …..Think Differentiate.

    I think the best option for Apple’s iSlate is to create a new OSX sub-version by blending the best of the Mac and iPhone according to the needs of the main apps categories. If Apple really wanted to put the cat among the pigeons, they might have enabled Win 7 capability (via BootCamp) on the iSlate. Sadly their (reported) processor choice would seem to preclude such a disruptive play. A shame that and possibly a significant opportunity missed as it would have allowed Apple’s tablet-optimised strengths to stand out while simultaneously highlighting Win 7s unsuitability to drive a tablet format PC. A mischievous thought perhaps but, to paraphrase … I’m jus’ sayin’. Gotcha!
    Typos aside, and notwithstanding my leg-pulls, I must add that you are an articulate, informed and engaging writer Liam. An increasingly rare phenomenon in web reporting.

    Chandra C

  4. Catmanrog

    I’m an old Mac fan and really enjoy the lame defending the ineptness of MS. However, as the hills writhe, some stubborn fans still prefer a backfiring old pickup PC to the magnificent Machines of Mac.

  5. All that pseudo knowing all talk about, is nothing more than putting a veil on a crude monopolist, that was screwing up with huge success industry for two decades.
    It simply got to the point that the only thing they can stole is an superficial look, band of metal casing, black plastic frame, one button, etc…
    Everything else would require titanic work and effort, with true innovations, paying true money to young people, ( outsiders from the well established structure of nepotism )!
    With the mentality of industry emperor and abuser, the real changes are not possible without a “change”… ha,ha, let’s say a little revolution, but just not now yet… they must first seriously starve, and this, unfortunately is not going to happen, with the rest of industry being in the same IBM, MS, banking, military, government, you name it pot.
    All that: Blah, blah, blah, even by Apple “fun boys” is nothing more, than just validating Microsoft as a “normal” corporation.
    Shame on you, or maybe you are just to young to remember the whole story about ruthlessness of Bill and his family lawyers.

    • I find it strange, that people buy a product not based on its functionality, but rather because of who made it.

      I love my Apple kit (most of it, anyway – just don’t mention Apple TV) and yet if Microsoft produced a tablet that sparked my imagination, was a joy to use, played-nice with all my other tech and offered stylish form AND function – I would buy it. And I would buy each revision to it, if they continued to improve it.

      Windows 7, unmodified, on a slate that largely resembles all the other slate-version Tablet PC’s that came before? Rubbish. Unimaginative. The same mistakes all over again.

      The sad thing is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Forgive the pun, but Microsoft really can afford to wipe the slate clean. They could even work with HP if they want, dictating the precise form factor, dictating the internals, providing an appropriately modified version of Windows that isn’t a modern day equivalent of XP Tablet Edition but rather, a completely reimagined UI and UX that is appropriate for the device.

      They still might, of course. But I don’t believe that’s going to happen with Ballmer at the helm. In his desire to avoid doing anything even remotely Apple-like, Microsoft will continue to lose-out on this market.

      It’s tragic; Ballmer’s rage against Apple is holding his company back. His shareholders can’t be blind to this, can they?

      One last thing; the iPhone OS is probably the ‘best’ touch interface (it more than bests Android) because, being the first in its class, managed to patent and trademark the hell out of everything it did. Google’s designers and engineers would most probably love to produce something more touch friendly and intuitive but in doing so, would produce something so similar to Apple’s iPhone OS they’d get into hot water.

      It’s like the tired comparisons between iCal and Windows Calendar. Yup, it sure does look like some copying was going on there. But really? Was there? Or is this what happens when you design a calendar?

      In the same way that there are only so many ways to design a calendar, there are likely only so many ways to design an intuitive and minimalist touch OS on a 3 (or 7 inch) screen.

      But accepting that fact, and producing the goods, will draw Apple comparisons. And as long as Ballmer is behind the wheel, he’s not gonna tolerate any Microsoft product looking like something from Apple. Even if that product would sell like hot cakes and restore some faith in his company. I just don’t think Microsoft can hope to be the trailblazers they once were with leadership like that.

