Can Microsoft make a must-have tablet?

Microsoft is “hardcore” about Windows Slates, consumer-focused tablet computers. Me:

The danger here is that Microsoft approaches Windows slate devices from the wrong direction. If Microsoft asks “how can we stuff Windows into an iPad-style device?” rather than “how can we make the most awesome tablet computer ever made, a machine so mind-meltingly incredible that Steve Jobs fills his pants when he sees it?” then all we’ll end up with is a bunch of slightly smaller tablet PCs.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Windows 7, and I quite like tablet PCs. But I like the iPad much, much more. It’s an amazing device, and that’s largely because Apple hasn’t just sawed the keyboard off a MacBook Pro and jumped around the place shouting “and that’s magic!” like a demented Paul Daniels.

17 thoughts on “Can Microsoft make a must-have tablet?

  1. Squander Two says:

    I know this marks me out as some sort of weirdo, but I really like using styluses. I use a Wacom pen and tablet instead of a mouse, and loved using the stylus on the N810. I’ve been using pens since I was a toddler, so it comes pretty naturally, plus I detest finger-smears on screens. I like Nokia’s approach with the N900 here: work to make the interface finger-friendly, but provide a stylus anyway, so users have the choice. It’s a tiny thin piece of plastic that slides snugly into the machine’s case, so it’s not exactly in the way of people who prefer not to use it.

    I might add that artists and designers and draftsmen and architects and calligraphers don’t generally complain about having to draw with pens and pencils and very rarely decide to switch to finger-painting because it’s more intuitive or easier or something. It isn’t; it’s much harder. The Ipad would be an absolutely superb device for drawing and painting if it allowed the use of a stylus. With fingers, any such app is never going to be anything more than a toy. Which is why I’m sure someone will invent a decent stylus for it at some point.

  2. Gary says:

    I don’t think you’re weird, and there are already a whole bunch of stylii for the iPad. I’m sure I saw some touch sensitive ones the other day, although I don’t know how effective they are.

    Personally I can’t get on with a tablet at all – it doesn’t work on a twin-screen setup IMO – and while I’ve had my share of stylus-based PDAs, I don’t miss them.

    I think many supposedly touch-based UIs are unusable without a stylus. Fingerpainting might not produce as good results as using a brush, the odd Brushes-made New Yorker cover aside, but hitting a tiny box with the point of an easily lost plastic pen *is* harder than prodding it with a fingertip. Sophie can use an iPad without any problems whatsoever. If it had a stylus, she’d have eaten it by now :) It’s an extra layer of complexity that IMO isn’t necessary for a web browsing, book reading, TV watching, content consuming, dicking around with Korg iElectribe and making bad techno device.

    iElectribe’s a good example of that actually. You don’t use a stylus with drum machines and sequencers in real life. Putting an emulator on a pen-driven platform takes something easy and makes it more complicated.

    (it’s a superb app btw. Top fun)

    I’m fully aware that I’m taking an extreme point of view here, but that’s my job, heh. I do think Ballmer’s stuck in the wrong mindset, though: he’s convinced that tablets need to be entire PCs in a mobile device. I think he’s wrong on that. A smartphone OS plus apps, whether it’s iOS or Android or Windows Phone or anything else, is a better fit IMO.

    Apple may have simplified things too much – we’ve spoken about user accounts, you’re saying it ain’t much cop for art – but I think it’s better to be too simple and let people add complexity themselves than try to put every possible feature into your program or hardware on the off-chance someone, somewhere will use it. That’s why Microsoft ended up redesigning the Office toolbars – it had become so complicated the average user didn’t have a clue what it could do. I think stylus input is symptomatic of that.

  3. Gary says:

    I’m doing the “same debate, two different sites” thing. I posted this on TR:

    Ultimately I think it comes down to the iPhone philosophy versus the Android philosophy, simple and perhaps missing a few things versus more complex and a bit more confusing. But I do think in the case of Microsoft the firm has been pushing various permutations of tablets since the millennium – tablet PC, UMPC etc – and every single one of them has bombed. Whereas Apple has got it right first time. It does seem as if Apple is doing a better job of learning from Microsoft’s mistakes than Microsoft is.

    I really want Microsoft to make great tablets, btw. Good kit is fun no matter who makes it :)

  4. Squander Two says:

    > there are already a whole bunch of stylii for the iPad

    Wow, so my prediction was spot-on, then. Even I wasn’t expecting it to happen quite that fast, though.

  5. Squander Two says:

    Oh, absolutely. Plus, competition is good. People tend to talk about the whole MS-versus-Apple thing as if whichever one makes the best stuff should somehow “win” and the other one should just go away, whereas in fact OSX probably wouldn’t exist without Microsoft and Windows would be utter shite without Apple.

    By the same logic, I really hope Android and IOS have given Nokia enough of a kick up the arse. Maemo’s great, but they need to throw a lot more resources at it.

