The iPad is Not a PC–Take 2

Over a year ago, I blogged about Peter Bright’s article in Ars Technica on why Steve Ballmer and Microsoft didn’t understand how Apple’s iPad has been so successful.

I wrote at the time that:

It’s odd that Ballmer appears to be insisting that Tablet and Slates are just another PC form factor – they are not, and they need something other than simply loading them up with bog-standard Windows 7. A way forward may be to adopt the approach of the forthcoming Windows Phone user interface, which is designed from the ground up to be driven by the human finger. After all, the iPad owes more to its roots in the iPhone than it does to the traditional Mac. If Ballmer can’t see that as an analogy for the next generation of Tablets and Slates, then it seems likely that sales will continue to languish.

Well, fast forward a year, and we have the Developer’s Preview of Windows 8, and we are beginning to see that Microsoft are indeed adopting the tenets of Metro – the interface used in Windows Phone.

I had intended to download and install the Developer’s Preview of Windows 8 onto my HP TX2000 Tablet PC, but unfortunately it chose this moment to die. However, I went ahead and installed it on my main PC, as the secondary operating system that can be chosen at boot-up.

I can see that Windows 8 is a gamble for Microsoft, and it’s one that I think that they might very well pull off. I think it’s because that they can have the same operating system running on a much broader range of devices (at different price points) than is possible currently, and all of these devices can be supported within the same ecosystem of backend (read: Cloud) services and applications.

By way of illustration: a couple of friends visited us this last weekend. One of them works in a Dutch government Ministry, so she was fully equipped with a Smartphone and an iPad. This was my first chance to get my hands on an iPad and try it out. And, while I marvelled at the form factor, I soon found that it seemed to be very good at consuming content, but not particularly good at creating content – an impression that my friend concurred with.

My old HP TX2000 – while it was larger and heavier than her iPad – ran a fully-fledged operating system (Windows 7) and was equipped with both a Touchscreen and pen interface, as well as a keyboard, so I could use it in ways that I simply could not accomplish with an iPad. Taking notes with my pen (using OneNote) or using the built-in handwriting recognition of Windows 7 (with its scary accuracy) is a task that is completely alien to the much more limited iPad. Then again, the iPad is designed from the bottom-up for fingers; Windows 7 needs a mouse or a pen. While it is possible to adjust Windows 7 to be more finger-friendly, this has its limits.

This is where it starts to get interesting with Windows 8.

Devices, with their operating systems and user interfaces are all about horses for courses. The iPad is a device designed for a much more limited purpose than a high-end notebook. And the newly-announced Kindle Fire is a device that aims at a purpose lower than both of them, but one which may well satisfy millions of people who simply want to read books or play games. The price points of the devices reflect their capabilities.

I think that we about to see an opportunity for devices that can span a wider range, yet even though they have a higher price point, will be attractive to people.

Samsung will introduce their Series 7 Slate PC (the XE700T1A) this month – well, hopefully this month, although I’m beginning to think that November might be nearer the mark.

It has the specs – and the price – of a high-end notebook, yet can be used as a finger-driven Slate PC. In price, it’s comparable with the Apple MacBook Air models, yet the Series 7 Slate comes with a built-in Wacom digitiser in the display and a pen. I’ve long been a fan of Wacom digitisers – I had one back in the days of Windows XP; so did the HP TX2000 – the pressure sensitive pens combined with accurate sensing are a joy. If I were an artist, then the Series 7 Slate would replace my sketchpad. The Series 7 Slate also comes with the accelerometer, compass, and GPS (see Update below) sensors that are expected these days in tablets. As someone comments on this review here:

The 11″ Air costs $999 for the base model, $1199 for the second tier model. This tablet costs $1099 for the base model, $1349 for the second tier model. That’s an extra 10-12%.

Unlike an iPad, Android tablet, etc., this tablet can perform as a laptop in most scenarios — if you give it a keyboard, you can use it to run the full Excel, Photoshop, a full desktop browser, development tools, and anything else a laptop can do.

If you want to be able to do some light reading and watch some video on your tablet sometimes, and you need to be able to run Photoshop sometimes, you have to buy a MacBook of some kind *and* an iPad. Buy one of these Samsungs, and you don’t have to choose. As an extra added bonus, you don’t have to sync anything between the two devices either. If that works for your, it’s a screaming deal.

But again, for me, this just isn’t a good enough tablet without real tablet software. So hurry up, Win 8.

Samsung have already said that the Series 7 Slate can be upgraded to Windows 8. 

It’s possible that this is the first product that heralds the rebirth of Tablet PCs, and one that will be joined by lower-cost models running Windows 8. I’m sorely tempted.

Update 3 November 2011: It appears as though the first units that are being delivered to the market are not equipped with a compass and GPS sensors. These were available on the units that were given to developers at the Microsoft Build conference in September, so these sensors must be part of the optional 3G mobile telecommunications capability. However, since the 3G card is apparently fitted inside the sealed case, it is not going to be something that an end-user can fit after purchase.

There are also some concerns being raised about the build quality of these units. Some people are reporting the the screen glass is lifting away from the bezel along the bottom edge of the screen. Sounds as though Samsung’s glue is not good enough.

All this is probably helpful in tempering my enthusiasm. It wouldn’t do any harm to wait a while…

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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