  6. P.S. Microsoft have a few years more experience than Apple, so why isn’t their stuff better? Who remembers the Compaq Concerto with Windows Pen OS? That was 1992, 18, yes 18 years ago, just a bit of a head start…..wasted.

  7. Also, if this thing has a 3D desktop that IS a game changing advance, patents and rights to a 3D desktop envronment during a global hunger for everything 3D is going to hit the right spot big time! If MS don’t have something in the works and have to “catch up”, boy they will have a mess on their hands, think Vista all over again!

  8. I used to be a Microsoft Fanboy and now I am an Apple one. I dare say that could change again but for the moment at least I doubt it. Microsoft has lost the passion, they have their big business customers and that is who they are focused on for obvious financial reasons and they don’t like change because it costs money. If they could separate their business and their home/small business into separate divisions then they could be onto something. Windows 7 is a vast improvement, no doubt, even as a Mac fanboy I like it and would recommend everyone with a Windows machine to swap to it, it is really good. But lets be honest that change was FORCED due to their embarassment at what they had put out “as standard” which was appauling. Over-priced (for what you get), un-inspired, rubbish…and they can do so much better, look at their development work, they come up with some truly amazing and revolutionary ideas but how many do we see in working products in the home or office….zilch. That is what makes me so sad about Microsoft, here is a company that could, but they choose not to. Sad. They are allowing Apple to beat them and if that is what they want, well fine. However one day soon, Apple will start seriously raking in the bigger businesses and then Microsoft WILL be in trouble.

    • Microsoft doesn’t appear to innovate very much these days on the desktop but I assume that’s not always by choice. Look at Longhorn – that was such an amazing concept, the ideas and the UI/UX Microsoft offered at that PDC in – what was it, 2003? – was breathtaking.

      And they over-reached. And that’s ok, over-reaching is absolutely essential. It’s that Platonic paradigm that underscored the original DynaBook, and in the mid 80s motivated the vision behind Apple’s KnowledgeNavigator.

      Sadly Microsoft is a victim of its own success. When you dominate more than 90% of the world’s desktop market, you simply have too many variables to consider. For every single new feature, there are a million challenges to overcome to get it to work even part-way reliably on just half of your customer’s machines. As a result, innovation necessarily stalls at the starting gate. I’d hate to be in Microsoft’s Windows R&D, it must be a daily exercise in frustration, knowing most of your amazing ideas won’t see the light of day.

      The only way to reliably avoid this interminable problem is to make their own hardware. They have the resources, they have the talent. But I guess they don’t want to stab their partners in the back. (Unlike Google who just betrayed Motorola! If that’s how Google does no evil, I’d hate to see how they *do*!)

  9. What if Apple’s iSlate will be a bigger version of the iPhone, including a closed app store and AND a closed file system?
    I think Microsoft DOES have an advantage. People who need to get serious work done on their tablet will want to install software that is already available (say open office) without waiting for apple to approve it, and they will want to have free, open access to their slate HD to copy and paste files any way they please. Just like you do on your laptop.
    A bigger iPhone is too restricted to become a serious working platform.

    • I think you make an important point Henk, and I suggest Apple has already considered that very issue. It seems unlikely the tablet will be simply an oversized iPhone. That’s unimaginative, lazy – and, at the risk of “debating religion” as Udi put it above, is not typical of the “Apple Way”.

      Apple doesn’t repeat itself. It also doesn’t needlessly bifurcate product lines to the point where usage-case is blurred to the point of almost complete obscurity. Remember, Jobs himself said he wasn’t interested in making a device that was only good for people who wanted to read something on the toilet!

