Tablets and CES

Yesterday, Microsoft unveiled the HP Slate during Ballmer’s keynote at CES. Microsoft called it a ‘Slate PC’, which has deservedly caught the attention of the Mac faithful as that is one of the rumored names of the mythical Apple Tablet. Regardless of what they call it, I’m still disappointed. I’ve been extremely interested in tablet computing for the past few years, and been looking for the ideal device. What Microsoft and HP have rolled out is the 2010 equivalent of Windows CE machine from 1997.

They’ve crammed the desktop interface onto a tablet form factor and are leveraging the new multi-touch features in the Windows 7 OS. Yes, Windows 7 is much prettier than Windows CE – but it’s Microsoft still not understanding that different form factors require different interfaces. Why would I go to the start menu in the lower left corner to initiate any interaction on a tablet? The whole thing is touchable – it seems silly to hit a little button, then have menu that occupies 1/6 of the corner of my screen pop-up, that I then need to select a tiny shortcut with my finger (or more accurately my fingernail).

So what is it that I want? I want something that is essentially an e-reader on steroids. Kottke had a great post about e-readers not long ago that I’d like to quote:

The correct single use is reading. Your device should make it equally easy to read books, magazine articles, newspapers, web sites, RSS feeds, PDFs, etc.

Basically, I’m looking for a device that’s easy on the eyes (design-wise for sure, but I’m referring to the screen’s readability and eye fatigue), has a long battery life, that allows me to read e-books, and my normal feeds from Google Reader and Instapaper without any hackery. If I’m getting greedy, I’d like to have multimedia capabilities too – i.e. let me use it to watch video – but that’s not really what I want it for – that’s just pie in the sky gravy. I really want an e-reader that’s more flexible than the Kindle, but not a desktop OS metaphor slammed into a new form factor.

I for one am waiting to see what Apple does in this space.  I think of anything I’ve read so far – Gruber’s piece on The Tablet was the most prudent speculation any one has written up. I think he’s right on that Apple is going to tailor the interface for that form factor. If it turns out to be ‘fourth factor’ – not a desktop, not a notebook, not a smartphone – I’ll be curious to see how they tailor the experience for that medium and make it compelling versus the other form factors. They’ve done it with the iPhone/iPod Touch, so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Else, I’ll wait around for a Mirasol enabled Kindle 🙂