September 27, 2004

Why Tablet PCs Aren't Catching On

Here's an interesting post over at Engadget, courtesy of Jupiter Research. According to the Jupiter factoid, from an online survey, the most popular interest in using a Tablet PC is to use it as a regular notebook (61%). Handwriting recognition to convert handwriting to text is second at 51%. Taking notes, a feature most would think would be right at the top, especially using Microsoft's OneNote application, is rated 4th at 38%. Using digital ink (not convertible to text) was ranked much lower at 24% (7th place and last on the chart).

Personally, I like the Tablet concept -- merging the best features of both PDA's and laptops. I take a lot of notes at meetings, and OneNote looks quite intriguing, which I've mentioned here previously. Because of the price premium and the preference to carry only one large device, I'd opt for a convertible to get the best of both worlds and the most flexibility (i.e., bang for the buck). Interestingly enough, per Jupiter, the survey showed that 32 percent of online consumers planning to purchase a laptop are not willing to pay anything for Tablet PC functionality. So is it that Tablet features aren't compelling, or do consumers just not get it?

I think part of the problem was the all the hype surrounding Tablets -- very reminiscent of that accompanying voice recognition over the past 5-10 years. Some have aptly described voice rec as a solution in search of a problem, and on more than one occasion, I've wondered the same about Tablet PCs. We rarely, if ever, see practical examples and applications for Tablet PCs to make us more productive, or to make our lives easier. Bottom line, that's what we look to technology to provide. Another part of the problem could be a perception thing, and manufacturers shouldn't underestimate consumers' intelligence, especially in the tech market. Miss the mark, and it ends up being yet another flash in the pan. I'm not saying Tablets are going away just yet, but if they haven't caught on by now, when will they?

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
Posted by Jeff Beard
Comments

As a Tablet convertible user for almost a year, I'd say that the benefits are well worth the extra few dollars--especially for a professional or anyone who takes notes a great deal. It's not just the ability to search and organize notes that OneNote provides, it's the increased scenarios that one can use it. To be able to work with a client and have all your notes entered (and not have to retype them) is reason alone to spend at most a few hundred more dollars.

I follow this blog because most of my clients are attorneys, and many of them have found the professionalism combined with convenience of the Tablets to be an incredible win-win. To know that you can meet a client and already have their entire notes file with you saves an incredible of time and makes life much easier when you're mobile and have a surprise appointment come up.

If I had to venture a guess to why they haven't caught on--it's because there is a learning curve to make a Tablet work to its fullest. We live in a world where technology keeps coming down to the level of the way people use them, and seemingly Tablets seem to fit within that paradigm. Not so. And that's a good thing--because sometimes the natural way of doing something is not the best way.

Windows Journal was more natural to use--but it sacrificed so many features at the cost of convenience. OneNote, on the other hand, does provide additional features, but at the cost of some frustration when people don't invest in the training to understand it. I've seen many clients in this latter scenario. Once someone becomes familiar with the note flags features it's hard to step away. Of course, it's the same thing with voice recognition--the user is the one that needs to be trained. Fortunately or not, many of us have become more proficient/articulate typers than speakers...

However, given that Tablets allow us to function as before, but with many additional features and conveniences, I hope that Tablets will catch on more within the professional service arena, as the productivity benefits can be immense.

My $.02...

Posted by: Jared Goralnick at October 11, 2004 02:44 PM

I have a convertible Tablet PC and when it comes time to replace it will definitely replace it with another convertible Tablet. But even though I'm a big fan of the Tablet, (a) I spend the vast majority of my time using it in laptop mode, and (b) I'm not surprised in the least that the Tablet PC has not caught on with the average consumer.

To me the most important reason to own a Tablet is for taking handwritten notes, primarily in OneNote, which are automatically searchable. Guess what? The "average consumer" (which in my opinion excludes college students, bloggers, corporate types and definitely lawyers) doesn't spend a significant amount of his or her time taking notes. Their computers are for web browsing, e-mail, chatting and IMing, playing solitaire. Is there anything compelling about a Tablet PC for them? No.

Posted by: Jack Moore at October 2, 2004 09:35 AM

I think the problem is that the technology just isn't quite there yet. I had the chance to evaluate a tablet PC a while back (http://www.gulbransen.net/preaching/archives/2004/08/windows_tabula.html) and while I did find the idea of it compelling, the text recognition was slow, the seamlessness of switching from tablet mode to laptop mode felt clunky, and overall, it just didn't offer enough of an advantage to pay any more for the "feature".

I think the idea of tablet computing is great, but if the handwriting recognition isn't as accurate and fast as I can type, why bother? And I can use OneNote on my traditional laptop. Yes, the ability to write on it like a legal pad in meetings is nice, but is it really worth a premium in price? What is the compelling, must have feature of a tablet that would justify spending more for one? Right now, the technology just isn't good enough. When they get faster and more accurate, and I can buy one without a premium, then we'll be talking!

Posted by: -Dave! at September 27, 2004 09:15 AM