iPad reveals Microsoft Tablet PCs as flawed. What about Google?

First a disclaimer: Apple’s new iPad didn’t meet expectations, either mine, or the folks who I’ve been talking with on Twitter.

If my friends who work with or for Apple and in the press hadn’t built it up as mind blowing it wouldn’t have been disappointing, but this was a case where expectations got too big and what showed up didn’t meet them. Come on, no radically new way to interact? No Flash? No full OS? No Camera? No Verizon?

I was expecting a 10.0 and an 8.7 showed up.

But if you compare it to what I would have given Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer at CES (I would have scored that a 4.9, mostly because they showed clips of a really cool new Halo coming later this year) then it blows away the competition (which I expected when I wrote about Steve Ballmer’s Tablet bumbles last night).

Watch Financial Times’ first hands on video and you get a sense of why it is so much better than Microsoft’s tablets, though. Apple delivered a consistent and deep touch experience.

But, now, where does today’s announcements leave Google and Microsoft?

I had Google’s Don Dodge (developer advocate) over to watch the Apple announcements today, and I saw several places where Apple was trying to limit Google’s ability to grow. Maps, calendar, Keynote (presentation software) and email on the iPad are all very pretty (we’ll see how good they are when we actually are able to use a device for more than 10 minutes) and compete very effectively against Google’s current offerings.

And against Microsoft I now see that Apple has just eviscerated Microsoft’s mobile strategy with a family of products that will be hard for Microsoft to compete against. But the damage to Microsoft goes further. I see Apple now going after the Xbox and putting a wall around Microsoft’s home entertainment dreams so it won’t be able to grow much further.

My sons, already, are using iPhones to play games and watch videos more and more and the iPad will continue that trend. It’s clear to me, though, that Xbox has largely tapped out the home console market and will see slowing growth over next year or two and I know Microsoft has built a team around Zune to go after mobile entertainment (IE, a portable Xbox).

If Microsoft doesn’t get that shipped soon Apple will use the iPad to shore up its leverage with developers like Tapulous, who are building games for iPhone, and will ensure a whole range of games will only show up on Apple’s mobile devices and not on anything Microsoft will do. Microsoft must be very concerned by that.

Back to Google. I think the Chrome OS will prove very interesting as Google comes back against Apple with a device that costs less (Chrome OS is cheaper on hardware than Apple’s OS is, and also is cheaper in licensing fees, so I expect to see Chrome OS-based devices for around $200, instead of the $500 that Apple’s iPad starts at.

That’s where I expect to see major clashes over the next year as Google and Apple try to lock up movie, books, magazines, newspapers, and other media to make their systems better than the others. My predictions of how Google will respond? Look at Chrome OS and watch for new devices that compete with Apple head on. Look at Google Voice to be built onto. Look for Google Maps to even further extend their lead in the industry. Look for Google to come out with a microblogging competitor to Twitter and Facebook that will wrap up everyone’s experiences. Finally, look for Google and Apple to get into bidding wars over companies like Siri (wait until you see what they’ve done next week).

So, we’ve seen how Steve Jobs is setting the trends for the industry. I can’t wait to see how Google puts together its machine to compete.

One hint? There was no talk of wireless synching between iPhone and iPad. Why not? Compare to when I got my Google Nexus One phone. I entered in my email address and all my apps magically appeared. THAT gives you a hint of how Google is going to hit at Apple.

Oh, and one other weakness Apple has? Apple is clueless about social software. Google isn’t all that great either, but it is a world ahead of Apple. So, look at Google to make some major social networking moves this year to make its ecosystem a lot more interesting to the Facebook generation.

Onward, now that all the hype is done and you’ve seen it, any other ideas? I’m off to meet with iPhone game developers to get their reactions, talk to you later after I get home.

To answer Michael Gartenberg’s question, I see Microsoft as a solid loser in today’s announcements and a decent pitch has just been thrown over the plate in Google’s direction, so we’ll see if they can hit it out of the park or will Google whiff it?


What comes AFTER the Apple Tablet? Here’s one display

OK, the rumors are already FLOWING in about the Apple tablet. I’m putting the best news up on my Twitter Favorite’s feed, so you can see the latest photos from Engadget and the latest reports from pundits and others (some of whom claim that they have had the Apple Tablet for a few days now in order to be able to talk to the press about it).

But, no matter what, the Apple tablet will have a physical screen. Tonight, one company, Light Blue Optics (they are on Twitter too), visited my house and showed me a new screen that does not need a physical screen. It projects on any surface and even includes touch capabilities. How does it do that? In the video CTO Dr. Adrian Cable, explains how the technology works (it paints infrared light over the surface and a camera sees when your fingers disturb that curtain of light).

You really need to see this demoed. Take this three to five years out and you can see that we’re going to get some wild new computing experiences that can wrap around curved surfaces, or, even, display on your arm or wall.

Ballmer’s tablet bumble

Associated Press image of Steve Ballmer demonstrating a tablet at CES

For a look at why Apple’s tablet, due to be demonstrated in a few hours (watch my Twitter feed for curation details starting at 9 a.m.), is getting so much hype even when Microsoft has had a set of great tablets for years we need to go back to the Consumer Electronics Show a couple of weeks ago where Steve Ballmer failed to impress, according to UK’s Telegraph.

I was sitting in one of the front rows and held my breath when Ballmer barely could get a tablet to do what he wanted. Now, admittedly, he was trying to use the tablet while holding it away from his body (akin to using it while it is upside down), which is a skill that I probably couldn’t master either, but that bumble was the metaphorical one that Steve Jobs needed.

