My latest Microsoft Watch column, "Trouble in Tablet Land?" created a lot of trouble of its own. While few readers disagreed that Microsoft needs to improve its Tablet marketing, more than a few erroneously deduced that we had pronounced the Tablet DOA.
For the record, I didnt declare that Microsoft has decided to ax the Tablet PC. Nor did my colleague Mark Hachman reach this conclusion in his companion news story.
Instead, what both of us noted is Microsoft is distancing itself from the slate form factor (which originally was expected to be the ultimate showcase for the Tablet PC) and instead is moving to fold back into Windows the features that distinguish Tablets from plain-old notebooks.
In short, Microsoft originally spoke of Tablets as a revolution. Now they are claiming they are an evolution.
Some Microsoft execs claimed that "assimilation" had been the goal for the Tablet from the start. But thats not our recollection. From our perch, it seems Microsoft is engaged in some fancy footwork (not to mention a rewriting of history) to keep Tablet momentum building.
Over the past couple of weeks, we noticed Redmond has stepped up its Tablet PC marketing push.
But in the end, marketing is moot. What really matters is what current and potential users think about the Tablet PC and its prospects for the future. We got lots of mail opining on this very topic. Here are just a few of the letters we received, edited for length:
The trouble with the Tablets seems to be that they are a product in search of a market. The market isnt there. The features arent rich.
They arent much more than just a smart display really. They are under-powered — useless to a mobile professional as far as content creation. There just isnt a demand. Microsoft keeps the supply low and limited (an old marketing ploy used by Harley Davidson and others) in order to keep the appearance of high demand.
At the very few locations they are offered, they fly off the shelves sure, but Microsoft knows and wont admit that if they were out in every retail store, they would have a huge inventory of unsold product on their hand and would take a beating at the quarterly reports.
Assimilating the Tablet and laptop platforms (so that all laptops become convertibles that can switch between laptop mode and Tablet mode) in my opinion is a very good thing (whether originally planned or not) because it will close the price premium, and persuade buyers to take a chance with the Tablet platform.
If they do, they will be hooked. I actually prefer the slate, but a convertible is still quite usable as a Tablet. And when you as a user switch one of these convertibles to the Tablet mode, there is a very profound change in perspective about what you have in your hands.
You hold it differently, use it differently, everything changes. It becomes much more than just "a laptop with added features."
The user experience is transformed, and the unit becomes usable in ways and in places significantly different than before; in business meetings for example.
And I predict many of those users will say: "you know I like this Tablet mode... I like being able to use this effectively in meetings" and will use it more and more in that mode, perhaps even favoring a slate on the next purchase.
So whether slates or convertibles predominate: assimilation of the Tablet will make use of the Tablet platform actually more prominent, not cause it to fade away. It will lead to driving this productivity boosting technology into more hands, and that can only be a good thing.
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