What, Exactly, is a Slate PC?

By  |  Monday, January 11, 2010 at 8:39 am

Last Wednesday at his CES keynote, Steve Ballmer showed off three examples of what he called “Slate PCs,” from Pegatron, Archos, and HP. He said they were “perfect–perfect–for reading, for surfing the Web, and for taking entertainment on the go.”


He then gave a brief hands-on demonstration of the HP, using it with Amazon’s Kindle application and playing a video. When he launched the video, he fumbled a bit, tapping the screen first in what appeared to be the wrong area of the screen, then jabbing another icon twice.

It’s tempting to conclude that if the CEO of Microsoft struggles (even slightly) to make a Slate PC do what he wants, everyone will. It’s also not quite fair, given that Ballmer, for the sake of his demo, was holding the HP in an unnatural position–clutching it to his tummy with one hand, tapping it with the other, and looking at it upside-down.

The debut of the Slate PCs did raise some interesting questions, though. We know the Slate PC isn’t the radical rethinking of the user interface shown in Microsoft’s Courier concept video. But is it like the Tablet PC that Bill Gates unveiled almost a decade ago at Comdex–a new hardware platform that Microsoft is enthusiastic about and will support with significant changes to Windows’ interface? Or will Slates use a stock copy of Windows 7, which already includes some touch-friendly tweaks? (For instance, you can reveal a Jump List by swiping upwards on items in the Taskbar.)

At the show, I asked Microsoft’s Chris Flores these questions. He said that the company had no plans to customize Windows further for Slate PCs. It’ll be up to PC makers to provide a Slate-specific user interface if they think it’s necessary–something akin to the ambitious touch-oriented features HP provides on its TouchSmart PCs, for instance.

So is the Slate PC a new platform at all? Maybe it’s more of a less distinct, lower-case slate PC? I asked Flores, who told me Microsoft had no stance. Kind of different from the original rollout of the Tablet PC, when Bill Gates said he thought the majority of PCs would be Tablets within half a decade.

I know what I think: The Slate PC is a distinct beast, and it cries out for a rethinking of Windows. When you get rid of a physical keyboard and pointing device, multiple fundamental aspects of the operating system start to get iffy. Shouldn’t every icon be a lot bigger, so you can jab imprecisely without thinking about it? Wouldn’t it be better to eliminate mouse-oriented concepts such as right-clicking rather than provide workarounds, as Windows 7 does? Wouldn’t breakthroughs in on-screen QWERTY input make the whole idea more appealing? (Hey, how about something like Swype built into the OS?)

If hardware makers go as far as HP has with its TouchSmarts, it’ll help. But most manufacturers won’t, and there’s a limit to what they can do. Only Microsoft can really give Windows a major revision with Slate PCs in mind. And anything else is going to feel a little half-baked.

Assuming that Apple does indeed tell us what it thinks a tablet computing device should be like on January 27th, it’s going to be fascinating to compare and contrast with what we know so far about Windows-based Slate PCs.

 
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13 Comments For This Post

  1. Chad Says:

    Microsoft just needs to make the important pieces of Windows Mobile 7/Zune available as a special feature/app on Windows 7. The WM7 experience should be better suited for touch-friendly applications and devices like a Slate PC.

  2. george Says:

    “It’s also not quite fair, given that Ballmer, for the sake of his demo, was holding the HP in an unnatural position–clutching it to his tummy with one hand, tapping it with the other, and looking at it upside-down.”

    Lame excuse; maybe Mr. Ballmer should practise a bit with those gadgets before he’s giving a keynote? otoh, after seeing the performance, I’m not sure where he should begin to work on his skills.

  3. Ed Oswald Says:

    UMPC redux.

  4. Suits Says:

    I am feeling a little excited about this. Microsoft needs to get back into the game here cause this past decade it’s been hanging bad. I hope that they get this tech into the zune or throw their weight behind someone other then apple (maybe palm and it’s WebOs). All I can say is that I am very excited to see where this new frontier will lead us.

  5. Bryan Says:

    from what i can see tablets have the keyboard and the reversable touch screen and slates are just the touch screen. I think microsoft should develop a mode in windows 7 that is optimized for touch screen only input methods. having it be an added feature it could be used on slates, tablets or desktops with touch screen monitors. I think it should be microsoft’s responsibility to provide this because, afterall, they made the OS, and they rely on hardware manufacturers to run thier software.

  6. Biff Tannen Says:

    In addition to rehearsing his keynote performances more beforehand, Mr. Ballmer should invest in some antiperspirant.

  7. Chip Says:

    We didn’t know what a personal computer was until Apple released the Mac.
    We didn’t know what a music player was until Apple released the iPod.
    We didn’t know what a smartphone was until Apple released the iPhone.

    We won’t know what a Slate PC is until Apple show us.

  8. Bryan Says:

    are you being sarcastic or are you serious ^

  9. pond Says:

    My sense is that this is flailing by MSFT; their real ‘tabletOS’ will be Windows Mobile 7 or WinCE 7; this will have the copycat app store and will probably tie into both Zune (maybe it will power rev. 3 of the Zunes) and the XBox world. It will run on ARM which MSFT has already said Win7 won’t (and has no plans to).

    Win7 and Atom chips just aren’t there yet for power and battery life, one of the reasons the Intel MID devices have failed so far. But it looks like Cortex 8, and even better Cortex 9 ARM solutions will come online this year that will do what we want, at the low-power, long-battery levels that we demand.

    Since current ZuneHD runs on nvidia’s Tegra board, I expect that these new WinCE devices will run Tegra 2, and thus have killer AV and gaming capabilities, if the nvidia Tegra 2 demos at CES2010 are any indication of real-world machines.

    I also expect that MSFT will be ordering a batch of the first Apple slates off the factory floors so as to study how Apple handles the touch-based UI or, as Mr Ballmer would like to call it, the ‘NUI’ or natural user interface.

    Then there are Moblin and the various netbook flavors of Linux like Ubuntu NBR. Should make for some interesting approaches and machines.

  10. slate PC accessories Says:

    Here good discussion is carried out with brief view of the Slate PC. Slate PC is entirely multi-touch competent and can be used as an Internet/Web surfing device or as a Kindle like ebook reader, and it can do light gaming also.Wireless features include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GSM and GPS.

  11. andrew Says:

    and now we know…ipad :-)

  12. Linus Says:

    it just tells you how much better Apple's marketing is… Apple, like Microsoft, doesn't really invent anything… they just introduced their borrowed/bought/stolen products to the market with their own twist & fanfare… so in essence, your statement above is somewhat accurate… BUT all the examples above has already been used regularly by people who already KNEW what they were BEFORE Apple did their repackaging/marketing… Apple just introduced them to people who yes, didn't know…

  13. jibran Says:

    It has been seen for a couple of years that liver disease is spreading a lot.I think the main thing is the level of fats increases inside the body which will effect the lever. العاب اطفال

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