A new modality surfaces–But more pixels are needed

Posted: 11.07.12

Using a tablet for serious productivity tasks like writing a report, creating a slide set, or working on a dense spreadsheet can’t be done comfortably or efficiently on a less than a 13-inch screen and without a keyboard and mouse. But it can be done if a tablet is all you have and you’ve got to get something out.

Watching movies and YouTube videos, visiting Facebook, sending simple emails, showing a PowerPoint presentation, and even minor photo-editing can be done on a tablet.

However, the familiar interface to productivity apps like Microsoft Office is not there in iOS or Android. Simple things like changing a page are trial and error—do you swipe the screen, use the mouse, use the arrow keys? Moving between apps and moving data such as cut and paste between apps is an iffy thing. All of that creates friction in your productivity and slows you down if it doesn’t stop you entirely.

The Asus-built Nexus 7 is a great machine, small enough to fit in my back pocket. I use it as an e-book reader and for email when in meetings or waiting for a plane. And I have found when turned face down on a glass table, it makes an excellent mouse pad for my laptop.


Enter the Surface

Windows RT, however, behaves in a familiar manner to other windows products—it allows application overlap (not only full-screen view as in iOS or Android) and simple cutting and pasting between the apps. The mouse pad has a left and right mouse button, and for all intents and purposes, it is a small PC. That’s the good news and the bad. Microsoft’s Surface tablet will mainly impact netbook (what’s left of that category) and notebook demand in the short term as users choose to buy it in lieu of a new notebook.

Whether the Surface will pull consumer demand from other tablets or notebooks, or maybe even both, is an open question at this point. In terms of hardware and functionality, the Surface is capable of satisfying consumer demand for notebooks and tablets. The Surface’s price tag starts at $499, the same as the latest full-screen iPad. However, to replace other tablets, it requires a software ecosystem. Copying Apple’s iPhone and iPad approach, Microsoft has built an application marketplace, the Windows Store, into its new operating system; a place to find software programs. The company has also copied Apple in the retail area and has opened 31 stores around the U.S.; the one near us is just a few steps away from an Apple store.

However, the down side of the Surface, and maybe the stores, is that Microsoft could have the Windows RT market all to itself. The major brands have held back embracing it, primarily because of Microsoft’s entry into the market with the Surface. However, Microsoft’s entry into the Win8 market hasn’t deferred any of the traditional suppliers. Maybe Intel is a more attractive partner than ARM to suppliers.

Peddie’s Laws

Over the years I have observed various phenomena and seen several trends, and through it all certain undeniable truths have stood out, causing me to formulate certain laws of the industry. These are not formulaic laws that can be tested in a laboratory; rather they are like Moore’s Law in terms of its law-ness.

  • Peddie’s 1st Law: In computer graphics too much is not enough.
  • Peddie’s 2nd Law: The more you can see, the more you can do.
  • Peddie’s 3rd Law: The technology doesn’t work until it’s invisible.

And my latest, based on computational photography and the use of GPUs in such situations:

  • Peddie’s 4th law: The more you can do the more you can see.