MIKE WENDLAND: Tablet computers’ merits aren’t worth the big fuss — Ah, at least one person noticed.

When Microsoft introduced the first tablet PC in 2001, Bill Gates predicted that they would rival laptop sales in popularity by 2005.

Well, it’s almost 2005 and I can count the number of tablet PCs that I’ve seen in use over the past couple of months with one finger.

hat’s probably because, after initial sales failed to spike, Microsoft and its tablet PC partners decided to promote them mainly among some special groups — construction workers, medical and health care personnel, students and educational workers and sales and financial professionals.

That’s called the vertical market, and that’s where most of the sales have been. The rest of us, regular users in the horizontal market, hardly have been bowled over.

Microsoft says it remains fully committed to the platform and that sales are increasing each quarter

There’s actually more to it than that. Microsoft always had the wrong approach about these things and I never felt that people inside the company were as jazzed as Bill and a few others. So they were very defensive. They did a very poor job of placing these machines within the influencers, for example. Over nearly four years I’ve never had one in my hands to review or comment upon although numerous people at Microsoft promised that they’d make sure I saw how great these things were. I admit that I never made a point of trying to get one either. But you’d think that my lack of interest (and public criticism of the whole idea) would have triggered some propaganda effort, wouldn’t you? Naw. Nothing. It’s almost as if they were defeatists. Worse, during a humorous awards presentation to a very select audience at a PC Mag TechEx awards in Las Vegas in 2002 I made some funny remark about the un-success of the platform and some Microsoft manager got all bent out of shape and moaned and groaned to the editors about what a jerk I am. I told the powers that be that someone was obviously over sensitive about a mere joke. I mentioned that I’ve been willing to check out the platform and I wanted one of these complainers get in touch with me. Again, nothing. I have to assume that the lackluster marketing directed at a columnist like myself was reflective of an overall lack of effort or general disdain that the company has been exhibiting more and more. This platform (in this iteration) was doomed from the beginning from that perspective. Although I suppose that the insiders knew this was a dog from the outset and were oversensitive to any negative criticism (be it a joke or anything else) because they were guilt-ridden. Normally Microsoft folks revel in any sort of attention, although this has lessened over the years as the corporate culture of the company slowly evolves and becomes more and more defensive and reactionary.

Meanwhile, the tablet PC’s are great for insurance adjusters.

  1. "-" says:
    It's interesting to review what Apple has done along these 
    lines. From the Newton to the current computers that all have a 
    form of handwriting recognition (and voice recognition), Apple 
    has found that the time's just not right yet. 
    Personally, I expect that voice recognition and handwriting 
    recognition could work together (seperately for some situations: 
    i.e.: board meetings) to speed up the entry of information. 
    Certainly the podcasting phenomona is a frustrated outgrowth of 
    all this. 
    But that's what it's all about: timing's everything. And cell 
    phones ubiquitousness almost demands voice recognition for web 
    interfaces. Which Microsoft is absoloutely unready for. 
    ps-my latest interest: URL email: "-" (spam free) 
    pps-New York Times' latest evaluation.
  2. Frustrated Consumer says:

    Two comments:
    1)I’ve been Detroit for over 20 years, and I stopped listening to this man’s ‘insights’ when he started calling himself “PC Mike Wendland” back in the ’90s. He stopped doing it when it stopped being cool (to those who thought it was in the first place)
    2) He doesn’t like the tablet, yet drools over a Segway with a tablet attached to it. Guess it depends on the application:

  3. Rob Bushway says:

    Can you comment on why PC Magazine consistently fails to include tablets in its’ line up reviews: Back to school features, recommended systems, etc. If they are ever talked about, its always as a niche / also ran.

    Colleges and school districts wholesale implementing tablets into their infrastructure can’t be ignored.

    Tablets have been hugely successful in the vertical markets. As time moves on, you will see all laptops adapt tablet functionality, thus crossing over into the end-user market.

  4. John C. Dvorak says:

    I personally think it’s because the readers are not telling us to do it. There can be no other reason and I say this because Editor-in-Chief Michael Miller is a HUGE tablet PC user and promoter. He might be the only one on staff, but his voice matters most. So it’s not the editors. I just don’t think that many people care.

