Sunday, March 06, 2011

A Question of Ecosystem Viability

Two major rumors in the last week have me thinking about ecosystem viability and what it means for tablet PCs in the next year or two. The first rumor was a potential game changer as a video surfaced (via CrackBerry) of a Playbook demo in which an RIM representative can be overheard saying the PlayBook will support Android Apps. It’s not the first rumor of this sort, but it’s the first one to come directly from RIM (even unconfirmed).

The other rumor is that Microsoft’s newest operating system – Windows 8 – won’t be ready for tablet integration until the second half of 2012. With recent rumors pinning the development of Windows 8 around build 3 and a beta likely to be released this summer, the timing seems about right (though possibly a bit earlier in 2012 than some people think). That’s a long time to wait to get into a market that is starting to boom as we speak.

Both rumors (and the reaction of writers to them) point to one thing – the market can only support so many development ecosystems. It’s not so much about the people who buy these devices. If the Apps and hardware are there, people will buy any number of different operating systems.

That’s not the problem. The problem is that when there are too many options, developers tend to shift resources to those platforms that are the most profitable – in this case iOS and Android. RIM seems to be at least contemplating that as they don’t deny rumors of Android support on the Playbook. And while this is a great way to drive sales, it will probably further deflate the Playbook development community. Why would a developer produce two apps – one for Android and one for Playbook – when they could just as easily create only an Android app?

On the other side of the coin, Microsoft is still playing catch up, and unfortunately they are doing it slowly. It’s sad to see a company that was so much at the front end of tablet PC development fall so far behind the curve. By the time they release their first tablet specific OS, if Windows 8 is tablet specific, the iPad will have been on the market for two full years with a third generation device just having launched (if it follows Apple’s normal development cycle).

Android will have had a full year to propagate on new tablets and there will be at least two other major players on the market in the Playbook and HP’s WebOS. If Windows 8 was released right now, it would be a little late to the party. By 2012, the party might be moved somewhere else entirely.

This is a new age of ecosystem sales. People don’t just buy devices – they buy the experience those devices offer. And the more people buy into the iOS and Android experiences, the less likely any of them will shift to a new model, especially developers who make so much money with the current offerings.

  • Of course, things can change. We don’t know what Windows 8 for tablets will look like. Deep integration with a desktop, advanced handwriting support, a centralized app store, actual ARM support for longer battery life – these are all features that could help Microsoft’s new offering succeed. But, will it be too little too late? That remains to be seen. 

Friday, March 04, 2011

Should Your Tablet Be a Desktop Extension?

I like to use my tablet PC as a replacement for most of the technology I own. That’s not to say I don’t use a PC or mobile phone at all, but in general, if I can get away with using a tablet, I do. So, I am always intrigued when a new player in the remote desktop market arrives and people start talking once more about how useful it is to access your PC on the go.

Specifically, Citrix has finally released their GoToMyPC software for the iPad – something many Citrix subscribers have been waiting for. LogMeIn and Team Viewer have both been available for a while on the iPad and there are a handful of cloud tools to access files and remote file structures, so this isn’t new, but it is interesting.

It comes down to one thing though – should a tablet PC be a fully functional workstation replacement? The question has been asked a lot lately because, frankly, the first few generations of tablets tried very hard to be fully functional. Even modern Windows 7 tablets provide full functionality of a PC with some hardware limitations. It was the iPad that changed all that – paring down what a tablet does to simple, intuitive multi-touch gestures. Android tablets are a little more powerful and have far more latitude for developers, but the same idea remains – it’s not a complete desktop replacement…yet.

Eventually, I envision a tablet PC market that can utterly replace desktops. It happened with notebooks and laptops in the 2000s. Early laptops were heavy, had very poor battery life and couldn’t keep up with even mid-range desktops. That has changed. You can buy laptops today that last for 6+ hours unplugged and provide plenty of power for desktop publishing, graphic design, and even gaming.

So, it will probably not be long before we see a sharp increase in the viability of tablet PCs as notebook and desktop replacements.

But, it goes beyond the power under the hood. You can make a super powerful tablet PC, but if the software and input solutions are not there to provide users with the intuitive interface they need to use something like Photoshop CS5 or Office 2010, it gets tricky. And that’s when people start looking to software solutions like GoToMyPC.

Personally, I think this software is fantastic. It provides a great option for enterprise users especially who don’t want to upload sensitive documents to the cloud where they are vulnerable. It also allows us to access software not yet available on the iPad or Android devices. But, as time passes, we as consumers need to support the idea that the developer community building up around tablets will provide these solutions and finally allow us to use our tablets as full blown workstations.

The time is coming – it’s just a matter of when.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Getting Data into Your Tablet

One of the most interesting things about tablet PCs is the fact that there are now so many different input methods. Where before the input methods on a PC were fairly static – mouse and keyboard for most of us – we now have handwriting recognition, Bluetooth keyboards, multi-touch, and a handful of other software solutions that are growing in popularity.

So, which is best? Whichever method you like best to maximize productivity is probably the best solution. I have my preferences and you likely have your own, but here are some of the more interesting ways to get more out of your tablet, depending on how you use it.

Handwriting Recognition 

For iPad and Android users, handwriting recognition is fairly limited, but for those that use a Windows tablet like I do, handwriting recognition is fantastic. Microsoft’s TIP – which they’ve been working on for more than a decade now – offers intuitive interaction with most applications and allows you to easily input your thoughts. Software like OneNote even makes your handwritten notes searchable.

Bluetooth Keyboard 

While I have almost universally switched from typing to handwriting on my tablet, sometimes you need to write a little bit more and having a good keyboard on hand is very helpful. Bluetooth keyboards are generally mobile and lightweight and they can be synced to your device on the fly only when you need them.

Built-In Multi-Touch 

The multi-touch interface on the iPad and Android devices is very good. It allows simple, intuitive interaction with your data that feels fantastic. This type of input is wonderful for web surfing, checking email, or other tasks that don’t require a lot of data entry. It is only when working on spreadsheets or documents, or typing long emails that the interface can be most frustrating.


SWYPE is a software solution for data input and it is fantastic. It takes the technology behind autocomplete, which has been standard on mobile phones for many years now, and ups the ante considerably. Instead of just guessing what you’re trying to say based on the form of the word, SWYPE predicts text based on the motions of your finger across a keyboard. 

To start, you place your finger on the first letter of a word, and then you move your finger around the keyboard in a swiping gesture, touching each letter in the word. The algorithm in SWYPE then determines which word you were targeting and displays it on the screen. All this would be useless without accuracy. Luckily, SWYPE is incredibly accurate and one of the fastest non-keyboard input methods for a tablet.

And of course, there are other tools like Dragon Naturally Speaking or the Windows Speech Recognition tools built-into all Windows Vista and Windows 7 tablets.

However you enjoy inputting commands into your computer, a tablet PC has solutions designed to meet your needs. And because of the robust developer community growing around tablets, we’re likely to see even more incredible methods in the years to come.