"The uncertain future of tablets"
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The uncertain future of tablets
[ Music ] ^M00:00:06 >> Welcome to the reporters roundtable, CNET's weekly dive into the tech topic of the week. Today we are talking about tablet computers. Everyone of course is expecting Apple to roll out their tablet or slate or eBook or whatever you call it next year it always seems to be 6 months away. Rumors are it will be in the $600-800 price range and recently we've seen rumors, we've seen videos confirmed videos of the Microsoft Courier Tablet interface. The Courier was Microsoft's secret tablet project but not nearly as secretive as Apples. Then of course there's the unreleased CrunchPad instigated by Tech founder Michael Arrington. Will it join the legion of failed tablet and slate computers released so far or will it take its place alongside Microsoft and Apple products? Can it compete? And why don't we have these tablets today? When will we get them? That's what we're discussing today with 2 special guests. First up Ryan Block who's the co-founder of the consumer tech community site GDGT or gidet as I like, no I'm sorry Ryan >> Gadget that's so offensive. >> No. GDGT a great community site for tech fans I like it a lot. Ryan was the editor of the en gadget tech blog before GDGT. He knows his Apple rumors and over here we have Harry McCrackin [assumed spelling] the editor and founder of a really great new tech blog called technologizor just like it sounds. Before launching that site he was the editor and chief of PC World Magazine. You've been doing technology journalism for how long? >> A long time for money. I think about 18, 19 years. >> Almost long as I have and yet here we are still today. Although you've gone the entrepreneurial route so props to you and so is Ryan. I'm the only like corporate drone here. >> No you're not Harry is one of the greats in my opinion. I always like hanging out with him. You know I actually I can't tell you how many people who I've worked with over the years who've said like yeah people like you know Harry and David Poge [assumed spelling] reading their articles back in the day really kind of got me into this whole thing. So >> You're an inspiration to me. >> Well >> It's mutual. >> I think we're all inspirations to each other today. >> I can feel it. I love it. I love the room. Ok. Tablets. Let's talk about inspiring Tablets. Let's get it out of the way. When are we going to see the Apple Tablet? What do you think? >> Maybe never. I don't know whenever they launch it. I mean [laughter] You know it's so you mentioned that its perpetually 6 months out from launch and every Apple product that is ever been rumored and every product that has ever been existed has been rumored to be made by Apple whether or not they've actually made any there's been rumors about literally an Apple television. I mean there's all kinds of crazy rumors so the rumor about an Apple Tablet has been around for awhile. The rumor about an iPhone was been around long before the iPhone was launched and was always you know gonna be 6 months gonna be a year but it's coming and its gonna be you know coming until it gets launched. Well what do you think? >> You know I think next year feels good probably first half. >> Yeah. So do you think it would be smart for Apple? Is this a smart pro? I did a story saying why Apple shouldn't do a tablet. Which was troll bait of the highest order but I had my reasons. What do you guys thing? Should Apple do a tablet? Is the time right for an apple slate? >> I think we're closer. I mean I think every single attempt there has ever been to do a Tablet was basically misconceived in fundamental ways and if you'd ask me this question before the iPhone came out I would say Tablets are a terrible idea but Apple did succeed with the iPhone and you know getting a lot closer in terms of the interface. I think the fundamental mistake everybody has made is they've taken existing interfaces like windows and tried to tweak them for a tablet. They've also made people write with a pen which I don't think is a great idea. >> Lets kind of break that down thought because using iPhone analogies is really interesting to me. It seemed like there was a huge market opportunity for Apple at that point. Cell phones were getting very big. Everybody was buying them and nobody liked their cell phone. Very few people liked their cell phone. I mean even people who liked their cell phone didn't really like it so that to me is classic market opportunity. You're gonna come in you're gonna shake things up. You know the product market it already there it would it did not take a genius to see that everybody was gonna own a cell phone if they didn't already so they came in they did it their way and they created a pretty great product. Not true of the tablet market and this is something that is I think pretty indicative of Apple overall. They don't get into nascent markets, they get into established markets where they know they can have an impact and where they can make some money. They do not build markets. Usually they don't. >> But there's always a twist. When Apple got into the MP3 player market they didn't just put out a really good MP3 player, they