  5. Bob Ellis says:

    Seems to me there are some other drivers. Within the large company I work for, dollars are the driver. The tablet costs more for less CPU and less hardware (no DVD/CD – graphics with very little power, etc). Why would you hang from the tree in the CFOs office and try to justify a purchase? We will evaluate one soon for several areas that want to take notes at meetings (this company loves meetings) and do non-CPU intensive stuff. Maybe if the killer tablet arrived at a reasonable price they might sell?

  6. Matthias says:

    The Tablet PC got launched November 2002. That was when Mr. Gates projected the 5-year frame (not the year 2005). So, the concept has at least 3 more years to fulfil his promises 😉

    I can seriously imagine adopting a Tablet PC if they offer me a powerful, 14″ outdoor-readable screen equipped, ultra-flat, very lightweight (2 pounds maximum) device. Pen input (for some applications) and vertical screen rotation (for convenient reading) would do it for me.

    I think the Tablet concept is a useful extension of the notebook and can really increase the computing experience. It’s just a matter of hardware and less of software that the promises are not fulfilled yet.

  7. John C. Dvorak says:

    The problem is that the makers cannot continue to make a product for a non-market like this. There will not be anyone making the thing in 2007.

  8. Interesting point regarding the readership. If that is really the case, I would be surprised that they would base a Back To School recommended line up review onwhat the students want to see. What about what they should see – stretch their horizons about how they could go about school differently.

    I can think of 3 letters to the editor I’ve sent in to PC Magazine about this issue without any response.

    Its’ also been discussed in great detail on TabletPCBuzz.com about their lack of coverage in the magazine.

  9. Erik Gylte says:

    Regarding your comment about lack of coverage in PC Magazine: “I personally think its because the readers are not telling us to do it.”, I believe it is more an issue of awareness. People are not requesting articles about technology that hasn’t hit their radar screen. I realize that is primarily the fault of poor marketing on the part of vendors, but I also look to the technology periodicals to keep me up to date. That’s part of the reason I read them.

  10. Have you seen Mike Wendland’s blog where he is now taking a second look after playing with some slates yesterday and is now seriously reconsidering his position?

    “Bottom line is I think I could seriously use one of these big-time”.


  11. Jonathan Schmidt says:

    I would love to see Tablets reviewed in mainstream mags. I have also wondered why I haven’t seen much in the way of marketing of the platform over the past couple of years. I think that Microsoft needs to put some more weight behind this platform if it is to survive. As a user of a TabletPC for the last 6 months or so, I would hate to see the platform die before I come around to buying my next laptop in 2-3 years. I love the flexibility of the convertible platform. I take advantage of the best of ink and keyboard and convert between the two often throughout the day. I don’t think I could bear the thought of going back to a standard laptop in the future.

    I think the biggest problem is not market demand, it is market awareness. How can consumers demand information from magazines like PC Mag if they don’t know what to ask for? Microsoft and manufacturers need to do a better job of raising awareness of the product. For me, when I heard about the Tablet, I thought it was a great idea, but it wasn’t until I had one in my hands and used it personally that I began to see the true value.

  12. It’s darn hard to change people’s input habits. I remember back in 1984, for example, when many reviewers (including, as I recall, John) said the Macintosh would fail due to its dependence on the mouse. No touch typist, said the experts, would ever take one hand off the keyboard to push around a mouse.

    The other problem that TabletPCs encounter among reviewers is that journalists tend to type much of the time, and so handwriting input is less important to them than a great keyboard.

    But John is right that MS has to do more popular evangelizing of the TabletPC among the influencers–you really have to spend a few weeks with one, learning the input system, before you appreciate its power. The three-day-review-and-ship-back experience just doesn’t work for this device.

  13. John C. Dvorak says:

    I never said the Mac would fail because of the mouse. I said that in 1984 there was no evidence that people wanted to use a mouse and it may be part of a complex list of reasons the Mac “may” fail. This old column has long since turned into weird and inaccurate folklore.

  14. John Hill says:

    There are many different sides of this discussion, but I think the statement “tablet PCs are great for insurance adjusters” is the one I have the most issue with.

    When my company (a tablet solutions VAR) began focusing solely on the tablet PC platform 18 months ago, I was sure that field sales, healthcare and other “road warrior” types would be the main markets. I’ve been incredibly surprised by the diversity of customers who have purchased tablets from us in the past couple of months.

    These include: a builder of yachts using it for navigation software, a CAD engineer doing 3D modeling, a fashion designer on Broadway in NYC, a fire investigator, an accupuncturist, a landscaper, psychologist, financial advisor, leadership trainer, trial lawyer, auto mechanic, builder of new “vintage” homes, bank executive, agricultural engineer, etc.

