These news reports raise the possibility that the rise of tablet PCs will be
accompanied by a progressively more fragmented ecosystem of content providers,
as various old-media and technology companies make alliances in order to serve
what they see as their best interests. Players within the ecosystem, in other
words, begin enacting a media-world version of The Prisoner's Dilemma
rushing for individual advantage and failing to obtain it.
Say a consortium of publishing companies does indeed launch its own
independent venture for devices. And say Apple, wanting all content to filter
through iTunes or its equivalent, shuts out that independent venture from being
able to port content onto its tablet PC: Users would be able to download music
or movies, but not published content. Say Microsoft (or another hardware
vendor) chooses to embrace the independent vendors with the Courier or similar
tablet PC-suddenly, consumers need to choose not only between hardware, but
also between the companies they want providing content.
A consumer faced with choices like that will probably adopt a "wait and
see" attitude-and in the meantime, the tablet PC ecosystem could wither on
the proverbial vine.
This one relates to the price point argument. One of the reviewers' primary
complaints about the JooJoo has been that it does only one thing: surf the Web.
With no hard drive, no ability to run applications on a desktop and no physical
keyboard for typing longer documents, its usefulness is limited. Users may also
be reluctant to embrace the tablet PC as a replacement for an e-reader, the
e-ink screens of which are easier on the eyes than a traditional display.
Indeed, Arrington described his original vision of the CrunchPad as "a
tablet computer that I could use to consume the Internet while sitting on a
But those who purchase a tablet PC are likely to be already pretty
tech-savvy, meaning they probably already own the smartphones, netbooks and
laptops necessary for them to surf the Internet anywhere. In other words, who
actually needs a tablet PC? What function does it fulfill that isn't already
covered by any number of other devices?
That question will need to be answered if tablet PCs from Apple and
Microsoft emerge from vaporware as actual, physical devices. If those tablet
PCs end up being physical-keyboard-free versions of touch-screen laptops, then
the devices will likely be seen as expensive toys. But if Apple and Microsoft
come up with unique functionality for their devices-or convince a content
partner to create a must-have application that makes use of the tablet's form factor
in a particularly exciting way-then there's a higher likelihood that the tablet
PC will gain traction in the marketplace.