introduced the store. >> But not immediately they put out the MP3 player first and iTunes was separate and they were still figuring out how iTunes could work together with the MP3 player and you got to remember back in 2001 when the iPod was announced there were no record deals, it's not like they announced it with any record deals. Now if you put out a device that is dependent on content if you don't have some kind of content deal with a content provider its basically dead in the water. At the time they just put out the device they say hey look if people get MP3s we don't want to know how you get them but we know that you have them and clearly Napster you know was a major defining moment for that generation of people who were first starting interactive technology and the internet. So you know here's this MP3 player, do what you will with it and it wasn't until a couple of years later that the store came. >> Ok so what do we I don't know how to ask this question I'll just put it right out there. Do consumers, does the world want this mythical keyboardless tablet computer? What do you think? We've been in this industry >> Well yeah. >> combined for 50 years total what do we think? >> You know I guess what I was just saying was kind of a roundabout way of stating that I don't think that the market is proven yet that there is a need for this type of device, a real strong need. There are a lot of reasons why I would like to have one. I'm sure you would like to have one. Harry I'm sure probably has a couple already. I mean we both played with them. We've all used them. You know we like them. But is this something that's going to kind of redefine computing? I don't think so. >> Do you have a keyboardless computer somewhere in your possession? Aside from your iPhone? >> I actually bought with my own money a tablet PC a few years ago and it was a terrible mistake. >> Go on. >> It was just not what it was cracked up to be. >> What was the locus of failure? >> It was too big, it was too heavy. I don't like to look at my handwriting even on paper so I certainly don't want to save it. The handwriting recognition didn't work. The battery life was not good enough to take it out for the day. It was kind of a useful and obstructive failure to deal with cause I put down my own money and I came away disgruntled and this was after Bill Gates told the world that Comdex [assumed spelling] I believe or CES that within 5 years most computers would be tablets >> That was in I think is 2002 that he said that right? So he missed that one by so far. >> And I was smart enough to figure out that wasn't gonna happen but I wasn't smart enough not to invest in it myself. >> I mean there's so many things about what you just said I think are kind of a sub text for why tablets don't really work. Let's just say in a ideal world that the pen interface was perfect and you could just write in and 100% accuracy you know it wasn't like that Simpson's episode with the Newton eat up Martha >> Newton poetry they call it. >> You know let's just say ideally pen input was working really well. Pens are not the best way to interact with the computer anyway. I am 10 times slower with a pen and writing with my hand than I am with typing something in. So then comes in the question of well ok where is the keyboard. If you want to actually but you're not going to physically write you know a 200 word email to somebody that would be an exercise in patience. You at a certain point you want to break down and you want to have a keyboard of some kind that you can interact with. >> So why are people so gaga over the concept of this monoblock slate you know basically giant iPhone is what it comes down. I mean even Arrington is putting you know his own brand behind this thing. Why are people so nuts about this idea? >> The CrunchPad. >> I think they are because kind of cool. Most of these tablets that were out there were before people really did music and movies and ebooks on computing devices. I think if Apple tries to do something where you can do a lot of text input it will put another failure but I really don't type all that much text into my iPhone except for very brief emails and URLs and occasionally the brief note and I think it's at least conceivable they might build a device where you're simply aren't doing all that much text entry but you're still doing cool stuff and if they can do that it has a better shot at success. >> Yeah so that was kind of where I was going with my last point was ok so let's say the text entry is not really the issue then it becomes a matter of use case. So I can get text in and let's say maybe it has a keyboard or something or let's actually let's just ignore the text entry question all together and let's say ok now you've got this tablet and you're not even worried about text entry you feel comfortable and you can write a long email in it. What are you using it for? I mean you're not necessarily taking it with you as a replacement for your laptop. It sits at home probably as you know what you browse on on your sofa and that's great I'd love to do that. I can't like really watch TV anymore without a browser. I have to feel connected a lot in checking email and stuff like that. So then ok is there market