      The established wisdom of pundits and media hacks is that the tablet from Apple will be one of two things,

      1. A product that somehow fills a niche between iPhone and MacBook (a niche we haven’t thought of because it’s so familiar we can’t easily identify it any more, or a niche Apple invents with clever marketing)

      2. The tablet will replace the MacBook for a sizeable number of people.

      Whether we agree with those ideas or not, I suspect one thing that’s almost certain is that the tablet will not be an oversized iPhone.

    • Like Liam said, it probably won’t be just a big machine running iPhone OS. I’d rather think it is a Mac OS X with a UI designed for a tablet computer. That way Apple could appeal to graphic designers especially, since they do run both Macs and tablets and I think having both in one product would be great, obviously also to consumers.

  10. It’s been said, but I’ll say it again – MS have the ability to produce great things. There’s no doubt that within their walls are some exceptionally talented programmers, among the best in the world. They’re not any less capable than those at Apple. So what sets Apple and MS apart? Leadership? Vision? X-factor, lol?

    For those amongst you who believe that Apple is touted as being more wonderful than it actually is, yes, you probably have a point. People, media, tend to ‘jump on bandwagons’ – as LCK wrote earlier, a decade or so ago, it was all MS MS MS.

    However, there’s no getting away from the fact that, if no other Apple device, the iPhone was an absolute game-changing device. Would we have all the smartphone options we have now, with all the wonderful new smartphone OS’s if Apple hadn’t released the iPhone? No, we wouldn’t. Apple has the capability to do that, and that capability IMO stems not from the ability of the programmers and engineers, but from the vision and leadership and dedication to producing the closest thing they can to perfection (of course it’s not always everyone else’s idea of perfection, lol – there are definitely flaws, but it’s fair to say that they are far out-weighed by the ‘pros’).

    What Apple do best, for me personally, is design (in fairness they’re pretty good at marketing too, lol). Everything they build is attractive, and the software it runs is not only good (again, not perfect), but most importantly a pleasure to work with. This I think is what sets them apart. I ENJOY using Apple products. I don’t ENJOY using MS or HP or Acer or Dell products. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re ok, sometimes they just are, but I don’t get any enjoyment out of the experience.

  11. This is already the second time within 6 months MS announces a new tech-prototype just days before an apple product launch…

    Remember the ridiculous touch surface mouse concepts last fall just a week before the introduction of the magic mouse? yes exactly… This smells like a new marketing strategy…

    For me it works quite the opposite way around: Microsoft shows first how it shouldn’t be done and Apple presents the solution. Apple was hardly ever first in presenting some new tech. But they are most of the times first to introduce existing tech in a consumer friendly and useable way. This will be the same with the slate thing.

  12. Debates and arguments about religion are pointless. I have owned and used computers and devices using operating systems from Apple, Microsoft DEC IBM, Connection Machine, SG, Bell, Sun, etc. Hardware too was designed and built by many different manufacturers. In my experience, no company has a monopoly on innovation or on bad design. my first apple II was a huge improvement on my altair 8800 and on my osbourne 1 but then the newton 110 was a device in search of a use. likewise, I remember the disaster that was MS-Dos 4.1 but am happily using a diminutive toshiba notebook running windows when away from my desk.

    Comparing information on a product from HP with speculation on an product yet to be released seems a little pointless. then denigrating microsoft on the basis of HP’s efforts seems little more than zealotry. I like products that work for me and fit within my budget. the cult of personality or antipersonality doesn’t feature in my consideration.

    it would be far more useful to actually review what a product does and how it functions.

  13. There is a flaw in your logic, just like Steve Ballmer showed a dozen other machines up there, he was just showing a type of device in a form factor that partners were developing. It would have been irresponsible of Microsoft not to show them at CES, but keep in mind that they are running Windows 7, Microsoft did not develop them, HP and others did. The stuff about the co-developed tablet was rumor, and turned out to be false. Blaming Microsoft for a “failure” by releasing a lame product is wrong because HP and co are releasing the product, they just happen to be running Windows 7. We might as well be blaming Apple for the look of Psystar computers since they run (ran) OS X.

