Are Tablet PC's a good thing?
Much has been written about the disappointing sales of Tablet PC's - the fact that "only" 5 million units were sold last year is seen as somehow uncommercial in comparison to the number of traditional laptops sold. Somehow, tablets have garnered the image of an obscure, specialized technology that only appeals to doctors or engineers. Further, the stellar Wacom digitizer technology used in most tablets adds a significant price premium. In Canada, you can get a bargain-basement laptop for $1,000-1200, while modestly equipped convertible tablets go for about $1500. What you get for this money is, bar none, the best application of computer technology I've ever seen, and I've been around for a while. The current version of the Tablet PC OS provides flawless stability, while the digitizer provides flexible and speedy input whenever you want. So far, Tablet PC is a good thing.
Why aren't tablets selling better?
You just don't see too many tablets in retail outlets. Regardless of marketing efforts by Microsoft and the OEM's, there's been no easy way to get your hands on a tablet and actually try it out. In my case, it took a $3000 act of faith - I purchased a Fujitsu Stylistic slate tablet over the phone. Of course, I did a great deal of research ahead of time - I wasn't disappointed. In addition, I followed the golden rule and waited for the second generation of the OS before making my move. No consumer should ever be expected to operate this way - it jusn't doesn't make sense for most people to operate this way.
Windows Vista - the kiss of death for Tablet PC (it's a good thing)
Microsoft has confirmed that several versions will integrate tablet features directly into the OS. OEM's will therefore be free to implement whatever digitizing solution they see fit - from Wacom to Finepoint or much cheaper touchscreens. As the cost of tablet components declines, you'll see OEM's start to add tablet functionality in order to differentiate their gear from everyone else's. Hey, even Dell is looking into tablets! Monkey see, monkey do: once the larger manufacturers see increased sales on the tablet side, you'll see all the others jump on the bandwagon. It's a plain fact that when people get their mitts on a tablet, they want one. I'm convinced that Bill Gates is right, and that inking will become a laptop essential, just like USB ports and LCD displays are now. Once that happens, there will be no further need for the TabletPC brand. (As a sidebar, I'm frequently amused at the fact that Apple hasn't caught on to inking for the masses; their oh-so-hip TV ads don't recognize just how banal the Macbook design is)