for that? Is there a market for like what is essentially like a 3rd PC that you just have as a tablet form that kind of sits around your house? >> I don't think so personally. >> That was the rumor that we saw last week was that Steve kept nixing the Apple tablet because he couldn't see a use for it besides reading the web on the toilet. >> Yeah right. >> I mean it's kind of a crude way of putting it but its it really encapsulates why the tablet form factor just doesn't really cut it. >> For consumers. >> For mass market consumers. >> I want the CrunchPad really bad and you know I use devices all around my house to get on the web that are not laptops. I just think for a mass market it's just I can't I can't see it. >> So the latest I've been hearing on the Apple tablet is that they're targeting it as a media consumption device not as a content creation device. It's not a communications device clearly because that's what you have your phone for. It's not a work device cause that's what your Macbook or your PC is for so it's like a living room computer where by the way you also happen to have a TV. So you can watch movies on it because it'll be an Apple and it will have a gorgeous screen, which means it's gonna be expensive and I am just I'm not feeling it. >> Yeah I mean again everything you said like doesn't make sense to me. It's like everybody just invested in HD TVs. >> Right. >> Now all of America now has a $5000 home theater system you know and it reminds me of this in between category of product the UMPC, the ultra mobile PC. These were machines that were about as big as a smartphone but a lot thicker and a lot more expensive and some of them like the OQO ran Windows. It was 2000 bucks and hot enough to fry an egg on and it was technologically incredible cause was you know the size of a paperback book and it was a real Window's computer but it wasn't big enough to do real work on and it wasn't small enough to replace your cell phone which meant it was a curiosity it was a James Bond curiosity and OQO by the way has gone out of business. So we have intelligence that Apple is actually doing this. We know other people are working on this. The Microsoft Courier stuff looks really getting close to production at least on the software side. What do people in the industry know that we don't? [laughter] >> You might also look at the iPod Touch which you know this device sounds like it might be kind of a large iPod Touch cause it's not a communications device. I think the iPod Touch has probably been more successful than a lot of people guessed it would be cause it's not dirt cheap but everybody people I know who have Touches like them more than people who have iPhones cause they don't have to deal. >> Well that's cause they don't have AT&T. Yeah exactly. There aren't expectations there. >> And since the Touch is popular I mean to some degree it might come down to what the price point is and if you can't put it in your pocket and take it with you everywhere is that still interesting to people? >> Yeah I don't know. One of the interesting questions I have about again we're talking about a product that may not ever come out even though indications are that they are working on it very hard is the operating system on this product. For the Apple product it's a very interesting question because of the way applications are distributed. >> Yeah and so then it's a question of is it OS10? Is the consumer desktop OS? Or is it the version of OS10 which they call iPhone OS that runs on the iPod Touch and iPhone? >> Well and the question that that question raises is is it open? Can I put an app out there that anybody can get or do I have to go through Apple to get approval? >> Yeah I mean not if it's the iPhone OS. I mean that's pretty I think we can say that fairly certainly. I mean just because its larger than iPhone doesn't mean they're going to release you know some of the control that they've got on the platform but I mean I think before we move on to some of the other tablet stuff that's going on you know the Touch is a great example. I use the Touch, that's kind of my tablet stand in. I have a Touch that I use in the living room and that's what I you know browse the web with a lot. It's a pretty solid device for that. But yeah I mean I don't have a larger device in there because I don't need to watch video while I'm watching TV right? And you don't really I mean I wish it was a larger device but again if it was a larger device you wouldn't be putting that in your pocket and taking it with you to go as a portable media player so then it kind of has to stay at home and as soon as it starts staying at home then you get this question of you know practicality is this a device that I need to plunk down 5, 6, 700 dollars for for yet another device that's only going to live in my home that doesn't really have a whole lot of application outside of my living room area and that isn't even the primary device in my living room area which would be my TV and my TiVo I guess. >> Does the Kindle foreshadow anything cause I also spent $400 on a Kindle which I use but have to say would be way more inclined to take it everywhere if it did things other than let me read books and it can develop a better screen