Hard Choices for Consumers

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2009-12-08 Print this article Print


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-everyone 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 couch."

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.

Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel