Back in February I posted about the Apple iPad and I concluded that iPad perhaps may replace not only netbook, but also laptop and main machine for many people.
Now, 2 million of iPads have been sold in less than 60 days and I think I may have been close to the mark with observations. Here is what Steve Jobs on The D Conference had to say about tablets and PC’s:
When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks. But as people moved more towards urban centers, people started to get into cars. I think PCs are going to be like trucks. Less people will need them. And this is going to make some people uneasy.
iPad is getting lot of mind-share and there is excitement around it that is much larger than it ever was with Windows based tablet PC’s. Why is that?
I had Tablet PC since 2002 when we added Tablet PC support to DotNetBar and I just have not been impressed. Not back then and not today. The tablet features are bolted on top of mouse/keyboard based operating system and are not forefront of the UI experience. They actually get in your way while you are trying to do something. Who wants to write with pen on screen when typing is faster? Who wants to poke into the small areas of screens with pen when using mouse is easier? It is much easier to not use the pen and use mouse and keyboard instead because UI does not fit the tablet device. That’s why I think the latest crop of Windows 7 based tablets don’t stand a chance. Not much has really changed, it is same old, same old.
As consumer, on one side you have iPad tablet with Operating System that is specifically designed for touch input, which works great and is super responsive. It has such strong focus on touch input that using real keyboard with it, is not such great experience. And you can forget about connecting mouse to it, you simply don’t have a need to do it. I am not saying that as anything bad, but to highlight purpose driven touch design. iPad OS* is also designed to work on low powered processors which are both cheaper and use less energy. iPad costs $499, it is fast and battery lasts 10 hours.
On the other side you have Windows 7 based tablets with Operating System that is not designed for touch input. Arguably, Windows 7 tablet functionality is not that much different from first Windows XP Tablet PC extensions from 2002 and in my opinion it stinks. The Windows Tablets are also at least $200 more expensive than iPad, touch input is awkward and unresponsive, they are not really that fast and battery last only 2-3 hours.
I do not think Windows 7 tablets have appeal. They have not sold well back in 2002 they will not sell well today either.
Bright light on horizon is Windows Phone 7 (almost carbon copy of iPhone OS) which is Silverlight powered OS but I have two concerns with it.
It seems that operating system and core apps are not written in Silverlight, which means that Silverlight is second rate citizen on the platform. That may be big downside. If all system applications are not written in Silverlight it is very significant. Significant in sense that API that system apps are using is not directly what Silverlight apps are using and Silverlight based apps will be slower than native phone apps and that will provide worse user experience. That can easily sink the whole platform since these are not devices with plenty of processing power. There is nothing worse on touch platform when you touch the screen and it does not register. It is frustrating. On iPhone system apps and third-party apps are all written with Objective-C and use same API’s.
My second concern is that for some reason Microsoft says that WP7 is designed for devices with screen size of 3 inches or less and that there are no plans to put in the tablet. But, that does not make sense to me since whole WP7 user experience is panoramic based i.e. it is displaying part of the bigger canvas, something like looking through the window.
So you swipe and zoom to move around… Why would that not translate to bigger screen is puzzling to me. Just look at image above and it is obvious. I think this might be classic case of misdirection to disguise true intent. I think tablets running Windows 7 Phone OS will happen probably next year. Unless Microsoft wants to protect its cash cow (Windows 7 platform), in which case it will lose again on tablet and phone market.
So in opening round I think it is safe to say that tablet (iPad) that was designed from ground up for touch input won. Apple took risk to start from scratch. They abandoned all existing Mac OS X apps, created something new and it paid off. Windows was trying to have it all. Backwards compatibility to keep all existing apps and OS investment, and have just bolted on some tablet features that were poor fit for the device. Purpose won over a bolt-on.
* There is no separate OS for iPad, rather it is all one iPhone operating system with iPad specific user interface features