My child-like sense ofwonder hasn’t been fueled by Apple’s new iPad or any of the other new slate computers introduced or unveiled recently
But that’s not to say I’ve changed my mind about slate computers.
Slate (aka tablet) computers are one of personal computing’s oldest promises. At its heart this concept couples persistent computing and access to rich data (or less complex data types). And, by definition, such machines need to be as portable as they are technically versatile.
I very much believe tablet computers can and will subsume dedicated devices such as e-books. Although I’m personally still bound to conventional books, I can easily understand how the widespread availability of electronic text books could drive me into buying a slate computer, were I still a student. But e-book readers are not full-fledged computers and the student side of the academic computing market is notoriously price sensitive. Does anyone really think students have $500 or more to buy a portable with limited functionality?
Apple has taken its share of grief over the iPad. Much of the criticism is warranted; because IPad—like all slate computers-- is neither fish nor fowl nor good red meat. I suspect preconceived notions such as an inability to visualize a portable computer without a conventional keyboard are responsible for some of the friction iPad and other slate computers face.
The form factor of slate computers also challenges existing conventions. Their shape doesn’t fit in any pocket, except those on the legs of military-style cargo jeans. This means it needs to be toted from one location to another as if it were a book.
What’s most interesting is that slate computers such as Apple’s iPad seem to be invariably demonstrated or described as being used in a casual setting as a means of keeping up with email, reading online periodicals or even text books or enjoying streamed entertainment files.
But I suspect anyone who buys a slate computer will want to do more, much more, with their machines and therein lies the rub. No matter if it’s a conventional portable, a convertible sub compact with a touch screen or a slate computer, keyboards will be key elements of the user experience and determine how satisfied the user is with their device.
Initially, most of the slate computers that have been demonstrated, described or shown as concept drawings have all used virtual keyboards on the device’s LCD screen. And, based on several years’ experience using touch screen computers equipped with virtual keyboards, I’ve learned that latency increases dramatically as the number of processes running on the computer increases. And, there may be no faster way to alienate a user than having a machine slow down and appear to be mired because it simply lacks the horsepower to provide a user experience that’s on a par with user expectations.
I give points to Apple and others –Lenovo and HP to name a couple—for touting long battery life in their slate computers. If this form factor is to succeed transcontinental ( 8 hours or more) battery life is required. This is as important for the electronic book segment of the slate market as it is any other potential market.
What Apple didn’t really address with iPad was persistent 3G (or faster) connectivity. Of course this adds to the total cost of ownership of a slate device, but WAN connectivity is fast becoming a mandatory capability in the compact portable market.
I’ve always enjoyed watching and covering Apple’s new technology but I’ve been around long enough to remember that while Apple always brings great new industrial designs and often revolutionary concepts to market, it’s not necessarily always been the first to do so. I remember Digital Research’s GEM graphical environment and early versions of Windows—all of which preceded the Mac. But what has propelled Apple’s success isn’t necessarily the brilliance of Steve Jobs, but rather an institutional ethos that compels the company to stay in the game and consistently improve its products.
If had been working as a reporter when Apple launched the iPad the place I would have wanted to be wasn’t at Apple’s launch, but rather sitting in a room with Palm’s CEO, Jon Rubenstein, and its founder, Jeff Hawkins. Was it only two years ago that Hawkins proposed and championed a n iPad like slate computer at Palm? I wish I could have seen their reactions to Apple’s iPad launch.
But Apple has opened a flood gate and I suspect we’re about to be deluged with slate computers. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.-Jim Forbes 02/03/2010.