Users, it seems, love a smaller tablet. So why am I so bullish on the future of tablets much bigger than the big iPad?
And why is the entire industry so bullish?
No, scratch that. Those are the wrong questions. The right question is: Why aren’t users excited about touchscreen desktop PCs?
The mouse is a barbaric relic from the early 1950s. The tired old WIMP user interface (for Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointing Device) is now 40 years old!
The WIMP interface replaced the command line, and the MPG (multi-touch, physics and gestures) interface will replace the WIMP on the desktop (it has already done so on mobile devices).
Technology is ready to give us The Jetsons, but the masses of consumers are clinging on to The Flintstones.
Or are they?
The Industry Knows Desktop Touch Screens Are Coming
It’s obvious that the PC industry knows desktop touch tablets are coming.
Microsoft bet the company on Windows 8, which has its touch-friendly “Metro” UI. It’s risky, because they need to get users used to touch or become obsolete, while at the same time the platform has to be backward-compatible with existing Windows apps and also cater to the majority of users, who are still doing WIMP computing.
Every new iteration of OS X introduces more touch-specific features, including the LaunchPad (which is basically just an iPad desktop), new touch gestures and more.
There’s no question that both Microsoft and Apple are getting ready for touch-screen desktop computing. So are some hardware vendors, who used CES to unveil a plethora of new big-screen touch desktops.
Panasonic rolled out a 20-inch Windows 8 Pro tablet that has a 4K screen (very high resolution). (No pricing or availability announced.)
Lenovo unveiled a new product called the IdeaCentre Horizon, which is essentially a 27-inch table with a touch-screen surface. The company says it will go on sale this summer.
These are just two examples that represent the range of desktop touch PCs that are wrong and which users will largely reject.
Why Users Don’t Want Touchscreen Desktop PCs
You’d think that users would be clamoring for desktop touch screens. After all, they’re starting to reject desktop and laptop PCs in favor of tablets. Everybody likes a bigger screen when it’s not supposed to be mobile (just look at the TV market).
So what’s the holdup? First, most of the offerings thus far are underwhelming, vision-less hybrid devices. As a result, users are being offered the right position for use.
Laptops and up-right desktops invite gorilla-arm, where you reach out in front of you like Frankenstein.
Even the all-in-one PCs that tilt way back aren’t quite right, because desks are generally two high. You’re still gorilla-arming it.
The right angle for a touch desktop is where the bottom of the screen is about belly-button height and the top of the screen is about six to 12 inches higher.
The right size is at least a 28-inch screen, and at most a 40-inch screen.
Second, many users are afraid of giving up physical keyboards, having struggled with on-screen keyboards on their tablets. But there’s no reason to completely give up a physical keyboards — we just need keyboards designed to actually sit on the screen when serious typing is required. The desktop touch tablets should auto-recognize when such a keyboard is placed on the screen, and auto-switch to physical keyboard control.
Third, users don’t understand that the interface of the future is a powerful combination of touch and voice. That is, by the way, why most people won’t use a physical keyboard. We’ll just dictate our words mostly, and search the Internet using something like Google Now.
And fourth, the desktop touch PC of the future will be flexible: It will be usable in “drafting table mode,” go flat for “table mode,” and swivel upright for “TV and presentation mode.”
In short, it’s not users’ fault that they’re generally confused about and generally opposed to the inevitable future of desktop touch computing.
No company has stepped forward with a strong, compelling vision. Instead, they’re hedging their bets with hybrids.
That’s why I’m counting on Apple to make this revolution happen.
Apple never hesitates to force users into new behaviors.
You’ll recall that when Apple shipped the iPhone in 2007, everyone whined about the on-screen keyboard and clamored for a physical one.
Not only did Apple deliberately not make a physical keyboard, they blocked attempts by other companies to offer them for the iPhone.
In doing this, Apple forced millions to get used to on-screen keyboards. Once that new behavior took hold, Apple lightened up and allowed third party keyboards and even supported the use of their own Bluetooth keyboard with iPhones.
And that’s what we need with desktop touch: We need a strong, no-compromises vision with no fallback WIMP functionality.
As the fake Steve Jobs says in the recently released clip for the movie JOBS, “How does somebody know what they want if they’ve never even seen it?“
Good point, fake Steve Jobs.