and more media consumption stuff and a serious web browser might be kind of appealing especially cause it if you know you're on a 6 hour plane flight notebooks are a hassle on airplanes >> And they don't have the battery life. >> Right. >> Yeah that's the cool thing about the Kindle is that I mean it's a purpose built device and it does that thing I think really well. >> Although we know that you know the Apple tablet is not gonna have astonishing battery life cause it's gonna have a beautiful screen. It's not going to have e ink >> Right and that's kind of the dividing line right now is that e ink display that's why the Kindle can't really do any of those things as we all know that's no surprise. I mean the technology is not there. I'm sure Amazon would love to have an e ink display that was as fast and colorful and responsive as what you could get on a laptop or you know a netbook or something like that but that's not where we are. Where we are right now is in the very early days of electrophoratic [assumed spelling] displays as they're called and you know we just kind of have to live with that. The one thing that Kindle does have going for it is that it is readily apparent what the device is for. I mean it's a book reader and If you want a book reader it's a great book reader and if you don't want a book reader then don't buy it because that's what it does you know so if you're looking for something else, it's not like a tablet where you kind of have to say at least say can I apply this to my life? You know it's very clear what the Kindle does, it's a book reader. >> Right >> So we know Apple is working on this stuff. We've seen some of the really interesting technology coming out of Microsoft, the Courier videos we've seen show that Microsoft is working on a fold up tablet basically 2 tablet computers joined with a hinge and one of the really interesting things that they've done is their idea of a clip board is you take your image or your text or whatever and you slide it under the spine where the 2 screens join and it sticks there and then you can turn pages and stuff and things are kind of stuck under the spine like you're sliding it into under a bulletin board or something which I think shows real UI innovation. I'm really hoping to see that product come out even though you know Microsoft is not known on the PC side for you know releasing sexy, attractive UI stuff. This looks really good. But the question I want to ask mentioning that. So we've got Apple working on this we've got Microsoft working on this and then we've got kind of the open source community and the independent market and that is the CrunchPad. You know you said Ryan that you want the CrunchPad. >> Yeah very much. >> What is the market for a product kind of in the Lennox realm, the startup realm against Microsoft and Apple products? >> There is almost no market. I mean we've the history is littered with kind of crappy tablet devices that just went nowhere. I mean I have a pepper pad >> Oh >> with the split keyboard. Granted I didn't pay I got mine on a super Amazon deal for $10. I was like how could I not buy one. >> Yeah right for the museum, the [inaudible] museum. >> Yeah it was like $10. I was like of course I'll buy one for $10. It's a piece of garbage. I mean and that is not to say I think the CrunchPad would be crap I think that if the CrunchPad ever did come out it would probably actually be pretty good. I don't think that Arrington would let a complete piece of junk get out there under his name. It might not be you know to the quality that we would assume that an Apple tablet would be at. But yeah I just you know if there is a market for the tablet style device at this point I think a lot of people are basically assuming I might be in this camp I don't know for sure. But you know a lot of people are basically assuming that Apple is going to have to make that market. They would have to build it. They would have to kind of create the use case for the tablet that people get and others would you know follow on after that. So you know outside of Apple doing that I think it's really just kind of limited to ok here's the browser I think that's why the CrunchPad is kind actually really interesting because they said like it's good this isn't really a tablet this is just a browser. Just a browser and a screen, nothing else. >> And the CrunchPad doesn't need to sell in vast quantities for it to be a success. Apple would need to move millions or whatever it is they're gonna come up with and Michael Arrington tried to design something that will make himself happy which is kind of cool. I'm expecting that nobody involved in the CrunchPad and there are smart people involved with it expects it would sell in truly vast quantities as kind of a boutique item. >> Yeah. >> My big question is does the CrunchPad only work when you have an internet connection. >> What I've heard is that is has limited local storage so you know it is basically a browser and if you want to do work on it you need you know a web app and you want to listen to media you need a web connection which you know is a nice product to have around the house. >> I mean again I like that. That is to me what the Kindle is to portable devices is it is here is