I went whopping this week with a friend, intent on buying a convertible notebook for his college-bound daughter. My buddy is an occasional reader of FobesonTech and a friend of some 40 years. Having gone through the-buy-a -notebook-for-the college-bound-child experience twice myself, I thought the trip could turn out to be a great buddy bonding experience.
It was, right until our third stop of the day at a just-opened Best Buy store in Glendora, CA. My friend's kid told her dad she wanted to use the notebook to take hand written notes in class, as well as for entertainment purposes in her dorm room. Right off the top, I made sure my buddy happened to walk by a shiny new HP tx100 portable that was near an end cap.
The extremely polite salesman swooped right over. I asked him if the HP tx1000 "was a convertible tablet PC?"
He soon had the screen twisting, dipping, jinking and jiving, which apparently some people in the Eastern Los Angeles County town of Glendora think is the primary hallmark of a tablet PC.
My buddy knew what requirements were paramount for a notebook that would be used in college classrooms. "How long will the battery last and is this suitable for use in the uneven lighting of lecture halls."
I couldn't resist adding, "I see this uses an AMD processor."
The salesman told us that the battery was good for "several hours" adding that many "high performance desktops use AMD processors." It was very apparent that the salesman didn't know squat about tablet computing. Furthermore, his ignorance turned a potential customer into someone who will most likely never shop at Best Buy again.
I thought this might have been a "one of" experience so on Friday i went to a nearby Best Buy store in northern San Diego county and stopped to look at, heft and type on the HP tx1000 prominently displayed on a counter top. In the material the store was displaying adjacent to the unit, the words "tablet computer" jumped out. The salesman quickly explained to me how the screen could swivel and tilt so that I could use the machine comfortably in just about any circumstance. (which outside of it's use in tablet computing would be useful if my eyes were coaxially controlled like a chameleon or sitting on top of stalks like a snail)
I asked the question, "How do I write on the screen?"
The salesman told me that I had to "download something from HP for that feature."
"Really?" and "HP is going to send me a digitizer screen that will automatically eject from my the drive bay?," I wondered.
So I requested that the salesman find out how much the HP tx1000 equipped with a digitizer screen would cost. Off he went to a store system and 20 minutes later he was back with the correct model number and a price of about $1,400."
I continued walking around the portable computer dept, noticing how much Toshiba had dropped the prices on their Satellite line and thinking, "damn the Satellite is a sturdy looking portable, I should review one soon."
But at the end of my little shopping expedition, I walked out of Best Buy thinking it would be a cold day in hell when I ever bought there, or recommended the store to a friend.
But the real victims in the true life tale of tablet computing shopping gone wrong are:
1. HP, the salesman did such a bad job and was so uneducated about the product that he didn't even know the model number of the HP tx 1000 family that had the digitizer screen. Furthermore, they didn't even have that model in stock. For this category to take off, tablet computers makers need to develop and deploy in-service education programs.
2. The category of tablet computing; My friend came away from this experience somewhat confused.
3. Best Buy; I don't know that I can trust them to sell me the right computer for a specific task.
4. The salesmen; they hadn't been trained or seen the correct product appropriately demonstrated.
I feel sorriest for HP. Although it has the most active tablet computing evangelism staff in the industry, its efforts are aimed at adopters, not retailers. And HP's attempt to bifurcate the tablet computing segment into high and low ends is a sound strategy that could be replicated by other companies, including Lenovo, which has it's own house and ThinkPad brands.
My buddy and I had a blast shopping. We ended the day kicking tires at Toyota and Dodge dealerships, eating InNOut burgers outside under an awning and feeding plump sparrows pieces of french friend potatoes. Oh, and we wandered around Fry's Electronics for about 30 minutes and found a young sales associate* who not only what a tablet computer was, but also knew how to use and demonstrate the technology. My buddy walked out of the store with a lightweight, relatively inexpensive, Fujitsu convertible notebook that should serve his daughter well.
Although it may not have the entertainment bells and whistles of the HP tx family, my friend's daughter already has an iPod or two and huge library of movies and music. She's good to fly away to college. But I don't envy my friend's Ikea bill when she gets settled in her first apartment.
Been there done that, twice.
Hey, a little retail therapy never hurt anyone.Besides when its for a loved one, it can turn into a great mitzvah. Cast your bread upon the waters, throw your french fries in front of a legion of ravanous sparrows. It all comes back.
Or so it seems, writing from my outside office,next to my best-ever garden, under a thatched palm leaf roof, in rural northern San Diego County.--Jim Forbes on 06/30/2007. Only four more days till Kaboom time.
*ever the reporter, I found out that the sales associate at Fry's went to Foothill College, one of the schools that has benefited from HP's educational computing evangelism program. Like I said, cast your bread upon the waters and see what happens.
(mandatory disclosure: In the 1990's I served as an unpaid member of mobile and personal computing advisory panels for IBM, Toshiba, and Hewlett Packard)