Sat, 30 Nov 2002 04:10:59 GMT
[Posted to Random Bytes on November 29, 2002 11:10 PM| Links to this post ]
I've been thinking about my tablet envy a little bit more. Two big takeaways: 1) the form of this current generation still isn't perfect which diminishes the potential value that a buyer can extract from the units which means that 2) these things are extremely overpriced.

The experiments over the last twenty-four hours have taught me a few lessons. First, carrying around an extra keyboard and mouse so that I can use my laptop on a ninety degree angle is a pain in the ass. I mean, taking everything to work this morning was okay because I had something to look forward to, but packing everything up and bringing it home and then reassembling my contraption on the coffee table was, well, annoying. Second, I realized that computers were much more useable in portrait mode. I've set up my desk at the office so that I can use both displays rotated 90 degrees (yup, I flipped the 21" just before I left tonight. Spending a few minutes googling whether or not I would wreck the monitor, I decided to give it a shot.)

What this noodling made clearest to me however was the value of input. As I said to Elliot on this point earlier, reading in portrait mode is excellent. But, when you are using a computer, reading usually leads to writing (c'mon, don't tell me that you *only* surf the web). Think about it for a second. You read an email, then you respond to it. You get a spreadsheet, then you annotate or edit it. You read a Word document and you just can't resist adding your own two cents. The problem that this creates for convertible tablet users is that in order to read a document in portrait mode, you render the keyboard inaccessible. In order to use the keyboard, you're forced to revert to stone-age widescreen mode.

The pure slates don't pose quite the same problem for users, but the fact that the keyboards are detached means that you need to cart around a keyboard, mouse and stand for the slate around with you just in case you want to write a real long email (like this blog post). I already carry around too many things, so this doesn't appeal to me. The fact that this has already started to annoy me during my experiments doesn't mean I'll be jumping on a pure slate any time soon.

So what does that mean for the Tablet PC? I think that they'll be expensive toys that appeal to people that don't want to use their computing technology to the full extent that it was (or in the case of the convertible Tablet, should have been) designed for. That is unless the manufacturers want to pay me to fix this small design problem. The solution is quite simple actually and wouldn't require a significant overhaul of the units. Now given that we're all friends here, I'll tell you what my plan to save these manufacturers from Microsoft's short thinking is. Just do me a favor and keep it between you and me - I would love to start getting royalty checks from Toshiba and Acer.

The deal is this - simply put the brains of the unit behind the screen like they do with the pure slates. Now, the magic comes into play by realizing that Acer et al actually got it 90% right with their current design. What they didn't do was give users the capability to -detach- the monitor from the keyboard. Put infrared in the keyboard and both the portrait-top and portait-bottom of the slate/Tablet/LCD (everything thats left net of the keyboard). All that Acer and Toshiba are left to add to the design is a simple, yet stable way to prop the portrait slate up on the desk or table when you are using the keyboard in its detached infrared mode.

Gotcha thinking now I'll bet.

The rest of the solution is almost child's play. Picture frame manufacturers solved the problem ages ago. Pocketop has applied this in miniature with a design that they use for supporting PDA's in an inclined mode on the desktop. Here's the neat thing. Pocketop only builds these stands so that people can use the Pocketop's nifty folding infrared keyboard in conjuntion with the average PDA.

Like I said, 90% of the work is done - I can't wait to see which one rips me off first. Everyone else is intellectually (and likely economically) overinvested in the current designs and Dell, well they like to manufacture proven ideas cheaper, faster and better than everyone else.My bets are on HP. They (okay, the Compaq portion of HP) gets portable computing in a big way and I'm betting that their itching to get back at Toshiba for the e740 stealing the limelight from the iPAQ. Or not.

Regardless, I'm still left wondering if I should wait to get the form that I want, wait for the prices to drop to a point where the price/value curve is a little more rational or whether the sex appeal and novelty of these units will force me to beg my wife to let me get yet another toy.

Then again, Christmas is coming.

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