    • I think that it’s the software running on the tablet that really makes the distinction, which is MS’s area.

      There’s only so much room for hardware innovation in a tablet/slate: screen to bezel ratio, thickness, battery life, extra sensors. But on the software side there are miles to go to make something usable. This was what the iPhone software let everyone know. MS added touch capability to Win7, but they still have not, to my knowledge, put together alternate UI elements to make touch based interaction work well. A big problem with tablets historically is that they run the normal desktop OS but require the user to emulate the mouse with a stylus. It just doesn’t work well.

    • Interesting idea Jason, but I’d say that the hundreds of millions of dollars Microsoft paid HP to set Bing as the default search engine in their machines is “favour” enough.

      Microsoft has thousands of hardware partners, and hundreds of thousands of software partners. When Microsoft’s CEO demonstrates the wares of a partner on stage at the company’s most important public-facing (and media-covered) keynote of the year, it’s nothing short of a ringing-endorsement of their product/s.

      It says – incontrovertibly – “We are Microsoft. They (HP) are our partners. We have this wonderful product to show you. We believe in it, and we think it is valuable enough to spend YOUR time telling you about it. When this is available, you should buy it.”

      If they didn’t want to broadcast that message, Ballmer shouldn’t have focused on the thing for even a second.

      Which returns me to my original thoughts in the article about Microsoft having backed itself into a corner.

      I’m just sayin’ is all ;-)

    • Jason,
      MS heavily pushed tablets with XP in 2001. Each year they have supported using Windows on tablets. They specifically added touch support to W7 to support tablets without using a stylus. They are in and have been in the tablet game for 9 years but haven’t done the things they need to do to make operating a tablet convenient. More importantly, they haven’t come out with the developer tools to make applications that can be operated well on a tablet.

    • Hmmm, so Apple did some really innovative things with the iPhone that made it so easy for developers to develop friendly applications. Multitouch (Which Windows 7 has) and well let’s see, buttons, scroll selectors and….um…..well…

      There is nothing innovative in an iPhone UI that you could not do with Windows Presentation Foundation. Just like HP did with TouchFlow stuff. To say that Microsoft has not made it available for a developer to do something innovative is retarded, to say a developer has not is fair.

    • Wow, there is really no need for name calling.

      Sure you could do those things in WPF. I could also do them in C with OpenGL natively but I wouldn’t because it’s a pain.

      Clearly MS hasn’t redone its own apps – did you see Steve Balmer trying to find the controls for the video player?

      The little things may not seem like a big deal (just some buttons, selectors, etc.) but there are bigger concepts at work – like how you start and close apps, how the controls are done, if all apps should run or only ones built just for the device, etc. etc.

    • No No No, we aren’t talking about Windows Media Player, you said specifically, “More importantly, they haven’t come out with the developer tools to make applications that can be operated well on a tablet.” And I am arguing that’s just not true, the developer tools exist to make anything as slick as you can do on any other platform. You aren’t obligated to use a single pixel of Windows 7 chrome.

    • And yet, Jason, despite the availability of WPF, Microsoft (and HP) didn’t bother using it. They just used an unmodified version of Windows 7.

      Even with 7’s improved touch capabilities, it was still a pain to use, as Ballmer demonstrated.

    • I must admit, MS has NOT made it easy to develop Tablet apps – for much of the last seven years the APIs have been extremely cryptic. Only in the last couple of years has WPF really brought in ink support.

      I have also complained in the past (I think in a blog post) that MS’ own applications have not embraced the tablet paradigm (with the exception with OneNote, which is sort of an outlier in the Office suite anyway). Simple things, like having the application understand whether the user is left- or right-handed – do you know how annoying it is to try to use a right hand scroll bar with a stylus in your left hand? Of course the correct answer is to not use scroll bars at all, but use gestures.

