Tablets Are Remedy For, Um, What?

Editorial: Microsoft faces challenging odds in betting that its Tablet PC will win wide acceptance.

If the New England Patriots can win the Super Bowl and the Anaheim Angels can win the World Series, then maybe this is the year for the Tablet PC.


Microsoft and its partners are betting it is. Microsoft, of course, has waved tablets before our eyes before, but the lukewarm reaction they received indicated that Tablet purchases might rival those of—does anyone remember Microsoft Bob?

So, demonstrating the doggedness for which they are famous, the Redmondians went back to the drawing board and came up with an attention grabber: Digital Ink, a method of storing and retrieving handwritten documents based on searches of handwriting patterns instead of text characters.

Thats the sort of thing that might also work for doctors and lawyers or in some factory-floor applications. In other words, Digital Ink might help entrench the Tablet PC in the niches where there is already interest. Its worth noting, too, that Digital Ink is a proprietary Microsoft technology. Thats all well and good, but users who insist on open standards may look askance.

The requirements for mass acceptance are different. Few users are itching to ditch their laptops for a more expensive Tablet PC. But some might opt for a Tablet PC that works as a laptop and a tablet, at about the same price as a comparably powered laptop. The Tablet PC might work as an evolutionary advance for the laptop. It wont work as a replacement for the laptop.

Put another way, successful designs will need both keyboard and stylus interfaces. This way, users can try out and gradually accept the stylus, handwriting recognition and Digital Ink. They may even find these features to be productivity aids—particularly if there are applications that capitalize on them. There may be niche applications to seed the market, but mass-market applications will likely await signs of mass acceptance. And, again, this wont happen unless the Tablet PC is available as a reasonably priced, functionally richer laptop PC.

So the Tablet PC faces some challenging odds. But with its rollout a fait accompli this week, theres no more waiting until next year. The Tablet team of Microsoft and its OEMs must prove themselves now.