Since the Apple iPad has come out and been somewhat disappointing eyes have turned to the Microsoft Courier for hope. It’s hard to guess about what a currently non-existent device is going to be like; although in comparison to the iPad hype at least we have some concept videos to work with.
Amazingly people seem to be really interested in the Courier, especially since the iPad turned out to be a big iPhone touch without flash. The big question is why?
First off is that the interface is much more different than existing interface on laptops and smartphones; I think this is what people were expecting from the iPad. There is naturally going to be some interesting things you can do with two screens that you can’t do with one. Although at home I’ve found the only thing I use a second screen for is to watch TV and get distracted while I’m trying to do real work on the other screen.
Matt Buchanan at Gizmodo seems a bit negative on the “devolution” of the device now that the iPad is out; maybe hoping against all hope that a device created by crazy Ballmer won’t turn out to be the Mac fan’s dream. But he makes a good point that the graphical interface that Courier seems to have a ton of complex hand gestures to operate. This is actually one of my gripes about the iPad is that it’s rumored to have a ton of new but needlessly complex touch gestures to do simple tasks that can be better served with simpler inputs. But when it’s on an iPad its revolutionary, when it’s on a MS device its needlessly complex (reality is it will suck on both).
As far as inputs are concerned I also like that it is going to have a stylus input. So much of the tech community seems to be anti-stylus now ever since the iPhone dropped it for big giant buttons that take up 1/4 of the screen. It’s actually a great interface and perfect for a tablet sized device. You don’t see lawyers and doctors walking around with notepad jabbing big giant crayons or markers onto the page. When you have a small interface you need some to do fine work.
I think the main draw for the courier and the reason why people seem so optimistic about it is that from the concepts it looks like it’s built to actually be used as a tool to make you more productive. Seriously, it’s cool that Microsoft sees this as a something that can do something other than watch youtube videos in bed. I think that either consciously or subconsciously the current zeitgeist in the handheld tech world is that we want something that that can make us better at doing actual work and not a recreational product. We’ve had enough fun with the fart apps and the smartphone lightsaber duels that with a larger device we want something that can be use to make work easier or at least less chaotic.
The very design of the courier makes it more work related than recreation; it’s hard to imagine using it in a traditional tablet use like watching videos or surfing the web with that split down the screen. However I’ve noticed that the interface is really only good for graphics artists or people who are making ads for Nike. 99% of my work involves punching things in with a keyboard, either writing, programming, or configuring via command line. Still coming from the PDA side of handhelds vs. feature rich dumbphones I really want a device that is suited towards productivity, kind of like how I’m really tempted to trade my phones for a Dell Mini 5.
However on the recreational side the courier would make a great e-reader being about the same size and form of a medium book. Engadget is even guessing that Microsoft is positioning this as their e-reader solution. And contrary to what some misguided people say I believe that the page by page form factor is the perfect way to read (but not with changing pages with stupid finger swipes on a screen). Reading really needs a break every few paragraphs for the mind to take a breath. I’m sure you’re seen a page online that was just a huge long scroll of text that went on far longer than you could bother to read. If you haven’t seen anything like that check out some of my older posts and some upcoming posts (or this post come to think of it).
Anyway the Courier really looks to be all that we had hoped that Steve might have made the iPad into. At the very least its’ another innovative and new product that Microsoft seems to be toying with. After a decade of being fat and lazy while the upstarts stole market share it looks like they could hit a few home runs out of the park this year and make 2010 the year of Microsoft. Or Windows Phone 7 could fizzle and this concept never become reality. We won’t know for sure until we actually some them hit the streets.
Ross Rubin writes a great article in his “Switched On” guest post at Engadget. I really agree with his basic premise that the iPad and future tablets aren’t really filling a gap that exists anymore.
Rewind back to 2001 when Ross mentioned the Handspring Treo. At the time I was rocking a Handspring PDA and had just purchased a new Dell laptop; for me at this point the gap that Steve Jobs referenced was already pretty much gone. The laptop gave me limited mobility with computing and for the times I didn’t want to bring my laptop I had the PDA which took my most needed computing abilities wherever I went. In fact when people asked me what it was I always told them it was a computer in my pocket.
Now I’m talking about computing from a productivity standpoint. I had basic web surfing abilities so long as I had WiFi, but my main concerns were for the productivity “apps” I had loaded on the PDA. So surfing youtube while on the bus was not really a concern.