    Of course, individual use in an organization does not translate into a mass market. What we are seeing, however, is that a technophilic decision maker buys and implements the first tablet and then the technology begins to take hold in the organization.

    I’m not a pundit, so I won’t predict what the popularity of the tablet will be in a year or two except to say that my view from the ground is that there is potentially large number of different vertical markets to which the benefits of pen and ink will apply.

    That being said, as a VAR we have been disappointed with the inability of folks to find, see and touch tablet PCs. To do our part to evangelize the platform we started a 48-hour demo program so that people could try the tablets before they put $3K on their credit card for a device.

    It’s been very successful and I’d invite you (or anyone else) to take advantage of this program. You can get more information at http://www.alltp.com/mobile.htm or email me at john@alltp.com.

  15. TDavid says:

    John maybe if you have that old column then reprint it and correct folks on the folklore? It would be interesting to see a 20 year old article revisited. Future column idea?

  16. John C. Dvorak says:

    I actually did a re-do of that column when Larry Tessler asked me to rethink the original. I’ll try to repost the both of them.

    ALSO NOTE..I am talking with the right person at Wagged, Msfts PR agency, about notepads.

  17. Andy Lin says:

    We really need tablet coverage in big name magazines. I had previously heard of them but didn’t really get interested until I saw that my friend had gotten one as part of a class here at MIT. That was last year. Ever since I got to borrow it for about a week, I was hooked. It took me a while before I found TabletPCBuzz, which is an incredible community and resource for tablet information. What’s sad is that I had to go to great lengths to find more information, as almost none has showed up on the most mainstream magazines. Tablet potential users are out there, but they’re probably not savvy enough to go search for information themselves, and given that they find little to nothing on the mainstream magazines, they don’t take their interests in the technology any further.

  18. iggy kin says:

    Its about mobility not text input. ….Thats why convertibles just don’t make sense, they dilute the mobility factor and like i have said before are killing the platform because they encourage bad tableting habits(keyboarding) and wrong tablet pc perceptions.

    see http://www.iggysoft.com/2004/11/its-not-about-text-input.html

  19. I agree with John in one aspect: the marketing of the platform has been the benchmark of lackluster promotion. As has been said so many times before, if you can find a Tablet at Best Buy or CompUSA, it’s bolted down and the stylus is missing. Store clerks aren’t trained on it. Unlike the latest PDA or Palm release — heck, even the iPod — there are no in-store displays, nothing saying, “hey, look at this, this is special!”

    I’m a 100 wpm + typist, so I’m not about to abandon my keyboard, but I still am in love with the slate format (I can always attach a USB keyboard.) I use the handwriting input method about 30% of the time, and cannot see giving that up. My office has gone completely digital, and the Tablets have replaced three-inch thick binders of client documentation. (We are a management consulting firm.) And I should add that ours is not an industry — like insurance adjusters, for example — that relies primarily on written reports.

    The potential use for the Tablet platform is unlimited, but is being hamstrung by the manufacturers’ (and Microsoft’s) blase attitude and invisible promotions, as well as the inablity of non-users to comprehend what the darn things can do.

    For the last point, I suggest folks imagine all the yellow legal pads and sticky notes lying around their office, and then imagine them disappearing forever. I have not used a piece of paper to write notes on in a year, and have not missed them once. Every note I write is savable, searchable, indexable, and easily accessible. And, they can be converted to typed text.

    Does your laptop do that?

  20. Gary Gorby says:

    I have been a “power user” of desktop computers for uses such as computerized image analysis and 3D animation and modeling since the early 90’s. I always tried to buy dual processor maximum RAM systems due to those processor intensive demands. However, I recently bought a Motion Computing M1400 Tablet, and I have to say that I like this computer more than any I’ve ever owned. I am a physician at a VA hospital, and we have a fantastic computerized patient record system. I love making rounds with essentially every chart in my hand. I can use templates with checkboxes to generate large portions of my notes and I just handwrite additional comments. The notes are instantly available and readable by all. Moreover, I only have to login once and roam wirelessly around the wards. I also use it to paint when I can afford some recreational time(http://gsquared.creighton.edu/images/naponcalmbluesea2.jpg), and with my Verizon wireless card I can write e-mails and find information online pretty much anywhere in the city. It is a fantastic mobile platform, and I can’t emphasize enough how useful it is!

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