A few years ago I read an obituary for Bob Hope that was picked up by my local paper. Hope had become one of my favorite celebrities over the years and I was saddened by his passing. The only problem was he hadnt actually died.
I had a similar experience recently as I read a number of articles and columns about the death of the Tablet PC that pointed to a presentation by a Microsoft executive as a clear indicator of the platforms demise. These articles pointed out that while the vertical products have been successful, the horizontal offerings have not done well, and they focused on the failure of these horizontal, clamshell designs as the cause for Microsofts action.
Since I was one of a number of analysts and large customers who urged Microsoft to consider the change that prompted the presentation and the premature pronouncements of death for the platform, I think we should take a hard look at what Microsoft is actually doing and why.
As many articles have pointed out, the Tablet PC has proven quite popular in vertical markets. In its slate form factor it is ideal for filling out forms and so plays strongly where forms are commonly used. However, the touch screen interface added cost and weight compared with a standard laptop computer and there werent many common applications that were ideal for this new interface method, making it a difficult concept to sell outside of those vertical markets.
Handheld computers have defaulted to touch screens and recently began adding keyboards. But this form factor is stalling as well, further supporting the belief that the general market is resisting this method of user interface.
The most popular general market design for tablet computers is the clamshell style. These tablets look like regular laptop computers, but they can be transformed into slates by rotating the screen 180 degrees and snapping it over the keyboard. As I pointed out in my column comparing the Toshiba Tablet PC to the HP Tablet PC, the problem with this approach is that users simply use the tablet as a regular laptop. And that makes for an expensive laptop.
There was one more serious problem: Corporate buyers didnt like that the Tablet PC used a unique version of Windows.