In the present from a productivity standpoint not a lot has changed other than the small gap that existed for me in 2001 is basically closed now. My Smartphone is more capable than before and my netbook is more mobile than before.
This would explain the problems tablets have fitting in. From a productivity standpoint they’re a niche product because the gap they were supposed to fill has closed. They’re remaining use it recreational, so you can watch youtube from you bed or use the web, movies, and games in situations where the smartphone is too small but you don’t want to whip out a laptop.
In which case the iPad is perfectly positioned but won’t have the ubiquity that the iPhone did. And any tablets that follow will either be deemed a non-tablet by the community (full OS convertible for instance), or just a big smartphone.
Devin Coldewey at CrunchGear has a mini rant on why the Dell 5” slate is too small. Actually it’s not a mini rant, it’s actually quite detailed and well thought out; but he’s still wrong (still a good read).
Basically he’s saying that the 3.5’ iPhone and 10” iPad define what people want so if any company comes out with something different from the mold they must be idiots.
I may be putting words in his mouth a bit but read it yourself; it’s very much to the tune that anything to different from apple is destined to fail. In other words don’t “Think Different”.
And from a sales perspective he may be right, PMP’s and small computing devices have traditionally sold like crap. A lot of people think this may even be the failing point with the Apple Tablet since so nobody has been able to make that form factor mainstream except maybe the Kindle.
But he makes a lot of the same wrong assumptions that other tech journalists have been making; let’s break a few down.
Small size and small price are coming together.
First off is the general ideal that PMPs are always destined to fail; while this has traditionally been true times are a changn’. Netbooks and smartphones have created a perfect storm for the era of the PMP and mid sized computing devices.
Historically it was very expensive to shrink full computers into sub-laptop sizes; nobody did it with much success other than a few expensive Sony devices. And then you’re stuck with a slow computer that costs more than a laptop. However now people realize that when mobile they don’t need full gaming computer functionality, just the basics of your average office computing and internet surfing. Average processing power and good battery life can now pack more feature than you need into a tablet sized device.
Second people didn’t think they needed advanced capabilities in a portable device. I remember showing my HTC Wizard to friends in 2005 and how I could surf the internet from anywhere in the US without a computer. Their reply was, “Why would I surf the net on such a small screen? All I need my phone to do is make calls and send texts.”
Two full years later the iPhone came out and now the same people rave about how much they can do with it. People want more than SMS in their pocket now.
Usage and interface
I’m not sure exactly what the draw is to small-screen devices like this. With phones and PMPs, the idea is that you operate them like an iPod: in your palm, with your thumb or the index finger of your other hand. Usually there is one point of contact, so UIs are designed around that.
Actually I use mine “Blackberry Style” thumb typing. Since my phone has a slide out keyboard it spends more time in landscape than in one hand stabbing at it with an index finger.
5” and 6” are the PERFECT size for this.
I could kind of do it with my 9” netbook but it was awkward. If you want to type on a 10” device you need to set it on your lap or something.
Optical track nubbins? Stylii? You’ll never break through with that kind of anti-fun going on with your device
I think anti-stylus sentiment is the mark of somebody without much imagination, or more likely just an iPhone junkie. If a stylus is REQUIRED for input it sucks donkey balls. But if it compliments a touch screen interface as a secondary input it’s far superior to a fat finger, much like adding a touch screen interface to a desktop OS is a nice added feature. It’s nice to have the alternative to use a stylus for delicate work, which is needed on small touchscreens no matter how nice the finger interface is. Plus my current phone has double the resolution of the iPhone in a .7” smaller screen, so a stylus allow much greater interaction when drawing or writing. When I quick sketch a diagram in One Note it doesn’t look like a 3 year old’s fingerpainting.
The reason I can play XCOM:UFO defense on my phone is thanks to the stylus. On an iPhone or finger only phone you don’t have the precision for RPG gaming. It also makes complex kanji on my Japanese input possible.
Most people bash WinMo because things like the close button are too small to hit without a stylus. But this isn’t true, you can still fat finger the button and the software estimates the center of pressure, just like capacitive phones. I’ve been thinking of making a video just to put online so that people can see that the difference between capacitive and resistive is minute.
People say putting a full desktop OS on a tablet will cause the same problem but it’s mind numbingly easy to remedy that, even without skinning the phone with a new interface. Just adjust the fonts size and accessibility settings and you can make those icons big enough that any monkey can hit them with their finger.
