So Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer includes a quick demo of a forthcoming HP Tablet “computer” in his CES opening address. Kindle announce a larger screen version of their e-Book. Alongside 3D everything, tablets look like being the form factor of the moment in Las Vegas. The opening rounds of a war, but does anyone actually care yet? I doubt it!
After attending the giant Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas for the past couple of years a more rigorous application of prudence in travelling expenses means my feet get a rest this year! I’ll simply let my fingers do the walking (Hey! that sounds like a good marketing tagline for an information source!). I will miss the buzz and the sense of actually being there, but I also feel that (despite the strident market messages from the organisers to the contrary) such mammoth geek-fests have probably passed their peak. Remember Comdex? The next few days will be spent immersed in blogs, web trawling and chatting with the Gartner analysts who are on site (and didn’t have so far to travel) to see what has caught other people’s eyes and try to make sense of it away from the objectivity sapping environment that is Vegas during CES (objective analysis is tough when all you can think about is your feet!).
But back to form factors and tablets. What we are are seeing here is a continuation of the long tail decline of the mouse, keyboard and screen (no pun intended). Touch screens are everywhere (although I am stunned by the prospects of Sony’s giant 24 inch version), driven onwards by the growing ubiquity of multi-touch on our portable devices. Devices in this category are going to continue to challenge the dominance of the conventional mouse and keyboard – if only we can get our heads around the fundamental question “but what is it good for?”. The answer to that is equally simple “we will find out in due course!”. The road to innovation is rarely defined by the constrained thinking of the existing product lines. It is a bit like those amazing catalogues of kitchen and household gadgets – full of stuff you didn’t even know existed and yet now you find that they have become a “must have”! We will find out what tablets are good for, and in a few years time, with the benefit of hindsight, will wonder how we missed it for all those years. Tablets, surface computers, gaming stations, free air inertial controllers – the human computer interface is changing whether you like it or not.
But back to tablets. What we have seen so far is merely posturing and skirmishing. Everyone knows that the only one that matters is whatever emerges from Cupertino in due course. Of course we all know that Apple isn’t producing a tablet computer (well at least not officially). But you don’t need to be Einstein to realise that if anyone can break the deadlock of “what is it actually good for?” then Apple probably can. They don’t develop new products, they redefine social behaviour around technology with engaging user-experiences. Mind you, they have had their share of failures, but recent form has been pretty solid so if I was a competitor that is not the outcome that I would be relying on.
Maybe we will find out later this month, or maybe not. In the meantime, lots more fun, gadgets and gizmos from Las Vegas to pass the time!
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