      There have been a few applications on Windows which truly worked well in a tablet mode.

      I guess what I am trying to say here is that the problem with the Windows-based tablet is NOT Windows (as so many here believe). The problem is that the application community never embraced it – and why would they if MS’ own developers do not.

      Think of it in terms of the iPhone. Would the iPhone be the success it is now if Apple had not created an environment that encourage people to write apps for it? Probably not.

  14. You wrote:

    “(I)f 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.”

    Don’t count out MS too quickly. Remember the first Zune and how that was such a dog? It weighed A POUND and was butt ugly. By the third generation MS had put a slick-looking MP3 player. Too bad that the market had moved on to smart phones at that point.

    Microsoft has a tendency to release lame 1.0 products–the Zune, MS Explorer, Windows 3.0, the first versions of Office. They catch up pretty quickly. They have a BAD habit of screwing over software and hardware partners (their secret “Pink” phone project was going to cut out their main Windows CE hardware partners; we won’t talk about the Playsforsure debacle).

    They also don’t know how to build a compelling, lasting community of developers for consumer devices like the Zune. I can’t imagine that this tablet will go anywhere either for that reason. MS has been pushing tablets to no avail for years.

    Bottom line: don’t count them out if Ballmer goes balls-in, but it’ll take a massive sustained effort for MS and HP to compete with Apple and the like in this space.

    • Hey Kent, thanks for commenting :-)

      I don’t think my logic flawed, rather, I think the point you make reinforces nicely what I was saying in the article. (Forgive me, not trying to be trite, I really do believe this!)

      See, I agree with you that first generation products are sometimes flawed and require work to improve. You’re dead-on-target about the Zune, that really did improve with each subsequent revision – but, as you say, by the time they got it right, the market had moved on.

      So consider this; why make such a public announcement of a *prototype* that, we have to assume, is going to change a whole lot in the process of preparing a real, for-market, Gen 1 device? Doing so is a desperate measure to be able to scream “We did it first!” and it leaves Microsoft and HP in a bad place.

      If Ihnatko’s quip isn’t true, if Microsoft/HP really were already deep in development of a tablet device, surely it would have been much, *much* more professional to continue working on it quietly until they got it right? Until, at least, they were at a release candidate and not a prototype? Spend the time learning from themistakes of the last eight years, study the discussions around the leaked Courier concept, really hone the thing until it was kickass?

      THEN they could announce it. In the meantime, they could do what Apple does and gradually leak tidbits to the press, drum-up the market anticipation of Microsoft’s top-secret Tablet-killer.

      But, no. Under Ballmer’s “leadership” (ever-increasingly a contradiction in terms) Microsoft races to say “me too!” and makes a fool of itself.

      What is it Jobs said once? Something like “When you’re one step ahead, you’re a visionary. When you’re two steps ahead, you’re a martyr.”

      I think Microsoft just raced to be two steps ahead. But looks who’s just one step behind them…

      My deepest sincerest most grovelling apologies for that needless last bit of sentimentality and over-editoriliasing. It’s very cold here in the UK and I’ve not had my coffee yet…

    • btw, Kent, I sorta started my comment there by incorrectly referencing the start of the following comment, but other than that, it was all directed in response to you. Sorry if there was any mixup there, I’m gonna go and get me some real coffee now… :-)

    • The problem about Microsoft is not only that it takes years to make a product right – it’s that when it gets released it doesn’t really have any innovation.

      For instance, it took years for Zune to become decent enough. The problem is that, compared to competition, and especially the iPods, it doesn’t have anything innovative at all.

      Windows OS. It took almost 9 years to releaes a decent OS after Windows Xp. Meanwhile, Apple has released 6. If the market share was 50-50 for Windows and OS X, I’m sure OS X would get the market share that Windows has today. And when Windows 7 arrived – Nothing innovative! All this hype because people can finally enjoy the speed of Windows xp with the UI and “security” of Vista.