  6. Gary says:

    I think Nokia has perhaps been coasting a little bit. It’d be nice to see them churning out wow-phones again.

  7. Squander Two says:

    I think they’re going to, albeit a couple of years later than they should have. As far as I can tell from their latest pronouncements, Symbian’s to be replaced by Meego and Meego is being merged with Maemo, so Maemo 6 will be their standard platform for new phones, probably by the start of next year. That would be very good indeed. Already millions of apps out there as Maemo’s just a port of Linux — just a matter of tweaking them a bit. Trouble is, Nokia seem still to be leaving this to the open-source community. They need to hire a big team of Linux experts and get a couple of thousand Linux apps ported onto Maemo pronto. And then hire a new marketing guy capable of giving the OS a decent fucking name.

    Think I’m going to get an N900 when my current contract’s up. Very tempted by the 3GS, but, even with its price reduced so much by the advent of the 4, it’s still a big premium to pay, and I’m skint. For the same money, Apple win. But they don’t seem interested in that game.

  8. mupwangle says:

    It’s not that quick – they came out for the iphone a while before the ipad was announced. Some people just like stylii.

  9. andi says:

    No, they will make a tablet that will kinda look like an ipad, but will be a laptop without a keyboard, running a slightly variant of ‘win 7’ just not ‘win mobile 7’.

    The problem for M$ is its chasing markets, not making them. Exhibit A ‘the kin’ great idea maybe 3/4 years ago, late to a market that has doesn’t even exist anymore – who wants to be seen as getting the cheap option in school/college. Then they overcharge for it.

    “The street finds its own uses for things.” William Gibson

    Scott Admas (dilbert) is using his ipad in the kitchen – which i believe is the perfect home for it, stick it on a wall and you’ll see what i mean – and one of the many reasons is that it turns on instantly and i can’t see a not quite win 7 slate thing ever doing that.

  10. mupwangle says:

    >>one of the many reasons is that it turns on instantly

    No it doesn’t. It goes partially to sleep. iOS, android and Windows CE devices all take *ages* to boot properly. Windows can boot from sleep instantaneously too.

  11. andi says:

    Heres where i took the instant on from
    “By far, the iPad’s most wonderful feature, compared to laptops, is the fact that it turns on instantly. There’s no boot-up sequence. That one advantage makes the iPad an entirely different product from a laptop. Once powered on, the iPad doesn’t start begging me to update things nor force me to make decisions. It doesn’t remind me of all the ways it is protecting me. It doesn’t tell me to order printer ink or ask me to fill out a survey….”

  12. mupwangle says:

    Scott Adams is wrong. Shame though since he is a techie person. iOS has a bootup sequence. And it isn’t instant.

    The ipad (and iphone) takes less than 30 seconds to boot, which is pretty quick from power off, but hardly “instant on”. An average netbook takes about double. Both do “instant on” from sleep.

    Here’s a test: http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-31747_7-20002130-243.html

    The newest laptops can boot from off to Windows 7 desktop in about 10 seconds. (UEFI rather than BIOS)

  13. G24 says:

    Semantics and pedantry aside, what people are generally alluding to here is that iOS devices have a very low-power sleep state during which they are still alive enough to do some useful things. Plus a truly instant ‘wake from sleep’ which thanks to the stability of the OS can be used week in week out, unlike most Windows devices which deteriorate with use and often need a full restart to flush them out and get them working properly again.

    True, iPad does indeed take 20secs to boot from fully off – the point is, you rarely need to fully shut it down. In real-world use, this makes a difference and it does feel like an ‘instant on’ device.

  14. Gary says:

    Windows 7’s wake-from-sleep is instant and reliable too, in my experience. I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with my crappy old laptop waking up; any problems tend to be Chrome or Flash going tits-up and forcing reboots. It’s true that iOS devices don’t immediately start demanding virus updates etc, but that’s because they’re very simple OSes. Complexity is the price you pay for power, and all that.

    It’s not so much the instant-wake that’s good about the iPad, it’s the battery life. Being able to just leave it around the place without worrying it’ll have enough charge when you need it is a great thing.

  15. Squander Two says:

    > Semantics and pedantry aside

    Semantics = what the words you use mean.
    Pedantry = assuming that you mean what you say.

    So, them aside, yeah, everyone’s absolutely right at all times about everything.

    Yes, I realise that this comment involves extreme pedantry about semantics. Sue me.

  16. andi says:

    quote from a cnet comment which just about sums up why ms will fail with their ‘must have tablet’

    “by huddie klein July 30, 2010 12:01 AM PDT
    Ok, but do we need windows? We only need Windows when we want to use Windows compatible apps, right? But are those apps compatible with a touch screen? Is the ease of use anywhere near the ease of use we get from a especially for the ipad/iphones designed app? Don’t think so…

    So, could it be that the vast array of windows apps suddenly became irrelevant?”

    And a side issue, why does ms even need to be messing with around tablets, some sort of inferiority complex?

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