One of the mysteries of the Tablet PC has been its singular failure in European markets. Behind that enigma lies an even greater one: Why was Microsoft Corp. in EMEA (Europe, Middle-East and Africa) so gung-ho about MIRA, or Smart Display?
At the Wireless LAN Event in London next week, Im expecting Intel Corp. to make some announcements significantly affecting the tablet market. But the excitement generated in the strange international location known as EMEA will be imperceptible compared to the attention American markets will give to this topic, and theres probably a silly reason.
What I can tell you is that things have changed. Well, lets be more conservative: Things look like they are changing.
When I ran into Scott Eckert of Motion Computing Inc. a year ago, he showed me easily the nicest tablet Ive played with yet. He forecast great things for it, especially with Dell reselling, and he was pretty much on the button with his forecast. Except, that is, for his plans for sales in Europe.
Eckert just relaunched his EMEA operation, hiring pen-computing veteran Andy Toal away from Fujitsu Siemens Computers AG. And the contrast is pretty stark: Where Motion Computing is roughly No. 5 in tablet markets and worldwide, virtually all of that derives from U.S.-based sales, if you believe some of its research.
Now, if you sit down with an industry-standard Microsoft product manager and let the industry-standard PowerPoint machine roll, you will get various explanations for this. Who knows? Some of them may even be valid. But behind all of that lies a stronger fact that Microsoft, for some internal political reason, went into Europe waving the flag of the Smart Display.
The idea of smart display was pretty neat. After all, the main difference between a CRT display and a TFT display is that the cat cant sleep on the TFT, thus doing amazing things for sales of keyboard covers. And because the TFT flat screen is small and thin, its also lightweight. So, some bright pumpkin lit up its candle and said, "Hey! Why not build a battery into it and use wireless to connect it, and then you can move it around?"
A brilliant idea, until you price it. At that point, most of the audience in most presentation rooms coughed politely, muttered about needing to get to the bathroom or the stock exchange or the brothel or the next rocket to Mars, and left.
The fact is, most of what you would want a smart display for, you can use a tablet to do. Unfortunately, a smart display will do almost nothing else that a tablet does, except run out of power when you really need it.
You can plug a tablet into your wireless network, log on to the remote desktop protocol (RDP) and drive your desktop machine in exactly the way a smart display does, but with this important difference: When the thing gets out of wireless range, the tablet still works.