      The Xbox. It took years to start producing decent Xboxs that didn’t have a 50% failure rate. Tho I do think that it is a pretty good product.

      That is a big difference between Apple and Microsoft – Apple does it right since the 1st Gen. And if it ever does bad, it does not do as badly as Microsoft.

  15. I was referring more to “mainsteam” media – CMM, Washington Post, NY Times – all of which have been publishing many stories hailing the Apple tablet as the winner before it is even released. I stand by my statement – the mainstream media adores anything Apple, and reports nothing but bad news about MS.

    One big thing you leave out about many Apple products – the inability to change/replace the battery yourself! What were they thinking??

    BTW, I was an Apple fan for a long time – I programmed Apple II and Apple IIe, and later the Mac from about 1988 through 1994 – it was about 1997 before I even OWNED a PC. I even owned a Newton!

    • Lack of user-replaceable battery? Who really cares? Nobody I know is ever away from a power point long enough to worry about the battery going below 20%.

      There are likely some people out there who actually do need the extra battery time, and for these people we have external batteries.

    • The problem is when that battery goes dead (completely) as many do after a year or two – you cannot replace it with a new one – you have to send it back to Apple to get a new battery.

    • And the whole point of a wireless device is that it is WIRELESS – not always looking for a power point.

      >> Nobody I know is ever away from a power point long enough to worry about the battery going below 20%.

      Hardly a description of a “mobile” device.

    • You wrote:

      “I was referring more to “mainsteam” media – CMM, Washington Post, NY Times – all of which have been publishing many stories hailing the Apple tablet as the winner before it is even released. I stand by my statement – the mainstream media adores anything Apple, and reports nothing but bad news about MS.”

      Sure. But you should know, since you’re also a long-time Apple user… remember the bad old days of the late 90’s when “the mainstream media adores anything MS, and reports nothing but bad news about Apple”?

      Things come and go in cycles. Chill, dude ;-)

      One thing though: give it to MS (predatory and despicable tactics they might have used to gain/maintain their monopoly)… back then, they were hungry. Lean and mean. And it showed. Now, they’ve gone into maintenance mode. Lacking vision.

      Apple’s the opposite. In the 90’s, they were in maintenance mode. No vision. You can’t say that about them now.

      Say what you will, Apple achieved its current status through sheer hard work. the first iMac provided a clue. The iPod showed light at the end of the tunnel. But Apple really burst into people’s consciousness with the iPhone. And tying it all together: OS X.

      So when the mainstream media write about Apple nowadays, they’re looking at the past track record… some misses (the Cube, Apple TV… not major financial disasters… but not bestsellers either) but more hits. And that’s what they’re basing their predictions on now: track record.

      Unfortunately, MS has gone the other way now… again, the current writing is now based on MS’ track record. Recall the big build up to Vista? Everyone (mainstream media included) hailed it as The Next Big Thing. Then when it arrived… meh.

      So… that’s why the media does what they do. No need for biased/paid for/bought off media conspiracies here ;-)

      Having said that: yeh, the batteries! Oy! Apple! ;-)

    • Fred, thanks for your insightful posts. I’ll have to reply to your earlier comment here as well, they got kinda fragmented during the conversation :-)

      I did indeed use Tablets from 2002 until around 2008. They were clunky underpowered things, with the exception of a Toshiba that was clunky and powerful – and also completely UNportable. The sizeable components meant it was a cow to carry. Not at all the tablet vision *I* had, or, I suspect, Bill Gates had when he pushed Microsoft’s engineers, and their partner’s engineers, to produce these things.

      You (later) mention that Apple made a mistake producing non-removable batteries. I think that’s a moot point. Those tablets had removable batteries but they were terribly expensive to buy and, frankly, didn’t last very long. They were clunky heavy things to have to carry around with me (again crushing my vision of a truly portable tablet device) and, ultimately, I’m not making this up, I reluctantly carried the power cords with me because they were lighter and, I discovered, I was rarely too far from a power socket!