I agree, Apple WILL define what a tablet is…
…But I think it’s a bad thing. They’re under powering the tablet with a Phone OS. Many including Devin are already setting up Apple for the win by trying to convince people that this is a good thing and that only a 10” Apple iPhone Tablet can truly be defined as a tablet.
Other tablet-like products out there — convertibles, Windows 7 tablets, MIDs, high-end smartphones — either shrunk the desktop OS or added some functionality to a mobile one. So you’ve got a TG02 with a nice big 4″ screen (it’s gorgeous) — is that a tablet because it’s bigger than any other smartphone? No, it runs WinMo. Similarly, is a 6″ MID running XP a tablet? No, because XP and its applications aren’t tablet-friendly; maybe 7 is more so, but it’s still a desktop OS at heart.
Guess what Devin, Apple is likely going to be running iPhone OS on their tablet. So will this be a tablet because it’s bigger than the iPhone? By Devin’s own criteria, no, it’s just an iPhone, albeit a big frickin iPhone (I’m sure to him because it’s a still a tablet because a 10” iPhone is different than a 10” WinMo).
Using a full desktop OS on a 10” screen isn’t hard, many people have done it before in the days when VGA graphics and 13” screens were the standard on the desktop. Most people used XP on screens that had less resolution that many new tablets have. Squeezing that into a tablet isn’t a bad thing, and now that Desktop OS’s are a bit better at scaling to different screen sizes you can easily make icons finger friendly.
However many people are mistakenly thinking that tapping an icon is gong the way of the Dodo and multi-touch swipe gestures are the new thing. This is a load of crap, add too many types of gestures to learn and it’s no longer intuitive. Tap and Double tap make sense, pinch zoom is good, even two finger scrolling makes sense. But when you have “three fingers rotated 1/4 counter-clockwise while swiping up to maximize” you’ve gone too far.
When I say Apple will define the tablet, I mean that literally: it’s going to create definition. It’s actually much the same as with the iPhone: a stagnant device class with lots of potential, weighed down by traditional UI and input elements. Apple comes in like Alexander and cuts the Gordian Knot, defining an entirely different experience that resonates with consumers. Apple didn’t create the smartphone, but smartphones are now defined in terms of the iPhone.
And again I agree but while it excites Devin it saddens me the same way the iPhone’s popularity did.
The phone I had BEFORE the iPhone was released was a more capable device, it literally was a computer that was shrunk down to fit in my pocket. The PDAs I had before that were even more capable, the Dell x51 had a larger screen than an iPhone, double the resolution, a separate 3D graphics acceleration chip. I could telnet into routers through WiFi, stream music and video across my network, play games, surf the net, sniff and hack wireless APs. The only thing it was missing was a 3G mobile phone connection (and GPS but that’s less important).
iPhone came and set a standard but it set the bar low, unlike PDAs which were shrunken computers the iPhone was just a beefed up feature phone. Even now with the app store I’m frustrated with how limited they are in the way of capabilities and the locked down nature of or the OS itself, you can’t customize anything. At least if you don’t like Windows Mobile you can load a thirdparty program that skins it into an interface you like.
With the tablet Apple is looking to do the same. We can fit the full features of a desktop OS in a tablet, my Netbook runs Win7 professional for goodness sake. Why in the name of all that is wonderful would Apple port the already limited iPhone OS into it?! Even adding a few features like Flash, HD video, and a full browser doesn’t make up for it if it can’t be customized into MY device. It will always be what Steve wants to you to use.
“But Dustin! You will have more multitouch gestures to
Meh. I’d give up pinch zoom if it meant I could
copy/paste install my own apps, or customize the interface.
Or synch with third party software.
Or interact with open source frameworks.
Or add software that uses hardware on the phone.
Or add software that improves upon the phone’s software…
A couple weeks ago I posted what I want my next netbook to be and now it looks like HP is releasing it in the form of the HP mini 2102.
It’s not perfect, although as more detailed specs come out the TM2 (or tmT2) may be the perfect one, but it’s pretty damn close to what I requested.
Gizmodo doesn’t give the screen size but the 110 was a 10 inch and so following the HP numbering scheme the 210 would be the second gen 10 inch. Gizmodo hints at a broadcom video accelerator and the official site stated the 210 HD (possibly the 2102?) having a crystal clear screen, maybe the HD stands for High Definition?
