If a notebook maker is going to popularize computing paradigms, they have to be willing to ad more than two cents worth of work into making the new model work.
(OK, go ahead and temporarily suspend my literary license for a stretched metaphor in my lead!--JMF)
And perhaps no where is that more important than in tablet computing. (or to some of us old timers from the time of Jurassic carnivore computing, Pen Computing). To be completely honest, my view of tablet computing was horribly colored by my first real experience with a tablet computer- a relic that ended its life as a door stop that was finally thrown away after a friend's puppy repeatedly baptized it before the dog was truly house trained.
That computer was a Momenta M240 and the company that made it, Momenta Inc., earned a first place spot on my list of "silly Silicon Valley startups that knew how to spend money by over promising an uder-delivering." Momenta set such a stratospheric standard for screwing up that few eager beaver MBAs at dot bomb start ups ever surpassed it. It also made it very hard for me to accept that tablet/pen computing could ever take off.
In the 16 years since Momenta imploded http://www.webpronews.com/expertarticles/expertarticles/wpn-62-20051220ABriefHistoryofTabletPCs.html a lot has changed, including most of all the introduction of processor,display screens and battery technologies that are powerful enough to make the tablet computing paradigm really shine. But most of all what's happened is that companies no longer are besotted by the fatal "If We Build It, They Will Come" marketing mind set. As a result of this, companies like Lenovo and HP are putting a lot of effort into helping users make the leap from conventional keyboard to pen-based data entry.
That effort has moved me back into the tablet computing fan camp, despite the fact that I'm handicapped now and have only intermittent use of my writing hand (I was left-handed until I had a rather unfortunate brain accident on the right hand side of my brain five years ago). i wanted to focus this entry on one area-- what I think PC makers need to do to sell tablet computing into the mainstream portable market.
+First, take what for-hire-analysts say with eithera grain of salt or a healthy dose of laxatives. When an analyst tells a tablet notebook marketing director "this will be great for vertical applications like hospital bedside patient record keeping, record keeping for municipal law enforcement or utilities," and insurance adjusters" what they're really saying is that they can't think out of the box or that you're talking to the wrong consultant.
+Look around, if the person you're talking to about a tablet PC isn't using one, you're wasting your time and most likely hearing only time worn platitudes in response to your questions.
+Make sure you're asking the right questions. Tablet computing isn't about super computing in your off hand, IMax-comparable displays, Theater quality sound, or trying to look cool. It can be defined in one word "convenience." if you don't believe that look at what I think is the ideological leader in this category, Palm Inc. (Hold your screams for later). What Palm has done that deserves to be held up for inspection is make personal information one-tap away from the user, and give users an easy method of entering data on the fly. In the full measure of time Palm has kept up with user demands, by adopting more powerful processors and a keyboard for data entry. It's also embraced wireless connectivity and concepts like data sharing.
+One of the best investments a tablet PC maker that wants to build a community can make may be to send appropriate evangelists, marketeers and even ranking executives to Palm's yearly Developers' Conference. Palm Developers rock. While their world may be only fractionally as big as that of the traditional PC, they fundamentally understand the concepts behind tablet computing. Providing seed machines for this community could be a great way to kick tablet computing innovation into overdrive.
+Tablet PC makers need to keep the pressure on Microsoft to make sure that new features of forthcoming versions of Office and Windows increase the versatility of their platforms.
+Work very hard to provide tips on using a tablet computer that can be accessed easily within hours of a user first turning on and registering their machines. Many users of tablet PCs may be new to the concept so short tutorials that pop up after 15 or 30 days of use could help make users more productive and more knowledgeable about tablet computing. Lenovo's implementation of this concept, which I've experienced using my X41 evaluation unit is above average and is what I expect from a company that has the advantage of IBM/ThinkPad research and DNA. Access ThinkPad could be enhanced by the addition of more comprehensive tutorials on using a tablet PC.
Tablet PC makers should not allow themselves to get boxed into vertical thinking. I use the X41 as much as a compact notebook as I do as a tablet computer. I'm not alone, when I see other X41 users they are most often using its integrated keyboard or taking notes on its digitizer screen. In fact what I like most about the Lenovo X41, HP 1100TC, and Toshiba Satellite tablet are their versatility and durability. Manufacturers need to emphasize the versatility of current tablet PCs over features that let users enter data with a stylus. Marketing a tablet computer as a versatile platform is a much easier strategy for selling tablet notebooks to corporations than is the concept of selling pen/stylus-based computing platforms.
In the spirit of full disclosure: I served on IBM's US Mobile Advisory Council for about 10 years, beginning in the early 1990's. I also served oPalm, Handspring, HP and Toshiba advisory councils. Furthermore, while working as a producer of Demo shows I came into contact with numerous technology executives and start-ups. The Lenovo Thinkpad X41 I'm writing on is a review unit that will be returned to the manufacturer early this summer. I write about portable computing,wireless and other technologies and gardening for fun. I am not a paid blogger. So there, I guess I can doff my hair shirt now. --Jim Forbes, from my little mountain top in the slow wireless lane of rural Northern San Diego County.