But even if the demo had gone well, Ballmer had bumbled the Tablet PC years earlier. How? By not forcing every employee at Microsoft to use the tablet. Or, if he couldn’t do that, by not investing in a new OS that’s constrained and totally touch/stylus focused. Dig deep on a Windows tablet PC and you’ll see lots of areas that just aren’t designed for touch or a stylus. That won’t happen tomorrow with Apple’s tablet.

See, back in 2003-2006 when I walked around Microsoft’s halls (I interviewed more than 500 employees when I worked there and visited their development labs around the world) I saw very few developers who took to the Tablet PC.

Why? Most engineers sit at desks at Microsoft, or, when they have to go to meetings, have a desk in front of them where it’s culturally OK to bring a laptop and bang out emails during meetings.

Visit a developer’s desk and you’ll probably see two large screens, probably made by Dell, hooked up to a couple of big desktop machines that can compile as quickly as possible. Or, if they do choose a laptop, they probably will pick the Dell model with as much screen real estate and resolution as possible. Why? Because on their screens they will want to have a few code windows open, along with their email, er, Outlook screens (Microsoft lives and dies via Outlook’s calendar and email).

Why does this all matter? Well, because Microsoft’s best engineers don’t really buy into the Tablet PC and because the various teams around campus doing things from Microsoft Office to Windows 8 to Xbox to Microsoft Dynamics really don’t think ink features are all that important they seem to cut those features out of their priority lists year after year.

Yeah, it’s gotten better, Windows 7 actually has quite nice touch capabilities but they just aren’t inspiring.

Steve Ballmer didn’t show anything inspiring at CES running on the Tablet PCs he paraded around stage. He needed to if he wanted to keep Steve Jobs from grabbing the inspiration reigns again. It was a bumbled moment.

Contrast that with what Steve Jobs is planning to do on stage tomorrow.

Watch Steve focus on several use cases and each one will inspire in a way that Ballmer didn’t even attempt to do. Already Techmeme is flowing with leaks about them from publishers, media folks, and others.

The use cases I’ll be watching for are:

1. Classroom. Steve will tomorrow show off a textbook of the future. One where there isn’t just text and photos like in the textbooks that I grew up in, but ones where there’s augmented reality. Where 3D objects, maps, and videos pop off the page ready to be interacted with by the user. A company named Metaio has already shipped a book that does this, but Steve Jobs will bring these capabilities to the masses.

2. The Couch. TV is about to radically change. Imagine sitting on a couch, looking at a new virtual TV guide like the very cool Clicker, seeing a cool video on YouTube, then flinging that video up to your big screen. Or, let’s say you are watching what your few hundred Facebook and Twitter friends are sharing tomorrow morning from the Apple keynote in real time and you point at one of the videos to play it. Using a service like Redux you can already do that tonight! No need to wait for Apple to show it off, but Steve Jobs will make this integrated media experience cooler and easy for non-geeks to do. Tonight look at Boxee, it has been shipping for months what Apple will bring to the masses with the new tablet.

3. The car. Yeah, you can’t text in the front seat of the car in California, but come on, if you had an always connected slate wouldn’t you find a way to mount that to read Tweets to you like Buzzvoice does, or show you a Google Map, or use Waze to report traffic conditions to others. But put the tablet in the back seat, and it becomes an entertainment device for the kids. I already see how valuable that is. This is where Jobs will bring out a few new games that will let tablet owners play against each other, so my kids in my car could play against friends in their cars on a long road trip, or on the way to school, etc.

4. The coffee shop. OK, most humans still love visiting their local coffee shop, checking in on Foursquare, and then sitting down with a magazine or a newspaper. But watch as Jobs makes those things come alive and do stuff that a Kindle just can’t do. Videos, augmented reality again, games, graphics that move and flow, charts that show up-to-the-minute info from Skygrid, which already is way better than any financial newspaper printed on dead trees.

5. The airport/airplane. I flew in a rich guy’s private plane a few weeks back. What did he have in the cockpit? An Amazon Kindle. No, not to read newspapers or Tweet or anything stupid like that. He had all the airport charts loaded on his Kindle. But, he showed me how weather maps use color and he wasn’t able to display those on the Kindle. OK, OK, there aren’t enough rich guys in the world for that use case to matter, but what about those of us who sit back in coach? Well, how about showing off how Tripit will help you find a better seat when you buy your ticket, or how it’ll warn you if your plane is running late, etc? Yeah, not to mention that watching a movie on a Tablet will be a lot more comfortable than watching it on a laptop, and there’s lots of game scenarios, etc, that would be fun to see him demo here.

6. Healthcare. Tablets make a HUGE amount of sense in healthcare. Remember Epocrates, the iPhone app that Steve Jobs’ own health team helped influence? Now imagine they came out on stage and showed off their new version which has much better integration with your entire health chart.

Anyway, the fact that Ballmer didn’t have anything new to say on any of these scenarios left the door wide open for Steve Jobs to drive a truckload of tablets through in the morning. It’s too bad that Microsoft’s engineers just never got on board with the Tablet PC and started investing the future of the company on touch-based technology.

Will Ballmer stop bungling Microsoft’s strategy in time to save Xbox’s franchise from Apple’s moves? We’ll learn that in 2011. Stay tuned, my bet is he drops the ball there too, although a new Halo will hide the damage until 2012.

Anyway, let’s meet tomorrow on Twitter at Twitter.com/Scobleizer (that’s where I’ll spend the most time on in the morning) or FriendFeed at FriendFeed.com/Scobleizer or Facebook at Facebook.com/Scobleizer. I’ll have a few people from Google over my house to get their take on the morning’s events and we’ll curate the best news from around the Internet.

Oh, and I bet that Steve Jobs won’t bumble the Tablet demo the way Ballmer did at CES a couple of weeks ago.