Requiem for the Tablet PC?

tabletfuneral GottaBeMobile has posted several thought-provoking articles recently on the future or lack there of the Tablet PC: Long Live the Tablet PC!, Tablet Isn’t Dead – We Just Need a Leader, and The Tablet PC Has Not Failed – Developers Have. There seems consensus that Microsoft (perhaps among others) has fallen down on the job in marketing the Tablet PC and making it more user-friendly, but a divergence of opinion on this platform’s future.

Rob Bushway and his writers on GottaBeMobile have far more expertise than I on the Tablet PC platform. However, because of my several career hats, I may have a different vantage point. I’ll share my experiences and opinions with you in the context of several scenarios which actually happened within a couple of weeks of each other.

Scenario 1

As an attorney, I’m in a conference room for a court hearing before a private (retired) judge with a gaggle of high-priced attorneys in a complex construction dispute. Some of the attorneys have laptops in front of them. However, I don’t see any of the attorneys using their laptops during the hearing, except to monitor their email on breaks. By contrast, I’m busily writing notes in OneNote on my Fujitsu P1620. When I’m asked for my comments on a proposed order. I have a PDF of the order which I have highlighted and annotated using PDF Annotator, with each issue bookmarked. So rather than fumble through papers, I simply use my finger or stylus to navigate from one bookmark to another, with the highlighted passages and my notes right in front of me. After the hearing, several attorneys, and the judge, come over and ask questions, and a couple walk away saying they’re going to buy a tablet.

My take: Professionals are a natural target market for tablets. And they already are used to purchasing relatively expensive laptops. Yet the attorneys’ relative non-use of their laptops is troubling. See more on this in Scenario 7 below.

Scenario 2

Same case, but now I’m in another conference room, meeting with my client’s project manager. He too is interested by the ability to take notes and store annotated electronic files. I also use a case analysis program, CaseMap, to quickly identify documents pertinent to the issue we’re discussing. I then highlight and annotate the document we’re discussing. When we’re done, I mention how he also could use a tablet on the job, managing a construction project. I think he will buy a tablet even before the attorneys and judge will.

My take: The project manager already is part of Motion Computing’s target market, people who use their computers while standing or walking.

Scenario 3

I’m back in the office. I go into an attorney’s office. I assign her tasks from my notes, using the search feature in OneNote to find tagged notes from the two meetings. Using the office’s WiFi connection, I then create Outlook task items directly from OneNote.

My take: Seize the Work Day: Using the Tablet PC to Take Total Control of Your Work and Meeting Day is chock full of such techniques, that apply not just to lawyers, but managers, consultants, etc.

Scenario 4

As an Associate Professor of Computer Science at a community college, I’m teaching one of my computer programming classes. I use my tablet (hooked up to a projector) as a virtual whiteboard, drawing lines from function calls to function headers to show my students how an argument in a function call is passed to a parameter in the called function. Several students express how the accompanying visual is more helpful than a verbal explanation alone. (A picture indeed is worth a 100 words). I then ask my students if it would be easier for them if they could take notes directly next to the applicable portion of the book. They’re understandably hesitant to mark up their book. I show them how they can use a tool like PDF Annotator or Bluebeam PDF (which faculty and students can buy at an educational discount) to mark up an electronic copy of their book. Several ask me after class which tablet is the best for them to buy. (There is no “best” of course but that’s another story).

My take: Education is another natural market, students even more so than teachers. And the students are mostly from a generation that is far more comfortable with computers than mine.

Scenario 5

Still at the college, but this time chairing the college’s Technology Committee (no one else wants the job). I take notes directly on the agenda using the inking tools of Microsoft Word, and then convert the notes into text and paste them into emailed minutes available only hours after the meeting ends. Several administrators and faculty ask me detailed questions about the tablet after the meeting. (One technology-oriented administrator bought my Sony UX).

My take: Both the administrators and faculty, as educators and professionals, are a natural market as explained in the preceding scenarios.

Scenario 6

I’m at my brother’s home. He’s a plastic surgeon so obviously he’s a bright guy with a scientific mind. But like many, he’s a bit overwhelmed by the complexity of computers generally. So when I mention a Tablet PC, he listens politely but inwardly probably rolls his eyes. However, when I explain how the Tablet PC can be used by health care professionals, being a bright and perceptive guy, his ears perk up at the possibilities.

My take: Health care also is part of Motion Computing’s target market. But the fact that my brother is somewhat computer-phobic is reflective that the average computer user often is overwhelmed, and understandably so, by the complexity of computers.

Scenario 7

Back at the law firm, as the ENA (Evil Network Administrator). I am extolling the usefulness of the Tablet PC in the practice of law to the managing partner, who I’ll call Jim, mostly because his first name is Jim. Jim is a highly intelligent guy, but skeptical about whether the benefits of technology justify its often considerable cost. ,Jim patiently listens to my sermon and then responds: “Jeff, I’m sure you use the Tablet PC very effectively. But most of the firm’s attorneys aren’t into technology like you. I’m not sure they would get that much use out of a laptop, much less a Tablet PC.”

My take: Unfortunately, Jim has a point. Many of the attorneys use a laptop at best for email and light word processing when out of the office. I also often hear an attorney say they don’t have the time for the training required to do more with the laptop. Yet, as Scenario 1 reflects, I suspect if they really understood the benefits, they might be willing to invest the time.

Summing Up

I’m not sure Tablet PCs will be successful in the general consumer market, at least so long as  Tablet PCs command a price premium. But there are enough potential customers. Professionals, office workers, field workers, and students are natural markets for the Tablet PC. With the exception of students, these market categories often involve purchasers (professionals or corporate employers) who are willing and able to pay a premium if it is justified. Marketing needs to provide that justification. As several of the above scenarios reflect, the justification is quite real. But who’s going to effectively get out the word?

But marketing is not enough. The success of the Tablet PC may depend on the experience of the first adopters in a company or school If they use the Tablet PC only as a laptop, then their company or school’s adoption of the Tablet PC may stop with them. Unfortunately, using a Tablet PC as a Tablet PC is not always intuitive. The same may be said for Tablet PC software. Self-training (e.g. reading a manual) can be time-consuming and frustrating. Professional trainers cost money, and the benefit to a company of training is less tangible than, say, equipment they can purchase for the same cost.

Your thoughts?

5 Responses to “Requiem for the Tablet PC?”

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  • Great scenarios.
    I love to use PDF Annotator to mark up screen shots of website designs, and by using web conferencing or a shared desktop, I can make those annotations while my client looks on and they can even use their mouse to point at things, etc. So, I think that as *virtual* work arrangements continue to increase, even independent professionals will find a use for Tablets. However, I specifically bought a convertible, so I can use a standard laptop/keyboard arrangement most of the time. I sure hope the Tablet isn’t dead. 🙂

  • Hi Heather. Very interesting virtual whiteboard idea!

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