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.

27 Comments For This Post

  1. UMPCPortal says:

    New article: Why Consumer Oriented Windows Based Slates are Going Nowhere Fast http://bit.ly/bN6i0S

  2. Ben Lang says:

    RT @umpcportal: New article: Why Consumer Oriented Windows Based Slates are Going Nowhere Fast http://bit.ly/bN6i0S

  3. Gretchen Glasscock says:

    Why Consumer Oriented Windows Based Slates are Going Nowhere Fast: Is is really that hard for a product designer t… http://bit.ly/afWCDr

  4. Battie says:

    ERR…i simply can’t agree with you. I ever owned a hp tx2 and a viliv s5, both of the machines work fairly well under windows. And the touching experiece is not half bad. In my humble opinion, the windows based slates are far more useful and flexible than the so called magic, the ipad. The only pitfall when it comes to a slate at this time is its own WEIGHT. If the weight can be slashed down to 600 gram or even less, i take for granted that it’s gonna be an ultimate mobile device for my personal using(thinking carrying it to bed, couch, airplane, train, park, schools, you simply name it).

    P.S. No offence, there is only one possible excuse that you can’t get used to a win-based slate: your fingertips are just too big and cumbersome to handle the delicate yet fascinating and powerful interface and infinite possiblities that a win-based slate is able to provide.

  5. Ben says:

    I have an HP tablet as well, I love the inking on it. It works great for me when I want to take hand written notes. I’ve actually disabled the resistive touchscreen though because it tended to hurt the inking experience.

    I also recognize that Windows based UMPCs are much more flexible than something like the iPad. I’ve used my Sony VAIO UX UMPC for something like 5 years now… it’s an awesome device with a touchscreen. But it isn’t a SLATE which is what I’m getting at in the article. The UX has a great mouse and a decent keyboard, and because of that, I can use Windows effectively. If it was just a slate, I’d be annoyed at having to use a terrible OSK, and if the mouse implementation wasn’t really good, I’d become frustrated with just the touchscreen when I needed precision.

    The issue is that these upcoming Windows based slates are being position for the casual user. They want the same market of people who might be interested in the iPad. The companies think they can attract people with some poorly design, in-house touch interface which really only assists with maybe 5% of what the computer can actually do. For the other 95% of the OS (which is designed with a full keyboard and mouse in mind) the user is stuck with extremely sub-par input tools.

  6. animatio says:

    every aspect of how “windows” as user interfaces appear in windows can be adjusted …. incl buttons, scrollbars, menubars and so on …. but it has to be made. using windows with the same design as on a keyboard/mouse pc is dumb nuts. but this mainly is an operators issue.
    and yes, windows (and linux by the way) would be powerful slate os’ses if used together with digitizers.
    it is therefore completely not to understand why the whole industry is not following this way – only because they would have to pay royalties to wacom?

  7. Benny says:

    Yes but I think that is exactly what Ben is trying to point out: Windows slates, will be come much more difficult to use. The Viliv is intended to be used with a stylus do to its 5″ screen. Your HP Convertible on the other hand shouldn’t need one. But there are a plethora of Icons in Windows that are very small and very difficult to hit without a Stylus.
    I work in a restaurant where the computers we use run on top of Windows XP, a special made-for-restaurants touch-based software called Aldelo Pro. Granted it works well but on a the resistive screens we use we often find we need to press Icons multiple times to get it to register and this simply keeps the customers waiting longer

  8. Ben says:

    Re: animatio

    Windows is definitely highly configurable, the problem is that the touch interfaces that companies are coming up with only do gimmicky stuff like slideshows and app launchers. When a consumer really wants to use the computer, they’ll be outside the proprietary touch interface and using the computer with it’s native interface — which is a very poor experience for a slate (computer with no keyboard, and often a poor mouse), especially when these devices will now be compared to something like the iPad.

  9. Val Hun says:

    I would agree with Battie.

  10. ablufia says:

    @eriktuesday http://www.umpcportal.com/2010/05/why-consumer-oriented-windows-based-slates-are-going-nowhere-fast

  11. The Negret says:

    If Windows based slates can provide a good experience with an active digitizer then they do not require a mouse and keyboard. I feel like you contradict yourself. What is hard to understand then is why none of these upcoming slates has one. Has the digitizer really accumulated such a bad reputation that no mainstream consumer will come near it? Or is it rather that there hasn’t been a killer product to bring it to the mainstream? What would have been people’s reception of the digitizer if the iPad had come with one?

