Do the notebook buying masses out there really dislike or distrust the Tablet PC? The nay-saying industry analysts in their dark little bat caves would have you believe the answer to that question is an unequivocal "Yes". It's too new to be trusted, its got too many wrinkles and quirks to go mainstream just yet, they all cry. After all, what else could explain the tiny market share the devices have globally, or the (allegedly) poorer than expected sales performance. What indeed.
I like to think that I'm just an ordinary average joe (albeit with a slightly higher than average interest in the goings on in the IT world). If that's the case, then the rest of the world learns about what the computer industry is up to from the same sources I do; corporate websites and the press, both online and in print. Sure forums and blogs are every bit as powerful when it comes to both evangelising and slamming products, but to be quite frank I don't think they even register on the radar in terms of a global resource for information that non and moderate techies would use. So, the press and the horses mouth are the things to rely on. And that my friends is the root of the problem.
On my commute home this morning I thumbed through a copy of PC Magazine (electronically, on a Tablet PC running Zinio of course), and came across an interesting round-up of machines that the magazine reviewed with a "back to school" bent to them. What would be great value, useful, and truly portable notebooks that those students going back to school in a month or so should really consider. Which desktops give the most bang for the buck. You get the general idea. Shockingly though there was no mention of the Tablet PC. Unless school has radically changed since I was there, I can't imagine a single classroom where the teacher would be happy to see 30 or so students all erect 12-14 inch barriers of impermeable plastic between themselves and their tutor at the start of the class. Nor can I imagine a teacher, except for your odd comp-sci chap, that would be happy to lecture to the sound of 300 fingers drumming away on tacky plastic keyboards. These things are not conducive to open environments of study and information sharing. Surely a tablet would be much better? After all, a Tablet PC works just the same as a pad of paper, with the obvious benefits that it rarely gets lost, the notes scrawled in the pad are searchable, and your friends don't lean over and tear lumps out of it to make spitballs or other equally delightful paper-based projectiles. The Tablet PC has surely got to be up there as the number 1 bright idea for the eager student (well, after the other obvious hormonal delights are discounted).
At work today a colleague handed me the "Tablet PC Partner Toolkit", a collection of CDs and information prepared by Microsoft themselves and handed out to delegates at the recent Worldwide Partner Conference in Canada. Open it up though and Microsoft proudly proclaim that the Primary Tablet PC Verticals are "Healthcare, Financial Services, and Education". There's a wealth of great information on the CDs in the form of demo applications, demos of the hardware itself, whitepapers, case studies and so forth, but Microsoft are still targeting specific verticals with the Tablet PC.
The noise from Microsoft, and the lack of noise from the press is, quite simply, the root of the problem. For Microsoft to target the Tablet PC at specific niche groups (in this country at least the healthcare and education sectors really don't have a lot of cash to spend on new fangled gizmos) is to effectively kill the Tablet dead in the water. It's like saying the PC is a great tool for stockbrokers, or that XP is a fabulous operating system if all you want to do is balance your bank account. The message from Microsoft completely ignores the fact that at the end of the day the Tablet PC is quite simply the evolution and future of the notebook. Why on earth would you want a hulking great lump of plastic burning your thighs just to read a document on the train home? A convertible notebook (like most Tablets) is so much better suited to that. Why on earth would you want to offend business colleagues, tutors, or even for that matter friends and families by grabbing a black noisy lump that instantly puts a barrier that says "I'm not paying attention to you" between you and them? A Tablet PC overcomes that.
Microsoft are missing a huge trick here.There are so many everyday uses for the Tablet PC that I'm certain the really average joes out there are just not aware of, so many compelling reasons for people to demand that their next notebook comes with a stylus and a rotating screen. Microsoft made their billions by showing the common man, as well as business in general, just how easy technology can make things, so why oh why are they not pushing the Tablet PC down the same route. Until Microsoft change their story though it's unlikely the press will either, and the end result will be yet coverage of technologies and tools that by all rights are pretty much old-fashioned by now.
Notebooks are hard to swallow, Tablets aren't.