The Tablet Wars

A few years ago, my father – who runs a software company – took on a new client. They wanted something small and portable to use on the job, while still being able to connect to a central server. The answer was a tablet PC, and my father was so positive about the project that he bought a few so that he could design his software around the tablet concept. It was a pretty cool piece of software; I helped to design the UI and it was pretty neat.

Problem was, the tablet itself sucked. The touchscreen was wonky and unpredictable, it required a stylus for most reports – which could easily be lost – and it wasn’t cheap, either. My father ended up going another way with the project.

That was 10 years ago, and touchscreen technology has come a long way. Multi-touch operating systems and thinking outside of the box has created a group of users that aren’t afraid to touch the screen and manipulate things with their hands. The question is, do people really care?

The iPad will sell millions, there’s very little doubt about that. Right now, I expect that mostly the Apple fanboys and elitists are scooping them up like crazy, but I’m not as positive about the common man. The person who thinks that the iPad should do all the things their laptop does but with multi-touch, or the teenager who drops everything they touch. It is an inexpensive device by Apple standards, but it’s not cheap enough that it’s an impulse buy. I’m positive I’ll see lots of these in the hands of consumers over the next few months, but I’m not sure whether the product will become the next iPod or the next AppleTV.

Regardless, the imitators and wanna-bes are coming out of the woodwork, all with their own version of the same thing they put out 10 years ago. Admittedly, the Dell Mini 5 might grow some legs, as it’s a legitimately cool product, but HP’s tablet won’t succeed just because it has Flash and the iPad doesn’t. For any tablet to succeed, iPad included, consumers worldwide need to embrace the concept. Embrace it enough that it doesn’t become a fashion faux pas or tool for douchebags.

Prime example: Bluetooth headsets. Technically, the newer models tend to work fairly well. It’s a great way to communicate without using your hands, plus it’s light enough to wear at all times, just like a modern Lieutenant Uhura. But that’s where the problem lies. wearing a Bluetooth headset nowadays anywhere else but the driver’s seat of your car is considered a joke. Douchebags, suits and, well, geeks are the main users, and even then, mostly in private. It’s good technology, but it’s now “uncool” to wear them.

That’s what the iPad and every other tablet out there has to overcome. It has to be acceptable to pull out your tablet at a business meeting, over lunch, or even in the library, just like it is with a phone or a laptop. If it’s not, then eventually, the concept will die out again.

The iPad, and its upcoming competition, have a lot of hurdles to overcome. Next month we’ll see lots of hype over the big release day, but the big issue is going to be whether or not at this time next year we have another winner from Apple on our hands or another flop.

For the record, I’m betting on winner for iPad and Dell, not so much for HP and others.

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