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.


The 4 a.m. Chatroulette feature and the epic battle between “consume only” Apps and Participatory Web (why I’m not worried about iPad like @JeffJarvis)

Last Friday night I was sitting on a street corner in Palo Alto. Why was I there? To hang out with the geeks and to get the latest shiny object that Steve Jobs and team had spent that same night stocking the store shelves with.

But while waiting in line someone said “did you know the guy who started Chatroulette is here?”

While thoughts of some guy showing his penis on a street corner did go through my head, I wanted to meet Andrey Ternovskiy. Why? It’s not every day you meet a 17-year-old high school student from Moscow who launches a web service and three months later has 20 million unique visitors a month (he showed me his Google Analytics, they are what every entrepreneur dreams of having happen).

So I sat next to him. I think I had to kick a potential investor out of his seat to do that. Seriously Andrey had two investors hanging out with him all night long. I quickly figured out that he was using a version of Chatroulette I had never seen. It had a nicer layout and had a new feature: he was playing chess with someone else in the world. No penises, either.

But then he freaked me out and up popped a code screen, he made some changes, then went back to testing. “What are you doing?” I asked. “I’m testing a feature.”

“Do you mind if I record you?”


If you are on an iPad you can’t use the Flash player that I just embedded of my interview, but every CinchCast I do (Cinch is an app I use on my iPhone and iPads that lets me record and distribute to you audio recordings) also has an MP3 file that does work on iPad, here’s the one of the interview I did with Andrey while waiting in line.

“I want to get some feedback,” he said.

And with that we need to move our focus from Andrey to Eric Ries. What is Eric known for? Coming up with a methodology called “Lean Startups” where he puts forth some crazy ideas like you should ship 50 times a day and you should, gasp, listen to feedback.

I have a feeling Eric and Andrey would understand each other quite well. To really understand the Lean Startup methodology, I went and had a long talk with Eric, who is one of the most revolutionary thinkers I’ve had the pleasure of talking with. The conversation was so interesting it went an hour and I had to break it into two pieces just to upload it.

Revolutionary thinking that so few companies use.

But now let’s get to the epic battle part and my reactions to Jeff Jarvis who is worried that the iPad will destroy the world. I have now had a few days to use my iPad and I’m not worried.

Oh, and Jeff you’re wrong. Mostly.

See, when Jeff plays with his iPad he sees a pretty girl that doesn’t add much depth to his life.

I don’t like the metaphor. It too much reminds me of Chatroulette so let’s get away from girls and boys.

I much prefer how Dave Winer gives us a verdict against the iPad based on the comparison with other computers in his life.

If I look at the iPad the way Dave does I see all of its contradictions and shortcomings. I grok where he’s coming from.

But I don’t at the iPad as a replacement for my computers. It was something I would leave in my family room and not use very often. Sort of like a book or a magazine that I might pick up when I’m bored.

This is why the world that Jeff Jarvis is predicting won’t come around.

The iPad doesn’t kill the laptop.

“So, Scoble, why haven’t you put your iPad down since getting it?”

First that’s not really true, my son stole my iPad to read a book on it tonight so I was left watching TV and poking at my iPhone. Also, I’m using a Dell laptop to type this post out, mostly cause I can type a lot faster which lets me write boring long posts easier (maybe I should write on the iPad, it’ll encourage me to be, um, shorter with my ramblings).

I see this epic battle playing out between the old school of Time and New York Times and other mass media, who want you to look at their content and read their ads and not do much else, and the new world of Facebook, Twitter, Google Buzz, and all the rest of the content-creation, participatory, and collaborative web services.

I haven’t put it down, though, because it has already totally changed how I view the world of media. I think the Time Magazine “look at me, I’m pretty and well thought out” view isn’t going to win, but deserves space right next to the rough-and-tumble world of blogging, Flickr’ing, Twittering, and Facebooking.

It’s Time’s fault that they haven’t made their new interface conversational. I just won’t talk about it as often as if they had thought this through a little more and stopped working so hard on making it so damn pretty. To me I remember another service that made everything pretty: Pointcast. It failed. So will this new style of “pretty.” But the iPad is an awesome way to use Twitter. So it will remain in my hands.

So, what trends are we seeing already?

First, people keep asking me what Twitter app I like on the iPad (I’m still arguing it out in my mind, give me a week, but you can’t go wrong with Twitterrific).
Second, games are TOTALLY participatory and are selling very well.
Third, apps like Smule’s Magic Piano are at the top of the charts and you can participate with people in a new way on that app.
Fourth, the app that pleased the crowds today in San Francisco wasn’t the Time Magazine app, but was the Geometry Wars game.
Fifth, when I was looking for a flight to Omaha what did I reach for? Kayak’s new app which is freaking awesome.
Sixth, what is at the top of the charts right now? Pages. Numbers. Keynote. All work related apps.

If Jeff Jarvis is right people will get frustrated and will return their iPads in droves.

Hint: they aren’t and they won’t.

This is a device that will drive us nuts and will thrill us at the same time.

What else has come along recently that’s done that?

How about Facebook? How about Twitter? (What worse tool for writing can you imagine than one that limits you to 140 characters yet it keeps getting more and more popular).

Anyway, I’m rambling and I haven’t done what Eric Ries advocates: I haven’t shipped a new feature (a new blog) in a while and I haven’t listened to your feedback. Off to do that now.