10″ with HD/Video acceleration is the main thing I want although a swivel screen would be nice too. The TM2 has the screen but I haven’t heard anything about video acceleration yet or that could be the one. Also HD video out in the form of HDMI would be nice too but specs are a bit short right now. Maybe as CES goes on more details will surface.
The rumors have been flying around first about Apple making a netbook (which was shot down by execs) and now pretty confidently that Apple is making a small tablet device, smaller than the Macbooks but bigger than the iPhone. For those of us who have been around a bit the Newton immediately pops back into our heads.
Newton was more a PDA than a tablet, it was only sized as big as a tablet because of the technology of the time. It failed due to a lack of interest and becaue there wasn’t a demand in the market niche it filled; in comparison today all it’s features could be done on an iPhone with no problem. Although one of my iPhone gripes is that for all it’s advanced tech the iPhone still can’t fully duplicate the old Newton as a PDA. Half the programs aren’t there natively and when you “get an app for that” you can’t run multiple or background apps.
Back to the modern iTablet (not its real name, I just made that up for simplicities sake), PCWorld writes an article why they don’t think it will work. I usually don’t agree with PCWorld but here they made a few good points.
While I think a multi-touch display is a great idea, using it to host a virtual keyboard takes too much real estate on a petite 10-inch display. Eliminating the physical keyboard would make the device very thin, but at the expense of the screen protection a closed laptop offers.
The iPhone and iPod Touch work as keyboard-less devices because they are designed to be hand-held—something which would be difficult and clumsy with a 10-inch tablet.
Exactly why the onscreen keyboard on the iPhone sucks, it takes up more than half the screen in landscape; 9-10” screens are barely big enough for surfing as it is, there is no room for a keyboard. And on the tablet you can’t thumb type because of the size of the tablet. When typing you’ll need to sit the tablet down on a flat surface or in your lap which will make viewing the screen a royal PITA, especially if they stick with a glossy fingerprint smudged screen.
On the plus side there should be more room for the keyboard than on the iPhone, and people are brainwashed enough to ignore that and some even call it a “feature”. Also as a netbook/tablet the keyboard will be relegated to more infrequent use; it’s the same reason I can barely stand the keyboard on my 9” EEE PC, I never really have to use it except in a pinch. But I still think a convertible laptop/tablet like the Asus T91 is a much better way to go to get the best of both worlds in this device size.
The second major strike is the possibility of the tablet running the iPhone OS or a hybrid; at this point all we have is rumor but many people hint at an iPhone OS relation running on an ARM processor for the tablet.
The iPhone OS as-is would be an epic fail. Unlike Android and Windows Mobile the iPhone OS is built to run on one platform and one resolution only and all apps are optimized for that phone, that way Apple can be sure all apps will run well. If the iPhone OS had to deal with all the variations in hardware that Android and WM deal with it’s wouldn’t be nearly as slick. Trying to stretch that phone OS out to 10” wouldn’t work without some major redesign. Thus a hybrid OS is far more likely
The Hybrid OS that the tablet will likely get is something that looks like a big iPhone OS but has some added capabilities to it; however this will still be insufficient.
Regardless whether this is designed to compete with netbooks or not, at 10” it will be placed in competition with netbooks in everybody’s minds anyway. So running anything less than a full OS will seem crippled when compared to netbooks/tablets running Windows or Linux. Apple will have to go with OSX or an “OSX Basic”. But Apple charges the price premium to put good hardware in their devices so a thin 10” tablet running OSX is entirely possible if they can keep the battery usage down.
I disagree with PCWorld that the tablet will be a train-wreck. It will sell like a beast and the Apple faithful will ignore the keyboard drawbacks or short battery life or limited OS. Like the netbook fanatics they will load complex software into device poorly designed to handle it and claim that since it can barely run without crashing the tablet that it’s “full featured”. But best of all it will accelerate competition in making a useful tablet PCs, hopefully prodding competitors like Asus into making a convertible netbook with a decent video processor (Asus T92 perhaps?) that will combine the best of both worlds between the Apple tablet and the current netbooks.
I’ll be happy just so long as we don’t get the “iPhone effect” where people become so brainwashed they start to remove advantages like a physical keyboard, stylus input, background apps, and copy/paste in an effort to copy Apple.