      Plus, plugging in a cable when the battery got low on juice was more convenient than having to completely shut-down the device to replace the battery – which would mean having to stop working for five minutes. My tablets were a tool I used when I worked as a TV producer and believe me, a full studio costs thousands of dollars per minute. Needlessly stopping for the sake of a battery change is a terrible idea.

      I’ve been using iPhones and MacBooks since they moved to built-in batteries and it has just not been the terrible inconvenience my initial knee-jerk instinct warned me it would be.

      And we have to assume that Apple’s work in battery technology hasn’t stopped; moving to built-in cells was step one. Step two, I assume, will focus on making them even longer-lasting.

      Anyhoo, I’ve talked too much, if I didn’t cover every point gimme a nudge and I’ll come back to waffle some more :-)

    • I’m always amused by people trying to claim that Microsoft is the underdog and that everybody’s out to get them. It’s patently absurd to say that “nothing but bad news about MS” gets reported, considering the good press that the XBox 360 (and forthcoming Natal add-on) and Zune HD receive. Windows 7 has received a lot of very positive coverage in the media, from reviews (including David Pogue’s review in the New York Times, so there goes that other statement of yours) to sales numbers. I honestly can’t say where this only-bad-things-are-ever-said statement came from, because it’s fundamentally wrong.

      I don’t think the non-removable battery is as much of an issue for many users as it is for you personally, and I’m not sure you’re able to make the distinction between your own impressions and other people’s. I fall somewhere in the middle on the issue of it – I’m not wild about it, but I don’t hate it, either.

      I prefer some Apple products, and sometimes I prefer other companies’. Whichever electronic devices I use, my choice to use them is my own, and I can’t understand the need to make other people’s choices such a massive issue. I am in no way harmed by somebody else using a different OS than me.

    • Ok, responding to some of Liam’s comments, and some of Jame’s…

      First, thanks for not commenting on my inability to type :-)

      In SOME markets, MS gets good press (XBox, for example). I cannot say I have ever seen much positive written about the Zune.

      And then there is the press around Vista – most of which was patently untrue, and most of the research seems to have been done by watching “I’m a Mac” commercials.

      On the battery side – it is definitely a pet peeve of mine. My problem has NOTHING to do with switching batteries while using. My problem is with replacing the batteries when they no longer hold a charge. We have had 1 iPhone (first generation) and several different iPods in the house. The phone and 2 of the iPods suffered from unacceptable battery performance in under 2 years, and had to be sent back to Apple for battery replacement. I am sorry – in my book, that is extremely poor usability.

      >> “Those tablets had removable batteries but they were terribly expensive to buy and, frankly, didn’t last very long.”

      There are exceptions. Check out the Motion Computing LE1600 (now the LE 1700, which now seems to be discontinued) – in my mind the best slate produced to date. It weighs around 3 pounds. It has two batteries (one is the grip, the other is a thin battery on the rear. These two together give me around 6 hours of life (still, after 4+ years of use). In addition, I have a spare rear battery – with the dual battery design I can hot swap it. I have not actually plugged that tablet in for over 3 years. Only downside was that it was very expensive.

      If I am a little excitable regarding the tablet PC it is because I have been using them since they came out (and I must admit, I have never been fond of convertables, until the lates HP TouchSmarts and the Acer that has not been released yet). They are fundamental to how I work. There IS some very good software on Windows (XP, Vista, & 7) for the Tablet. For example, OneNote is a fantasitc program for managing handwritten notes. I have with me every note I have taken since 2003 – all searchable, and all organized. For brainstorming, I use Mindjet MindManager – a mind mapping tool which is fully tablet aware, recognizing both handwriting and gestures.

