Confessions of a Tablet PC salesperson

NEC Tablet PC circa 2002

Few people remember that I sold Tablet PCs for NEC (here’s some details on that early thin tablet). We had a Tablet back in 2002 that:

1. Was 1/4-inch thick.
2. Supported multitasking.
3. Ran full Windows XP OS.
4. Supported Flash.
5. Had replaceable batteries.

So, why didn’t it sell? Well, it did sell. We sold out every month. Problem was that NEC could only make a few thousand a month for the US market and they never put the advertising/marketing dollars behind it.

But it had some really deep flaws.

1. It didn’t feel good after using it. Sorry, but Windows XP sucked for Tablet usage, especially now that we have iPads to compare it to. Apps didn’t feel like they were made for Tablet (most weren’t). To use it you needed to use a stylus. Lose it and the thing became pretty unusable. It also got warm so if you used it for a while it was uncomfortable to hold.
2. Batteries only lasted two hours. Compare to my iPad, which lasts 10 or more (I still haven’t depleted a battery fully on the thing).
3. It cost $2,000.
4. The wifi wasn’t all that reliable and not many places even had wifi, so walking around with it wasn’t all that useful.

I compare my experiences with that to the iPad and we’ve just come so far in a few years. The iPad is a sheer joy to use compared to that early NEC Tablet (which WAS revolutionary for its time!) Plus I can buy four of them for what one NEC cost.

It’s sad that Bill Gates tried to get Microsoft to deliver the Tablet PC vision but Microsoft mostly failed where Apple has largely succeeded. Some because the market is more ready for a Tablet PC today (we have wifi in a lot of places now, and 3G coverage is getting there). Some because technology has evolved (battery life is dramatically better than back then and lighter too). Some because prices have come down.

It is interesting to look back at gadgets just a few years ago and see how far we’ve come.

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

64 thoughts on “Confessions of a Tablet PC salesperson

  1. You can't comfortably write an essay on an iPad. I think that's enough of a turn-off for most of Gen-Y.

    iPad's a niche product at best. I'm sure it'll make Apple some money, but it's not replacing the tablet market, and it's just silly to compare it to TabletPCs or even netbooks.

  2. And Jobs was very careful to point out that iAd is all HTML 5. You want video, shortly you'll be able to watch all the video you want as H.264 streaming. Way less overhead. And ads? Welcome to iAd. Let's see: to get on the biggest mobile platform(s), you need to hone your HTML (open source) skills.

    Why do so many Google phone fans decry the absence of Flash and then praise Android for being open source? Flash is proprietary, you know.

  3. I think the truth is, Gates pushed his projects through the various committees, and they had to ship. This is rumored to be the third or more iteration of the Apple tablet, started three or four years ago — or more — and it was Jobs who was saying, “No, not ready.” When he said, yeah, it's done, a very finished 1.0 finally shipped. Apple doesn't innovate in the way Gates always said. But when they do, they have a good batting average of getting it right.

  4. It is interesting how a company makes it or breaks it through their marketing efforts. I do agree that the market is much more ready now for such a gadget, and it would have been interesting to see the Tablet PC face off against the iPad in today's market – all things being equal though.

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