    Like animatio above me implies, I wonder hy Wacom isn’t promoting the use of their technology in netbooks/slates. Are the worried about cannibalizing their own tablets? Is their technology not good for underpowered machines (unlikely, since tablets as old as the TC1100had one)? Or is it the manufacturers not wanting to pay the royalties? And what about N-trig? Why are there no N-trig based ones either?

  12. Don Davis says:

    Why Consumer Oriented Windows Based Slates are Going Nowhere Fast http://bit.ly/biWyrI

  13. drifter77 says:

    Very good argument. Cheers.

  14. Guy says:

    They are all interesting points guys and this is topic of hot debate at the moment.

    Personally although I can live with Windows on a touch screen device I think the problem is the mass consumer market. Most consumers won’t sit down and adjust the Windows interface to make it right for touch operation, most consumers want to pick up a device and it just work. As much as I’m not an Apple fan they have perfected this with the iPad, you can pass one to a none technical person and they can just get on and use it.

    The screen technology argument is one I have been having for years. I believe this problem is caused by manufacturers who don’t have a target market. We all know that pen input for inking needs a active digitizer to be a good experience but the majority of the manufacturers use capacitive to enable multi touch. I’m with Chippy on multi touch Windows, I still haven’t found a good usage scenerio to make it worth while but thats just me. I think if devices where more targeted to a specific market (think inking, note taking or picture manipulation) then we wouldn’t suffer with devices which are trying to cross over into both.

    Last but not least, whilst dual digitizers are available they are expensive and in previous incarnations dull or frost the screen. The only good example of the dual digitizer I can think of is the HP 2730P but then thats a £1800 device.

    Its an excellent debate and one I think perhaps we should have a live discussion about.

  15. Mike Cane says:

    Ha. Shocked to see this published here, after all the UMPC rah-rahing Chippy has done. But it’s true — touch is different and Win7 cannot do it.

    All of those companies would have been better off junking Win7 and going with Android.

  16. Ben says:

    UMPCs are great, but I’m talking specifically about slates — devices with no keyboards — especially big ones which aren’t even small enough for thumb-typing, and instead expect people to try to touch type on poorly designed OSKs. I still use my Sony VAIO UX regularly, it has a touchscreen and I occasionally use it, but it also has a great mouse and a keyboard that works better than any Windows based OSK that I’ve seen to date.

  17. Ron F says:

    I used a Fujitsu Stylistic slate PC for 3 years (large screen and active pen digitizer). It was not bad at all. I’ve also used a Q1 ultra (small screen and resistive touch) for some time and found the touch features nearly unusable.

    The key mouse abilities Windows relies on are hover and selecting at nearly pixel precision. Touch interfaces do not allow hover, and because fingertips are large and obscure the contact point, it’s tricky to be pixel precise. Window-side scroll bars are a worst case, and a key reason for the ubiquity of “touch drag” scrolling. Small screens, a key factor in reducing cost, are also not handled gracefully by Windows.

    These are solvable issues, and I remain shocked that Microsoft hasn’t taken them more seriously. It’s possible that’s because (before the last six months) slates were considered only a small but promising market. Now they’re a presumed mass market, but being fulfilled by uprated smartphone OSes.

    While it’s surely possible, there may not be further investment in making Windows 7 a great slate OS.

  18. Vit says:

    I must say that the author of this article is very misguided. I own HP TM 2, which is successor to TX model. 12 inch screen is a little to big for this site I guess. I’ve noticed that “cut off” screen size is about 11 inches. Since I bought this machine, I have never used it in “Laptop” mode ( with physical keyboard and mouse) It is. always in a “slate” mode. Capacitive screen responsive, finger gestures work well, onscreen keyboard very responsive and can be adjusted to any size fingers. Although , I prefer digitizer. Handwriting recognition is amazing! Plus I can switch to any language or alphabet very easy, unlike on physical keyboard. To adjust size of fonts, folders, graphics can be as easy as changing screen resolution, if you don’t want to better with other settings. Honestly, I don’t see a problem with windows on a slate PC, except usual whining from Apple fanboyz and Open Source lovers.

  19. Ben says:

    I have no issue with tablets, I use one myself and I love the handwriting recognition with an active digitizer. The slates I’m talking about are the ones without active digitizers (nearly all of the new ones we’re seeing), and thus no solid alternative to a physical keyboard, creating a very poor computing experience for the EVERYDAY consumer. People like us who even know what a tablet is, are the minority by a huge margin. The reason I mentioned “consumer oriented” in the title is that these companies are position these slates for the iPad demographic, but they aren’t providing a good computing experience for that type of person, and therefor I can’t see a single one of these devices going mainstream.

