CES and Tablets

14 January 2010

Last week was the annual trek to Las Vegas where everyone is vying for the spotlight with their latest gadgets and technologies.  As I reflect on what I’ve seen at the show, it was clear that on the show floor, there really weren’t any break out products or new technology that was dramatically different.  It’s true that Intel and LG did have a tiny PC-phone running a Moorestown processor, but honestly that’s something that isn’t ready for primetime nor is it really all that interesting, yet.

Plastic Logic did have their e-reader QUE on display and while the technology behind the display and physical device is impressive, the end application wasn’t all that impressive.  The basic concept has been around for at least 10 years — A Xerox company, Uppercase, created a very similar device “eCase”.  All of a user’s documents were printed to this portable device where they could be marked up with a pen and synched back to the PC.  For eCase, the target market was executives who were not big on email and thus would have all of their email and other documents printed to this portable device where they could ink their reply and their secretaries would then respond appropriately.  This was primarily born out of the costs of such a device at the time (> $1500) and from an understanding of Xerox’s executive culture.  So what has changed since then?  The overall weight of the device is significantly less, greater connectivity options (3G), longer battery life, new screen technologies, a bunch of 3rd party content providers and a wider breadth of marketing for the device (e.g. business users rather than executives).  The device is still going to be rather pricey and black & white only.  All of that said, I think that there is a huge potential upside for devices like the QUE, but the value proposition to the user still requires a lot of work.  Other than a bunch of early adopters, I don’t know too many people who are going to pay $649 and up for this particular device.

The buzz about the show, more from the online community and private showings was about Tablets or Slates as they now seem to be called.  Slate and JK on the Run had great articles about the overall situation.  Many of them appeared to be rushed for CES as a hedge against whatever Apple might be cooking up, from the $117, 5” tablets from Chinese companies that few have ever heard of before to the behind the doors presentations from Dell, none of the devices were all that compelling.  That is to say, from my perspective as a founder of the Tablet PC at Microsoft, what I saw was stock solutions with narrowly focused UIs that don’t take into account the purpose, functionality or potentially unique aspects of what a Slate can become.  What manufacturers and OEMs are missing is a rich targeted experience.  If you want to make a great slate, customize it around a particular set of content and functionality!  And then do your homework and make sure that the solution you’re providing really is something that is needed, useful and usable.

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