the thing that it does. It's not there's no question about what it is intended to do. The Kindle is intended to read books. CrunchPad seems extensively intended to just get you on the web, that's all it does. >> Just a browser. >> Yeah and I really like that idea. I like that idea actually a lot more than the idea of oh is this this platform and it's another platform you build apps for and stuff like that. I mean I love apps. You know I love what has gone on with the mobile app community effort in the kind of post iPhone age but again you know you run into these problems where it's like you know do I want this device too much. It's not really I think a form factor that lends itself well to convergence as we call it. >> So let's we got 2 interesting questions from readers via Twitter and email but before we get to those let's do some handicapping here. We don't know much about Apple or Microsoft products but you know that's not going to stop us what do you think Apple let's assume for the sake of this argument let's assume product releases in 2010. Apple tablet whatever Apple does in 2010 with tablets. You know will it versus Microsoft, the CrunchPad and for the sake of argument the Kindle. Who's got the control of the market by the end of 0 10 2010? >> Well there isn't really a market right now so I guess I guess you could say it's anyone's game. I mean I don't know. What do you think Gary? >> It is usually a mistake to assume that Apple is making a horrible miscalculation with Microsoft on the other hand miscalculations all the time and they manage to survive but the Courier demo is really fun but as far as I can tell it's just a beautiful piece of animation and those are a lot easier to do than to build them to a real device and Microsoft still seems to have this assumption that people want to use a pen to take notes and I see no particular reason why until hand writing recognition is just perfect that people want to [inaudible] so I think we just don't know enough about Courier even though we've seen a demo of it oddly enough we've seen Courier >> and not Apple. >> There's still a lot we don't' know. We haven't seen anything with Apple. I would still give Apple a little bit of an edge just based on the fact that they're like Ryan says they're kind of market slate but when they do they have as good or better a track record as anybody of getting it right. I think the CrunchPad might be a success just because the bar for success is not all that huge. >> Yeah exactly. You know the one thing that I mean because the Courier we only really have to go on that what Gizmodo was able to dig up which is granted it seems to be a lot of really solid information but you know we all know Microsoft. Microsoft tries to wherever it can be a platform company and not a hardware company. Clearly they do hardware but all of their hardware tends to have a platform play to it. Right? You know the Xbox it's a piece of hardware but its really a platform. It's a platform to get games published so that they can make money on that software and the Zune is obviously it's a platform for music and it was built out of their kind of 3rd party licensable portable media center platform before. So they're very platform centric so the Courier to me kind of seems like here's another platform we're gonna put it out there you guys make devices for it. I really feel like that's kind of where that would go. >> And the good thing about Courier is its not Windows with a little start button and windows and everything they did design a user interface from the ground up which you know other than with things like the XBox and the Zune Microsoft rarely does. >> Yeah it's good to see them showing some flexibility there. What about the Kindle what's the future for the Kindle? I mean as long as they're using e ink which I don't think they should get away from they're really hampered by the capabilities of the display technology. >> Hampered or locked into a device that is what it is. >> Well I would say it's hampered. I mean I think that because there is that browser on there because you know they have thought about other ways to utilize that internet connection they're thinking about ways to make the kindle more than just a book reading device and clearly people want devices that do more than just 1 thing. You just want it to that one thing really well right like you want a computer that can be your DVR and it can you know do all sorts of stuff but it has to be a good computer. >> So from readers there are some questions about applications. First Morris D writes do you think the panel do you the panel think the tablets are computing version of the video telephone? That's interesting. >> Ah ha. >> Now interestingly we have video telephones now. My wife is on the road and we are skyping with our kid but it's not how we thought it would be. No its not but it is that's the interesting part is we kind of get the concept but it's not how we thought it would be and that to me is kind of why I think Apple has been able to capture a lot of imagination and attention around the tablet form factor is because we're all hoping that they're going to come out with something that is not what we thought it would be and it would be something really