  20. Scott says:

    I think that a lot of the comments about the flexibility of Windows for touch interfaces misses a key point, which is that from the standpoint of the average consumer, it’s still a Windows computer. For many non-tech-savvy users, trying to do much with Windows apart from maybe launch a familiar application is like trying to speak a foreign language. Those of you who’ve done tech support for family members may have some sense of the problem’s dimensions.

    Now, into that environment we introduce the iPad (and eventually other mobile-OS slate devices) which is engineered for a radically different user experience. It’s practically impossible to screw up an iPad application install, for example, and it takes almost no time apart from the download time for the app itself. Compare the iPad Pages install to a Microsoft Office installation on your Windows machine – it’s a totally different experience. You can’t create that environment by slapping a touch layer on top of Windows.

    This, by the way, is what Jobs seems to have meant when he said during the iPad introduction that “netbooks don’t do anything better than laptops.” From the standpoint of 90% of consumers, the only advantage of a netbook is price – it’s still a Windows machine, with all the frustration and incomprehensibility that entails. The people who continue to say “I could buy a $300 netbook that’s more flexible than a $500 iPad” fail to recognize that for many consumers, it may be *worth* paying the extra money for an iPad to have a computer that “just works.” That UI has a perceived *value*, not just a cost.

  21. Vit says:

    It’s the same argument that was used when first iPhone came out. “It just works”. “consumer is not smart enough”. The fact of the matter is that its just a smart marketing compain with negative bias towards Windows. Let’s see what exactly “works” here.
    Not much but basic functionality and if you take earlier iPhone version, not much at all.
    – Copy/Paste was not there, that means it DOESN’T WORK. That of course, until Apple “slapped” it there, using your own words.
    – Multitasking still missing, hopefully will be “slapped on top of” OSX in the Gen. 4.
    – Flash, still missing in auction. But we get same argument that user doesn’t really need it, as it was with cut/paste.
    No handwriting? That means it doesn’t work either.
    So what does work in Apple product that doesn’t work in MS?
    Different interface. It looks simple and user friendly for now. That’s because the device doesn’t do much . As platform evolve, and it has to, because that “not so smart” consumer demands more and more functionality. As it adds more and more features, it will require more and more controls, and that will make it at par with today’s Windows. Different look and feel but same thingy behind that front, “complicated”.

  22. Scott says:

    I disagree about the trajectory of iPad evolution. First, I don’t think that you need to add a bunch of additional controls to the OS to give it “more functionality.” There are already some pretty deep iPad apps that work just fine with the existing OS – go take a look at MultiTrack, for example. Second, I think that at a certain point Apple will say “we can’t add that much extra complexity without losing the essential features of the iPad experience” and suggest that you buy a laptop instead. There comes a time at which it makes more sense to use a different tool rather than trying to make your current tool do more.

    What works in the iPad that doesn’t work in a Windows slate is the apps – all iPad apps are built assuming that touch is the primary means of input. Windows apps are not, and likely will not be for the foreseeable future. This means that a mobile OS automatically has the edge over a desktop OS in usability. (Just to clarify: OS X has the same problem, which is why I think Apple made a good choice in producing the iPad rather than a “tablet Mac.”)

  23. Vit says:

    You contradict yourself. Admitting that iPad doesn’t run full blown OS, and probably will never be, you keep comparing it to Windows 7, that is full OS. I made my case assuming that OSX at the beginning states of evolution, as Windows 3.xx were couple decades ago. In your case it is more appropriate to compare iPad to Windows Mobile, or the new Windows 7 imbeded OS.

  24. Lucien says:

    Completely disagree. I have the S5 running XP and works just fine with touch. Also the 1 finger scrolling works really great (e.g. cdisplay, firefox with add-on).

    Windows 7 obviously has better multi-touch capabilities. The Viliv S10 that Chippy reviewed wasn’t that bad. One issue was obviously graphics speed which isn’t an issue with faster machines like Sony Vaio touch all-in-one desktops.

  25. Bogus Dudus says:

    Microsoft’s tablet OS concept UI shown off on video


  26. Archie Koves says:

    I don’t know why yahoo sent me to this site but I feel I should say I have become overall captivated by the posts you have together. How long did it take that many to your blog? I am very new to this interenet thing.

  27. DG says:

    Wow, even the older tc1100 tablet pc hybrid is good at what it does with a capacitive digitizer. (I don’t ever use the keyboard so I’ve taken it off) This article is obviously biased in what the person has decided a tablet should be. I want a PC in tablet pc, not just a nice web surfing device.

    I need the tablet pc for writing and drawing- you really can’t do that well on a ‘touch’ screen active digitizer. A dual digitizer with both abilities would make the tablets very useable. I find the windows environment just right and I hear that windows7 is even much more tablet friendly. This article is way off base.

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