Dirty blond ambition
I suppose he got one thing right. Thanks to the web, and Wi-Fi, more of us would be doing leisure-media-consumption things and would want a computer that is more compatible with slouching horizontal on a sofa eating an enormous bag of Doritos.
"These are my people! Give them Tablets!" thought Gates. Well, now we do, and he was undoubtedly on the money. Apple still can't decide what its Fondleslab is good at, but people are absolutely overjoyed with them.
It has captured over $20bn of revenue almost overnight – how much this takes a chunk out of the laptop/netbook market and how much is new discretionary spending, I'm not sure, probably a bit of both. But it highlights a demand that has been met.
However Bill's idea of tablets was staggeringly lacking in ambition. Although Redmond did show a reference design that looks very much like a fondleslab today (no keyboard), OEMs really weren't interested. And Microsoft couldn't push them.
It's fascinating to see, reading back at that story from 2001, the extent of Microsoft's platform aspirations for this new platform. I thought this bit, related by Mr Lettice, was fascinating:
"The laxity of a related requirement indicates that Microsoft isn't demanding things that portables can't do already. Tablet PCs should be able to survive in suspend mode, ie, power still going to memory, for three hours. This is not onerous by the standards of current notebooks, but does beg questions about what kind of tablet PC will be able to last the whole day, and how much of that time it's going to have to spend in hibernate mode in order to do so."
Gates decided tablets had to be tablet PCs; they didn't need a new OS, but the old OS with new bits grafted on for pen input and screen orientation. They could suffer all the power consumption handicaps of a real Windows laptop – and bulk.
Somehow the OEMs weren't fully behind it, and launched tablets as a hedge. They'd argue that if you didn't want to run it in tablet mode, it was still a real fully functional laptop. So the BoM for tablets started the same as for a laptops then mushroomed to accommodate the special hinge, the digitiser, the stylus, and so on... The tablets that launched a year later in 2002 were very expensive indeed.
"Cool portables that come with a free pen," we thought.
This week I reviewed the Lenovo X220T. Lenovo is one of very few manufacturers left flogging the Tablet PC in the fondleslab era. Just as in 2002, it was a Frankenstein mix of very old technology and new technology trying to pull the anachronisms out of the swamp.
Essentially, it's a rock solid ThinkPad that's been extended to be a tablet too, and is burdened with exactly those handicaps of the first generation. I didn't gain any pleasure or productive gains from having pen input.
I resented the additional bulk, and random driver issues, and having to drill through lots of dialogs to turn on things like "finger input mode". And most of all, I massively resented how the ThinkPad backlight was missing – even though the key sticker told me it was.
So the Microsoft Tablet is on its last legs, but this is one dead end I won't be chasing down on eBay. Now Microsoft, like every other operator, sees an exploding market owned entirely by Apple.
It's making a much nicer skin for Windows than it ever achieved with Tablet Pen additions. It's porting Windows to ARM, too. All of this strongly indicates Microsoft's next tablets will run a
crippled cut-down er, Cloudy Windows Lite, something finally far more appropriate.
I can't see Redmond buggering it up this time, but you never know. ®
Who'll keep taking Windows Tablets in the iPad era?
"I can't see Redmond buggering it up this time, but you never know."
Really, even with my eyes shut.
This is not simply MS bashing, I simply have an undying faith in the ability of people anywhere (and that includes myself) to get things terribly wrong in ways we never could imagine. This is a kind of inverse creativity embodied in Bergholt Stuttley (or Bloody Stupid) Johnson on the Discworld.
However, MS might get it beautifully right.
That's not quite correct
MS did get it wrong and it's demonstrable they had a lack of vision. I don't believe the "before their time" argument can be said to wash. MS launched tablets earlier than Apple and is still making them. So "their time" has traversed the time-frame during which another company has proven how an appealing product can be made. They should have had a learning advantage. So MS have, as the article points out, ended up on tram rails and manifestly failed on the vision front.
Also it's not correct to say Apple scaled up iOS from phone to tablet. The iphone actually came from an Apple tablet project. Apple were researching multi-touch UI's for years and always kept an R&D line open for NG UI's and interaction (I think I read somewhere this even goes as far back as to the days of the Newton). along the way Steve Jobs publicly noted on a couple of occassions how bad phone UI's were and evidently decided to adapt what they had for tablets to phones. I suspect that as the tablet R&D continued to progress he was quite amazed how the incumbent handset companies failed to rise to the chellenge of providing a good UI and decided to go for it.
One big factor determining the order of release of the products was that large capacitative displays were expensive (and difficult to manufacture), so it ended up being easier to deliver a smaller phone device first before the planned tablet. Also Apple were sure the user experience had to have capacitative touch technology to really work (Another failure on Microsoft's part was the failure of their R&D to reach the same conclusion). Clearly they were right. You have to admire the extent to which they refused to compromise. They knew what the market demanded and refused to launch into the space until they had exactly the combination of features they thought were required.
Apple also did a lot of research around the form factor. The 10" display came out as the clear preferential size (a conclusion that is now fully backed up with recent publicly available market research) and they waited to launch a capacitative display tablet until they could implement the ideal. RIM choosing 7 inches was really about cost and supply chain issues ( though they claim otherwise, but they would seeing as Apple grabbed the available lines of supply for 10 inch capacitative displays at iPad launch).
At the time of the iPad launch, others scoffed at Job's claim the iPad was cheap at the price. But Apple had done their research and prepared the supply chain logistics well. Others have only been able to match the price by shrinking margins to nothing just to get a toe-hold in this new market. This will change of course as display manufacture volume ramps up and Android makes gains, but for now Apple rules the roost.
Arm netbooks conpicuous in their absence
Aren't they? Computex 2009, Asus shows an Arm based netbook running Linux to be released Summer 2009.
Cue joint presentation by Asus, Intel and Microsoft iterating over and over again how important Intel's hardware and Windows is to the future of netbooks and Asus.
Asus Arm based netbook did you say? What Asus arm netbook? (The cancelled smartbook).
This year Asus have commited to releasing a Tegra 3 based netbook running Chrome by the end of 2011. I wait and hope.
Really realy want a netbook that runs all day without recharging and that has a friggin keyboard so you can actually do some work on it.
Meanwhile in 10 years we might get prood that Intel/Microsoft paid Asus and other manufacturers off so they don't defect to Arm and not-Windows, much like their past dealings.
Lack of imagination
Lack of imagination was the problem. It seems that people in charge at Microsoft are not forward thinkers, they don't seem to have any imagination when it comes creating something new. They are happy to clone other ideas and put their own spin on it once the competition has made a move.
When the tablet PC was being worked on there wasn't anything else to compare it with. So when key people (head of MS Office for example) at Microsoft were asked to adapt software to work with the new tablet input method they refused. It's almost like they can't see the merit of doing something unless someone else is bringing in cash for a similar product.
But this time there is a product they can refer to, they can made things happen as there's plenty of alternatives that are raking in cash.
The L word never had a problem running on ARM, anything from Android to a super computer. I don't think it's a problem of getting code from x86 to ARM and thinking smaller, it's just that all these companies write proprietary code that probably looks like barf with bits corrected in crayon.