Tablet PC versus Slate

February 16, 2011

The tablet PC has made a comeback following the iPad from Apple, which started taking online orders for shipping next month.

I use the word comeback because the tablet PC was around for a long time since it was announced by Microsoft in 2001, but it never succeeded, which raises the question again: Do we need a tablet now?

Before answering the question, we must analyse why they did not spread during the last nine years. The answer is simple – technology companies did not make it appealing enough for us. A notebook with a touchscreen is not a real tablet or it is just not what people wanted.

It may be Microsoft's fault for introducing it in such a way or our fault for confusing a tablet PC with a slate, because the tablet introduced by Microsoft was merely a notebook running on a modified version of a Windows operating system to support touch inputs and writing recognition capabilities.

Many companies did not pay attention to its size and weight, or maybe they could not make the device smaller, more lightweight and working effectively with a high profit margin.

Did they expected people to hold a 2kg (in best cases) device that was not fully prepared for touch control? It is still Windows-based and depends mostly on stylus inputs .

As there are no standard specifications for each, only a few people can differentiate between the tablet and the slate. The former is a net-book with a touchscreen and the latter is a slim device without a keyboard, and, of course, an advanced touchscreen. The tablet costs more than the slate.

There are other minor categories such as booklets with two screens folded like a book, used as a digital day planner, and the yet to be confirmed Microsoft Courier, which may have two screens.

Steve Jobs may be wrong sometimes, but he is right more often than not, especially when he said that the hardware can be manufactured by any party, but that competition lies in the user interface, and that is what would determine the success of the tablet devices.

For example, the iPad's interface is a very simple one, which was criticised by IT experts. But most users are ordinary people and they can be expected to make mistakes while dealing with a complex system.

According to unofficial figures, the iPad crossed 50,000 pre-orders in the first two hours after its launch and more than 90,000 on the first day. This may well be correct, because people always wanted a simple way of doing their daily tasks without having to sit on a desk.

Watching videos, sending e-mail, surfing social networking sites, editing office files, sorting photos and browsing the Web, can all be done on the iPad while on the move.

Some may deny the importance of tablet computers under the pretext of the existence of smartphones that do the same tasks I have mentioned, but for example, is watching a video on a slate the same as watching it on a smartphone screen? What about reading an e-book? The main USP for the slate is as an e-book reader.

By next year, the slate may occupy a major place in the market, and many more than expected will use it. So I guess this is not the time for the tablet PC, but for the slate, because it is far, far different from the tablet PC.