Why Consumer Oriented Windows Based Slates are Going Nowhere Fast

Posted on 31 May 2010, Last updated on 30 October 2014 by

Is is really that hard for a product designer to sit down and think about what sort of computing experience a product is going to provide a customer?

Thanks in part to devices like the Joojoo [Portal page] and the iPad [Portal page], slate mania is officially underway. Everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon, and those that do — with Windows based devices — are going to fail in a big way. Why? Because the companies creating these products can’t accept one simple fact:

Windows computers require a usable mouse and keyboard to provide a good computing experience.

Whenever this point gets through the heads of the people making the decision to create products such as MSI’s Wind Pad 100, we’ll stop seeing these useless Windows based slates.

Slates are touchscreen computers that lack physical keyboards. Usually this lack of keyboard is compensated for with the addition of an active digitizer touchscreen which allows for some pretty darn good digital ink input. Many of the devices that we’re seeing from this upcoming wave of consumer slates, however, lack active digitizers and instead expect customers to deal with awful on-screen-keyboards. On-screen-keyboards can be pretty good with capacitive touchscreen, as we’ve seen with iPhone/iPad and Android devices, but we’ve yet to see one that works even a little bit well in Windows.

Because some companies can’t seem to just accept that Windows is completely reliant on a usable mouse and keyboard, we’re going to continue to see these $500 touchscreen slates with crappy in-house interfaces that sit ontop of Windows and have “touch inch somewhere in the name. These interfaces are nearly always eye-candy at best, but somehow they exist as a feeble attempt to compensate for the fact that slates don’t have physical keyboards and often don’t have very usable mice either.

We’ve seen this same song and dance before during the early ultra mobile PC days. The Origami software, that Microsoft hoped would provide some awesome touchscreen experience on UMPCs, turned out to be relatively useless. You simply can’t coat Windows in a little bit of touchscreen interface and pretend that it suddenly makes the operating system useful for a slate. Windows is a complicated and extremely deep operating system which has been relying on the mouse and keyboard paradigm for years and years. This means that the ridiculously huge library of software that has been created for Windows over the years is also reliant on a quality mouse and keyboard implementation. If customers can’t use the base operating system effectively without some crappy touch-interface layered on top (which doesn’t extend to that vast library of software), how is the device going to be even remotely useful for use with any of the software that is built with a usable mouse and keyboard in mind? The best UMPCs were those that had usable keyboards and mice (such as the Samsung Q1 Ultra and the Sony VAIO UX Series), not the ones that had poorly designed “touch inch interfaces that we’re slapped ontop of Windows. The best UMPCs gave people keyboards and mice that worked, then got out of the way and allowed consumers to use their UMPCs like the little computers that they are. They didn’t try to emulate some ‘appified’ computing experience that people are currently enthralled with on high-end smartphones.

These horrible in-house “touch inch overlays are going to have an even harder time than Origami did back in the early ultra mobile PC days. Why? Because devices like the iPad — which is similarly priced to many upcoming Windows slates — provides a computing experience that doesn’t rely on a physical keyboard and a mouse. It has a ground-up approach to the way that people interact with the computer. Simply having a Windows overlay that might play music and do a slideshow is not going to provide the utility that facilitates a useful computing device, and consumers are going to be begging for a mouse and usable keyboard, not the horrifically inefficient on-screen-keyboards that we’ve seen on Windows in the past.

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