It took a long time for smartphones and tablet computers to become marketable, and ironically Microsoft can make claims on how both forms of personal computers came to be. While Palm was riding the wave of Personal Digital Assistants, Microsoft introduced the Pocket PC Phone Edition and promoted the idea of integrating PDAs and mobile phones into one device. Bill Gates made the Tablet PC his personal mission for redefining how one used a personal computer.
In my opinion the problem at Microsoft through the years of the Handheld, Pocket, and Tablet PCs is that marketing had far too much influence over decision makers. Marketers convinced leadership within Microsoft that the Windows brand was the company’s most valuable asset and therefore every one of its products had to tie to Windows. Leadership at Microsoft was convinced that without Windows the company had no identity.
The problem, of course, is that Windows is a framework for desktop computing. Large monitors provide enough space to display documents and applications in separate windows, which make switching between apps and documents easier. No successful smartphone or tablet displays multiple windows on the screen at the same time, simply because neither device have enough display space to make windows useful.
Microsoft learned the hard way that users did not like the Windows look and navigation model on smartphones and tablets. The biggest irony of Windows Phone is that it looks nothing like Windows. If Microsoft was willing to free themselves of the Windows constraints ten years ago to develop something like Metro is today, it is possible that Apple would never have developed the iPhone or the iPad.
Today everyone has embraced the idea of a smartphone, although we may differ on which type of smartphone we prefer to use with most falling in the iPhone or Android camps. Tablet computers, however, are not so embraced. You might have to pry a smartphone from one’s hands while tablets are not nearly seen as a necessity.
For many, if you need a portable computer, use a smartphone, otherwise use a notebook computer. Tablets, to these people, are nothing more than a luxury filling a niche in the computing landscape, and are way too expensive for the value they provide.
Tablets are not a niche device, somewhere between smartphones and legacy personal computers, they are an alternative to legacy personal computers. If you look at tablets from the perspective of the mouse and keyboard driven, large display personal computing world that we have been living in, they could never be a replacement for the desktop and notebook computer. However, if you are willing to step out from the way we have always done computing to consider something different you might find another style of personal computing.
Personal computing tablet style emphasizes simplicity. What is simpler, sliding a mouse along a table top surface and clicking a button to select an object on a screen, or tapping the screen where the object is displayed?
Personal computing tablet style is mobile. Tablets are smaller, lighter and have longer battery life than notebook computers, and they are designed to be typed on via an on-screen keyboard from almost any position, while a notebook is designed to be typed on while placed on a flat surface.
Truth is, many people don’t truly benefit from nor need the high speed of data entry that full physical keyboards provide. Many don’t know how to touch type, or have poor typing skills so they enter data at a low rate of speed; these people might actually enter information faster with an auto correcting, predictive on-screen keyboard.
An equally large group of users display applications at full screen on their desktop and notebook computers, and rarely, if ever, display information in multiple, small windows on the screen. Some of these users might not even know that multiple apps can appear in small windows on the screen at the same time.
The group of users that I am describing above have been tolerating the legacy style of personal computing all these years because there has been no alternative. In fact, many found legacy personal computing so difficult that they choose to avoid it completely.
The people tolerating and avoiding legacy personal computing are the ones who are embracing the new forms of personal computing smartphone style, tablet style, or both. Legacy personal computing is not going to disappear, just as people continue to buy large trucks and SUVs, but it is no longer the only style of personal computing and soon it will no longer be the dominant style of personal computing.
More people are using personal computers today than ever before, thanks to the simplicity and mobility of tablet style personal computing. Legacy lovers have nothing to fear, Windows, and Linux, keyboards, mice, and large 32″ displays will remain, although they will be far from mainstream. Legacy lovers also ought not sneer at those who dare to use physical keyboards with their tablets to perform tasks they have been doing all these years. Tablet style computing doesn’t replace what is done with personal computers, it is an alternative to how it is done.