Does Thinking About Tablets Make You Stupid?

The last few days have seen such amazingly stupid things said and written about tablets. Microsoft’s Craig Mundie questioned their staying power. Dell’s Andy Lark said the iPad is doomed in the enterprise because it’s too expensive. PCWorld‘s Katherine Noyes dismissed tablets as a passing fad. And Cnet News’ Joshua Goldman declared that a Microsoft Zune tablet could whip both the iPad and Android tablets.

I’m going to pick on Goldman. Unlike Mundie, Lark, and open source fan Noyes, he doesn’t appear to have any axe to grind. Rather, his piece displays the sort of sloppy thinking and lazy research that seems to dominate what often passes for analysis.  For example, he seems hopelessly muddled on the question of operating systems. He writes: “… a successful Microsoft tablet will need to be separated from the Windows OS, even if it’s just in name. Any tablet running a version of anything with the words “Microsoft Windows” will be thought of as just another Windows PC. Microsoft needs its own iOS, its own Android OS. It needs to drop “Windows” for its tablet operating system and create a Zune OS. A Zune tablet should not be a full PC, so let’s keep this OS clean and simple, OK?”

First, the problem of desktop Windows on tablets isn’t PR or branding; it’s that Windows as it exists is too big, complex, mouse-and-keyboard dependent, and power-hungry to succeed on mobile devices. Second, Zune OS already more-or-less exists. It’s what runs the soon to be extinct Zune HD. Like Windows Phone 7, with which it shares many user interface elements, it is built on the venerable Windows CE platform. I have thought from the day I first saw it that Windows Phone 7 could become a worthy competitor to iOS and Android on tablets. Unfortunately, Microsoft strongly disagrees and is instead developing a version of Windows 8 as its tablet OS.

But Goldman really gets silly toward the end of his article. He argues that the Zune table should have the same dimensions as the iPad so that it can use iPad accessories. There are so many things wrong with this that I don’t know where to start, but the big one is that Apple has the intellectual property for things like the iPad 2 Smart Cover well locked up.

Then there’s the matter of ports. “Instead of relying on the Zune’s proprietary connector, Microsoft should use three ports: microSD, Micro-HDMI, and Micro-USB,” Goldman writes. I agree that those three are needed, but he fails to explain how this device is going to be powered. The iPad can be  charged through a USB cable with the proprietary 30-pin iPod connector on one end, but only if it is plugged into a non-standard high-power USB port found only on new-ish Macs.

There’s a reason why neither the Samsung Galaxy Tab nor the Motorola Xoom Android tablets attempt to use USB charging. (Samsung uses a semi-proprietary power and data connector; Moto uses USB for data with a separate barrel plug for power.) A USB 2.0 port is rated at a maximum of 2.5 watts. That’s adequate to charge a phone, but it would mean many hours of shut-down charging to fill a tablet, as anyone who has tried to charge an iPad from a standard USB port knows. USB 3.0 raises the power rating by 50%, but that’s still not enough for satisfactory tablet charging, and USB 3.0 ports remain rare.

Finally there’s the matter of Flash. Dreams of mobile Flash, as Dr. Johnson said of second marriages, represent the triumph of hope over experience. We’ve been burned so often by unfulfilled promises of a Flash-y nirvana that everyone should just shut up about it unless and until Adobe delivers a stable and full-featured version of the Flash Player that works on mobile devices and doesn’t such the battery dry.

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