different and that would help us you know have a different conception of what a tablet should be. You know we all think of like video phones is like it's a payphone you walk right up like the AT&T ads and you know you walk up to the pay phone there's a camera well no that's actually not the best way to do it. The best way to do it is to have small cameras in all of your devices and they're all connected >> And there's a feature it's not a [inaudible] product. >> Exactly. I mean you can't make a tablet a feature right it has to be a product but I mean I guess again my point is you know we're all hoping it's kind of something that we didn't really we hadn't thought of before. >> For like 40 years almost I think the technology for video phones essentially existed and real people didn't want them and now real people do want that feature it just took a long time for it for them to acclimate themselves to it. >> Well it's also something you didn't have to pay for. >> and Skype is free. >> I think that was the defining again you know just as there's been you know a trail of bodies in the market of tablet devices there's been another trail of bodies in the market of video phone hardware. Remember that OGO? I had one of those. I mean they work but they were all kind of crap and nobody wanted to pay $500 for one of those things and like $10 a month for service. None of them stuck around. It's always these free services that you can kind of build in. You know there's another kind of application for these flat computers that we haven't talked about much this from David Hawkins who says here's something I'd like to see and a lot of families make use of. The center of the modern family is the big calendar on the fridge with illegible appointments on it what I want is a screen that goes on the fridge or the wall that will wirelessly synch will all of my families Google calendars with a touch screen to easily enter events. I don't want to full blown tablet PC is there anything out there? >> There are you know there's like the HP Dream screen which has sort of a glorified photo frame which is sort of going in that direction. >> LG was making an internet refrigerator for awhile. >> I think Samsung. >> Yeah >> is one I mean there the thing is with those kinds of refrigerators they're refrigerators first and computers second so you get. >> And 1 would hope actually. >> Well exactly but I mean if you're nerdy enough to have like a you know the desire to have this and you know enough about computers it's probably going to sate your desire you know it's' really its kind of a secondary thing. I mean what would be really nice is if the fridge companies kind of came up with like a dock able standard and the computer companies could make the computers and you just plug it in. >> Somebody tried to do that but of course the dock didn't have enough bandwidth for the next version. >> You know actually GE I think last year or the year before announced something similar to that but it was proprietary and it was GE only and it's I mean it's kind of a >> And there's a company called Cozi c-o-z-i that has software that basically did that and they were the software providers for some dockable thing and that is a use for people. I actually don't see for the next year or two a tablet device becoming more reliable than the illegible calendar but that is something that people would cluster around. >> Yeah I think these connected displays are probably a better alternative plus you don't really want to buy a refrigerator that has firmware that can't be updated do you? >> No that's a very good point. The thing is your refrigerator has a 20 year life span and most technology that we're talking about here we're talking about 2 years before its obsolete maybe 4 years of life tops. >> I mean who how many devices do you have that get like firmware updates that are more like a year old? I mean most companies just abandon that. >> Oh totally yeah. >> We've reviewed the LG refrigerator at PC world and it ran Windows 98 and you know just again don't put Windows on a new device build an interface that makes sense for a refrigerator. >> The good thing is though with that kind of device you don't have to worry about it overheating. >> Very true. >> Alright [laughter] on that one joke of the show we'll wrap up here. I'd like to think Harry and Ryan for coming into the reporter's roundtable. Thanks very much. Thank you Lynn for producing. Be sure to visit GDGT.com which is Ryan's great site about tech community. I go there as well as to CNET of course to learn about gadgets I'm thinking about buying and technolizer.com which is Harry's site which is a great blog about tech and thoughts about technology and trends. Thank you all for listening to reporter's roundtable. We are live each Friday at 1:00 Pacific time at live.cnet.com and next time it's gonna be great show so great I don't know exactly what we're doing yet. Got ideas send them my way. If I don't hear any it'll be Windows 7 and I'll get some great people here to talk about what Windows 7 will mean for the industry. Send them to our new email address: email@example.com. [ Background music ] >> Thanks everyone. Thanks guys for coming in. See you next time. ^M00:28:43 [ Music ]