      I am very concerned that when Apple comes out with a tablet, it will be so completely imbued with the “Apple way of thinking” that many features I find extremely useful will disappear – that the Tablet will essentially become dumbed-down – a glorified e-book reader and web browser. I am further concerned that this will force others, such as MS, to follow a similar path, destroying a platform I find extremely useful.

      Hopefully I am wrong, and Apple will produce a tablet which is actually useful, and not just another toy.

  16. I must have been confused :-)

    The sad thing is that the Tablet form factor (especially the slate) has so much potential. Microsoft’s attempts at it HAVE failed – more IMO due to Microsoft’s complete inability to market to consumers than due to technical shortcomings (the vast majority of users have no idea what a tablet IS, let alone what is wrong with it, 7 years after it was introduced).

    Even more sad (and what I meant by that statement) is that neither MS nor Apple tablets will be judge on their merits – the MS product will be described as crap by Apple fans and the media, and the Apple tablet will be hailed as wonderful no matter what its features.

    Not good for innovation – and not good for consumers.

    • Well, you know, all kidding aside…

      “Even more sad (and what I meant by that statement) is that neither MS nor Apple tablets will be judge on their merits – the MS product will be described as crap by Apple fans and the media, and the Apple tablet will be hailed as wonderful no matter what its features.”

      That sentence is just off on so many levels.

      a) MS product … if it’s good… we’ll know about it. Word of mouth works. Aside from some insecure Apple users, that is ;-)

      I quite honestly haven’t seen very many pro-Apple media sites (not bloggers mind you). And I’m sure you’ve missed all the sites and blogs that run pure fabrication, innuendo and flat out… mis-truths… against Apple. Facts and history show that in fact, it’s MS that’s “paid off” the so-called media in one form or another. Not Apple.

      I personally wouldn’t mind seeing some kick-ass product come out from MS, if only to spur Apple on and make sure they don’t coast along. Unfortunately, under Ballmer, it looks as if MS can no longer do that.

      b) The Apple product will be hailed as wonderful because Apple will have sat down and really thought hard about what to do. I’m sure you’ve read the many rumours (since there’s no hard news) of how Apple spent the past 2 years building and tearing down past products because it just didn’t make the grade. How Jobs made the Apple engineers, designers, software people essentially re-work the original iPhone because it just wasn’t good enough.

      Sure, no Apple product is perfect… and I say this as a long time Apple user. In fact, they sometimes make me want to tear my hair out because they give you something with one hand… and take away with the other. Firewire? PCMCIA (and it’s short-lived successor whose name escapes me now)? Only 2 (TWO) USB ports on a notebook? And only ONE Firewire port? Oy!

      Also, one should really not buy V.1.0 of ANY Apple product until they iron the bugs out. ;-)

      BUT… Apple also manages to change the paradigm of how things are done. Not necessarily by doing something totally new and not-invented-before but by thinking differently and taking a different approach to things. That’s why people like Apple products.

      No need for biased/paid for/bought off media conspiracies here ;-)

    • @ Fred (enjoying and appreciating your comments.)

      “the vast majority of users have no idea what a tablet IS”

      Does this imply that the users should read a big ol’ owners manual to use their tablets? Shouldn’t the fact that the primary interface (use of the human finger) should be intuitive and not require “marketing” to explain to the users what it “IS”?

    • @DP – the intent of that statement is that no product is going to be successful if after 7 years on the market you have not yet managed to communicate at even the most basic level that the prduct even exists, let alone what it is good for.

      This is reflected by the fact that I still, after 7 years, have people on airplanes, etc. ask me what my tablet is, and who are surprised that such a thing exists.

      THAT is a major failure of marketing.

  17. 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!

    • 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? ;-)

    • 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.”

    • Lutefisky

      “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!

    • 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 ;-)

  18. 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!

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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! :-)

  22. griffyn

    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.

    • 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

  23. Geeeeeeeez

    “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!!!!

    • 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.

    • 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

  24. buckeyes

    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.

    • 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… ;-)

  25. thecizco

    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.